By Kord Brashear
Many indie retailers are searching for the right business models to compete against the online giants. While it is easy to imagine why retailers think they need to compete on traditional dimensions such as price, assortment, transactional ease and logistics, that is not what separates Amazon and others from the pack. The remarkable quality about Amazon in particular is its willingness to think broadly about the experience it delivers to its customers, from the possibility of drone delivery, to American Express points integration.
Smart independent retailers will realize getting hung up on matching prices will ultimately result in a race to the bottom, and, in that scenario, Amazon wins. They have to focus, instead, on the total experience they deliver to their customers and the values that actually matter. Based on some of our recent work helping retailers address these issues, we have developed four key principles that successful retailers need adopt to compete with the online giants.
1. Know what customers really want
When retailers focus on the needs and values of the customers they have, and what it is they are trying to accomplish, it gives them newfound insight into the experiences they need to provide. When they start focusing on their customers, it will become clear how to tailor and adapt the services they provide. If your value to customers is all about delivering personalized, expert support, why even bother trying to make a bricks and mortar concept out of it? Cooks Illustrated is an excellent example of this. If you think about that company’s various touch points such as magazines, books, TV shows, and radio, it created a cumulative effect to build a larger audience for generating revenue.
2. Leverage the brand’s expertise
Customers are looking for expertise, and something really powerful happens when retailers can integrate their product expertise into every aspect of the customer experience. Magic Beans, a baby gear and toy retailer, understands that car seats and strollers are a highly involved purchase for expectant parents. Therefore, it focuses on supporting sales by dedicating space within the store for seat and stroller displays, providing employee education (including certified car seat installers), and having buying guides on its website.
3. Developing personal-assisted selling
As online shopping becomes more sophisticated, there is still a need for people to be able to talk to someone when they need help or have a special request. These are the types of moments when a retail store can really shine. Sometimes it is just that shoppers need confidence that they have found the right store. In those moments, it really helps to speak to a kind, live person who knows their merchandise.
4. Think beyond the transaction
Retailers need to think about opportunities to create value across all phases of the customer experience. They can use product education or events as a way to create traffic. Many independent bookstores have been able to stay relevant through author events and signings, as well as hand-selecting books based on what they know their customers might like.
The good news is there are many touch points to reach customers today. The key to choosing the effective ones: know your customers, and adapt as they or the business environment changes.