February 2012 - Can You Be A Giant Even If Not An Amazon?
As we settle into the new year, the new and hot topic seems to be about Amazon and how it is "making it so difficult" for small businesses to survive. But we have a bone to pick with that argument. Is it really so hard to be unique, creative and not be beholden to competing on price? If so, then our apologies, as we assume you may have trouble staying in retail for the long haul. However, if you think as we do, or at least are open to being convinced, then keep on reading. We think that you can find ways to offer special products for your customers and create an experience they just can't get from a website.
Is it really Amazon that is holding you back or is it something else? Let's step back for those that haven't heard about this. Amazon now offers an a free mobile price checking app that allows people to scan a barcode on any product and then see what price it is offered on Amazon...and then immediately order it from them. This strikes fear in the heart of many small retailers who are afraid this will allow customers to use their stores as showrooms and then order the same product from Amazon for less.
We say, bring it on Amazon (and Red Laser, and Google Goggles and the whole host of other programs that let customers do this)! Sure, as a result of these apps, as a small store you may lose some business from certain customers to Amazon, but you have to admit they are good at what they do. You can buy almost any product (and we say almost, NOT all), usually at a great price, and get it shipped within 3-5 days. If you are a Amazon Prime customer, you can get it shipped in 2 days, for free no less. And to top it off, they have amazing customer service (and we really mean amazing), returns are no hassles, even for large and bulky objects and they strive to make things right for the customer if there is any sort of problem with an order.
Their application is quite genius for customers who are only shopping based on price. However, we should hope that your customer is NOT only shopping based on price and that you can offer them much, much more than that. One thing (and it's a major thing) that you have up on Amazon and any of its online counterparts is that you have the benefit of having these customers already in your store -- that's right they are under your roof! They have already stepped through the door (which is the hard part) and now it is up to you to engage them with your brand and your products.
So what do you do?
Here are some suggestions:
- Make your store easy to shop because, as you know, convenience is a big factor in why people shop online. If you have customers in your store and captive, make sure it is comfortable for them in every way. Aisles should be clear and easy to navigate, signage should be simple, concise and fit with your brand. There should be no clutter. Offer relevant amenities to your customers to supplement their experience (hand sanitizer, baby wipes, bottles of water, tea, a place to put umbrellas) that fit both your target customer and address things like the weather or other environmental surroundings.
- Don't be rude. The customer always comes first. You may be thinking, duh, why would I be rude. That is retail 101 and there is no way your employees would be rude to customers, but think again. They may be texting or on their phones, chatting with friends, busy cleaning up or other work, helping another customer etc. We don't suggest they be overbearing or in customers faces when they walk in the door, but they should help to create the friendly environment with their attitude, availability, attention to the store (as opposed to their phone or computer), etc.
- Product, product, product. Have unique and different products. Instead of trying to compete against Amazon on price, just don't. An example of a store that is finding ways to make themselves better instead of complaining about Amazon is Giggle. Giggle will stop selling brands that are on Amazon when Amazon gets to a price that it can't compete with. This ensures that it doesn't erode the Giggle brand or create the perception that Giggle is out of touch and too high priced as compared to competition. Giggle also has created product exclusives with certain brands that also enables it to prevent competition and protect price. For instance, if Giggle carries the same product as many of its competitors (including Amazon), it will partner with the manufacturer to create a different color option that is only available through Giggle. Therefore, if someone prefers that look, there is only one place to get it. Now, of course we realize not everyone has this type of buying power but you can do the same thing on a smaller scale or with smaller designers who are willing to work with you to get their product out.
While we recommend going the above route as opposed to complaining, blaming Amazon and making things difficult for customers, some stores have taken another approach. Lori's Shoes, is going to the effort of changing style names so they can't be compared with Zappos. And in the same astonishing vein, we were dumbfounded to see a retailer who said they would print their own bar codes to stick over the manufacturers, thus forcing customers to take the additional step of typing in the actual product to search and price compare. These stores are actually spending valuable time and money fixating on Amazon instead of focusing their resources on building a great store that can stand on its own to feet.
We have to ask, if stores are so bent on hiding from price comparisons, really then, what does their business have to stand on? Whenever your merchandise does not allow you to be transparent, open and honest with customers, you have a problem that is even larger than Amazon (and that is pretty large). There is nothing wrong with Amazon offering products at better prices, that is what competition is all about and creating apps to help prove it, is using technology to assist both their customers and their business. So sure, changing style names and proprietary bar codes is one way to go. But we're pretty sure that's the only the way to treat a customer you are going to lose.
Read more about what small stores are doing to compete, both good things and those that alienate their customers!