I promised to share secrets to avoid the retail apocalypse. This week we’ll talk about brick and mortar retail in general. The news is full of “Death of Retail” horror stories. Amazon is being reviled even more than Wal Mart these days. There is a lot of talk about online presence, but if that was all that was needed, Sears and the like would be doing great. The future of retail is total online integration.
Everyone has a slew of shopping stories of the good, bad, and indifferent variety. I’m going to share one that is just plain puzzling, at least it was to me. You should read it twice. Read it once from the business owner perspective and then again from the consumer’s point of view. It will help illustrate why the online integration secrets I’m about to explain are so important.
The Printer Odyssey
I recently decided to replace my printer. I had a Brother color laser all-in-one that I bought in 2009 and it was starting to show the wear. Like most people these days, I looked online to check reviews and find the model I wanted. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that a new printer of the same type was cheaper than the toner for my old one.
After checking the reviews, I settled on another Brother model that was nearly identical to my old one. The next step was checking to see what retailers in my area carried it. It stunned me when I discovered that not one retailer within 100 miles carried one of the highest rated printers on the market. A retailer in New York was offering an online special with free express shipping. Guess who sold a printer as well as an upsell of additional toner?
Online Integration Secrets
The truth of any business is “Adapt or Die”. The retail landscape is changing more rapidly all the time. If brick and mortar retailers don’t adapt quickly to these changes, they’ll gradually disappear. Some industries will be more deeply affected than others, but everyone is going to feel the effects to some degree. Incidentally, online integration is a great addition to the Practical Access methodology.
So what is the definition of “online integration”? Essentially it amounts to bringing your physical and online presence together. Your staff carries tablets that are connected to your online store and have a payment portal installed. Using the Apple Store as an example, sales staff is able to look up products, scan bar codes, and check out customers effortlessly.
Alternatively, visitors to your e-commerce platform can get questions answered through live chat with knowledgeable staff. You can also offer each customer a variety of solutions to fit their needs without creating debt with a huge inventory.
Let’s look at several ways retailers can use online integration to put the squeeze on e-commerce only retailers.
There are multiple ways to improve customer experience, as well as tons more useful information, in our book. I think the most important question to ask yourself is, “What things are most important to my ideal customer?” Once you have the answer to that question, it’s easy to adopt ways to appeal to them. One way is by optimizing your staff. Like I said a couple weeks ago, cashiers are becoming a thing of the past. Knowledgeable sales staff can carry tablets with a payment portal installed and can check customers out without making them line up at a register at all unless they’re using cash.
With fewer, but much more effective, staff members, you can afford to pay a bit more. If your customer experience is usually outstanding, you can pay a lot more or provide other incentives to your employees.
As illustrated in my shopping story, it’s very easy for consumers to access reviews for every possible product. Consumers have to be a little careful since affiliate arrangements can influence the reviews they see but enter “your product reviews” into a search engine and the results will be substantial. Retailers should check those reviews often.
Unless there is a supplier contract in place that forces you to, why would you carry items that have a one, two, or even three-star review? If retailers stop carrying low-rated products, manufacturers would have to step up their game or be seen as low-end and only suitable for discount outlets. It’s a lot easier to make sales if you aren’t carrying trash in your inventory.
You’ll see more information in this article. Suffice to say, narrowing your product offerings to the best rated will reduce your overhead and guarantee the inventory you carry will sell. But that isn’t all I mean by inventory optimization.
What if you didn’t have to carry every permutation of every item to get a sale. Given the prevalence of “showrooming”, the practice is a guarantee that you’re wasting money. By blending your online presence with your physical one, customers can buy a wider range of items than you need to stock. In fact, you don’t even need to order an item until someone pays for it.
Online Integration for Practical Access
If you don’t need to cram every possible item into every square inch of your store, you are better able to be accessible to everyone. Smaller stores with more open space will become the rule and aisle widths and shelf heights will no longer be an issue. I don’t think there is much need to go into great detail here. I’m sure you can see how this method allows retailers to better serve everyone.
Time of Yore Meets Ultra Modern
If you walked into a General Store at the turn of the twentieth century, you could tell the proprietor what your problem was and he would give you THE solution. Customers would usually leave happy in the knowledge that their needs were being met. That was, of course, before the mass market.
Now there are multiple solutions to every problem. Business owners need to evaluate those solutions and offer the best bang for the buck. Online integration allows business owners to provide massive value to customers and increase revenues. The separation of physical and online is ending anyway, why not capitalize, innovate, and grow?