Forget Amazon. Merchants Need To Worry About This…

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It’s not Amazon that small businesses have to worry about. It’s themselves.

My friend, Tom Webster, noted (on Facebook) how sad it was for him to see the closure of so many small businesses in Boston, as he went for his daily run along Charles Street.

Montreal is no different.

Add in our recent “big dig” construction and infrastructure repairs, and it’s all one big hot mess for local merchants. It became clear to Tom, that many of these local businesses will not be able to open after the pandemic. They simply won’t make it. Their loss will probably be Amazon‘s gain. Tom puts it best: “That’s no great revelation, but knowing that many of our truly local retailers won’t be coming back from this, it made me feel a little resentful.”

Amazon is massive and only becoming bigger, as more and more people stay home and keep self-isolating.

This creates an ever-more reliant habit on Amazon and other e-commerce players. As more and more people are forced to shop online – and the event horizon for life to return to normal is nowhere in sight – the question remains: Will people ever go back to these local merchants or did they become habituated to online shopping by pandemic/design? In the past few weeks, I’ve seen countless beautiful stories of local merchants going that extra mile to help out those in their community. As the merchant’s hours and ability to operate shrunk due to government/health demands, it seems like everyone (merchants and neighbors alike) became more human… more of a community.

I’m a comic book nerd.

Every Wednesday is new comic book day. If you know this, you’re a nerd too. I take pride in supporting my local comic book shop. As the pandemic spread, I found the shop being more present and helpful. Suddenly, the store was willing to deliver comics to your door, allow you to call them when you arrive so that your comics can be brought out (instead of having to go into the store), be more amenable to how people might like to buy their books, and more. 

All good services. All good ideas.

Suddenly, the high-end sushi shop (that no one could get a reservation at) is taking orders by phone and online. They’re allowing for pickup and are offering free delivery. On the one hand, we all want to support our local businesses. We need them. We want them. They are a part of the fabric of our communities. On the other hand, all of these value-added services and accommodations are happening because they are desperate to stay afloat.
This is a grand display of all of the things that could have been done by these local businesses to keep Amazon at arm’s length. To make their business Amazon-proof.

And that’s the rub.

Where have you been for all of these years, merchants?
Why didn’t you launch these initiatives years ago, when Amazon started picking up steam?
Shouldn’t these initiatives always be a part of what you offer?

It’s not the pandemic.

When I walk into my local stationary/pen/paper store and the price of a pen is five dollars (but it’s two dollars on Amazon), it becomes that small business owner’s choice to lose that customer. Don’t make us shop elsewhere.
We don’t leave for that purchase. We leave forever. Changing for the pandemic seems to be about the local merchant’s own survival. Changing years ago for the onslaught of Amazon would have been about offering real value and differentiation for their community and customers. The same offering, real value and differentiation that customers are seeing today.

Know this:

My heart bleeds for local merchants.
I support local merchants with every chance that I get.
I just wish many of them had supported us customers more prior to the pandemic, to provide value rather than doing anything and everything for self preservation in this moment.
Their efforts make me skeptical and cynical.
I don’t like feeling this way.
Customers don’t like feeling this way.
The next hurdle that these locals merchants will face as things (hopefully) return to normal may be scarier than Amazon:

Consumers are spending less.

Aren’t we? As we self-isolate, clean up our homes (because there’s not that much else do), we’re also looking (closely) at our expenses. We’re limited in our movement, so we’re limited in our spend. Consumers will question what they need and want as we leave this hibernation (whenever that will be). Local merchants (all merchants) are being put on notice. It will be less about price and service, and much more about this question:

Do I really need this?

Merchants (of all shapes and sizes) better start solving for this problem today.

We all have plenty of time to think about it.