The New Retail Economy

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Retail is in more trouble than they care to admit.

This will come as no surprise to you, but it’s way easier to buy stuff online than go to a physical store. Nothing revolutionary there… or is there some innovation that retailers are missing? Just this week, I was reminded of how far the arena of shopping has changed.

Instance #1: I’ve rekindled (pardon the pun) my passion for my Kindle device. I used to read books exclusively on my iPhone using the Kindle app. I’ve shifted back to using the physical Kindle Paperwhite. And, because it’s summer and all, I’m reading like a fiend. My Kindle needed a case. I happened to be strolling through the local mall one day, and none of the stores had anything. I found myself in the downtown area later that same week. Same challenge. Nada. On Amazon? A million different choices. One, which was not a Amazon “official” had the magnetic latch (so it opens and closes without needing to hit the power button) and was able to turn into a stand (which makes for great reading while chomping on my morning oats). Fifteen bucks and it showed up in less than 24 hours (thanks, Amazon Prime).

Instance #2: I fly. A lot. I found myself needing a strange contraption/adapter for my my iPhone X. Because there is no headphone jack (it’s lightning bolt only) and because on certain airlines you’re not allowed to use Bluetooth headphones (what’s up with that?!?!), I wanted an adapter that would enable me to listen to my music with a wired lighting bolt jack and – at the same time – allow me to charge the iPhone. These adapters are plentiful for those with the traditional wired headphones, but for those with lightning bolt only? Not so much. If you’re confused, here’s what I am talking about. Same scenario as above. Same mall. Same downtown core. No retailers carried anything remotely close to it. Under fifteen bucks and it also showed up in less than 24 hours.

Retailers can’t beat Amazon.

That would be the obvious message. It’s not. Retailers may not be able to beat Amazon, but to be clueless about these products or pretend like they don’t even exist, is what creates the most friction. It’s hard (very, very hard) to have a fully-engaged and knowledgable staff. We all need more empathy for these retailers. Still, instead of “that doesn’t exist”“I’ve never heard of it”… and on and on… why don’t retailers train their staff to say these seven simple words: “let me look that up for you!”

Engagement is better than disappointment.

This is a moment of power at the retail level. Imagine if the retailer said, “I can get it for you. It will be $15 and I’ll have it here tomorrow.” Even if all the retailer is doing is buying it on Amazon and reselling it to the customer (and, even if the customer knows that the retailer is doing that), what’s wrong with that experience? Sure, it’s easier for the consumer to do it on their own, at that point. But the effort is what counts. The effort creates an engagement. That engagement furthers the brand experience. The brand experience goes from “this retailer doesn’t get it” to “at least they did everything in their power to make me a customer.” There’s a brand chasm that exists between those two retail experiences (whether it ends in a sale or not). So, Amazon can be the enemy of retail or it can be used as a tool to keep the retailer’s staff more informed… more engaged… and out in front.

Amazon solves all retail problems.

This is a major problem for retailers. Still, retailers can make this work. A few months back, I was in the market for a backgammon set. It became a mini-adventure of checking out game, hobby, toy and gift shops in the area. Nobody had what we were looking for. Amazon had multiple choices. I would prefer to support to local merchants, but they were unwilling to help me solve the problem. This pushed me to Amazon. Of course, every shopping scenario is different and some people prefer the personal touch to one-click shopping, while others prefer the speed and comfort of online over the parking lots and lines at the cash register. This isn’t a one size fits all solution. It’s more about the mindset of retailers. You can be mad at what Amazon has done to fundamentally change consumer’s buying behaviours or you can empower your staff to embrace it, use it for knowledge, offer it as a service and augment your retail experience.

Sometimes using the competition is the best way to discover better innovations for yourself and keep the customers flowing in.