A recent piece by Financial Times writer Barney Jopson provides an interesting look inside the minds of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, and the difficult decisions they face with regard to consumer showrooming behavior. After reading it, I went online to see if I could find a reasonably priced tiny violin which I could play to accompany them in their moment of sour-grapes sorrow.
What we’re seeing now is a reversal of fortune. Just a few short years ago, brick-and-mortar retailers benefited from customers doing extensive online research before venturing out locally to purchase a product. Why did consumers do a 180 with their behavior? Most likely because of price and convenience. Yes, convenience.
It’s no secret that large online retailers can purchase in tremendous volumes and offer prices that are below many local boutique shops. On the other hand, boutiques can offer personalized one-to-one service that is very difficult to duplicate online. Zappos, for example, has done a great job combining top-notch content(including pictures and videos)with tremendous selection and great customer service to become the world’s largest boutique shoe store. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, but you get my point.
When Zappos first launched, I’m sure many customers used their site to browse shoes from the comfort of their homes, only to make a trip to their local store to get a better look. I don’t remember reading an article about Zappos management complaining that customers were stealing their bandwidth, or using their information in an unethical fashion. Instead, Zappos worked hard to provide an incentive for customers to purchase through their site by solidifying their great return policy and free shipping program (both ways).
Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, brick-and-mortar shoe stores are complaining that customers enter their store to be properly fitted, then leave and make the purchase online. Termed, “fit-lifting”, some retailers are calling this unethical – with some going far enough to draw a parallel to shoplifting! This ridiculous assault on consumer behavior seeks to place blame on the potential buyer instead of company’s management for failing to respond to changes in the retail business model and landscape.
In an earlier post on showrooming, I suggested that brick-and-mortar retailers get creative with ways to embrace showrooming. Give your customers an incentive to buy now, while they’re still in your store. Offer things that online stores can’t. For Pete’s sake, have an online presence — even if it’s a small one. I don’t know any retailer that would opt for having their sign taken off the front of the store, but denying that even a limited web presence could make an impact is analogous to doing the same. The world has changed. And if they want to survive, brick-and-mortar retailers must continue to innovate in ways that respond to these changes.
Herein is the lesson for online retailers. The landscape you’ve grown accustomed to will change. If you become too comfortable with your current business model, and complacent about your customers desire for change, you too will look as pitiful and pouty as the current crop of whiners. To avoid this:
- Talk to your customers. Know what they want. Focus on your customer first, not the competition.
- Stay on top of new technology and the capabilities it could offer your customers and your business
- Continually research how to deliver the best customer experience using your customer research coupled with new tech capabilities. Then do it.
Retail has experienced a massive change over the past 25 years And the rate at which things change will continue to increase. Regardless of your particular business model, the longer your current implementation remains unchanged, the more likely you are to fall victim to the innovators. And if you don’t like to proactively innovate, pull up a chair and relax. I’ve got some sad violin music for you.