By Jonathan Schneider
‘Will they or won’t they?’ continues to be the big question about Amazon’s plan (or lack thereof) to open a retail store. It seems that only the team in Washington knows the answer, but it could work under the right conditions– if the store sells only Amazon-branded products and if consumers cannot return other items there. Regardless of opinions or the outcome, the question raises another intriguing issue. How do pure-play e-tailers establish a brick-and-mortar presence? It seems like just a few years ago we were asking the opposite question – how far we have come.
E-tailers have a lot to think about when contemplating a move to the physical. The overriding consideration must be about their relationship with each and every customer. While a huge amount of a consumer’s time is spent “socially” online, buying there is an individual experience (remember when Lands End tried shopping with a friend?). From the moment one first hits a commerce site, it is all about the individual customer. Even online ads are customized to the individual shopper.
When e-tailers try to recreate that one-on-one experience offline, here are four things to consider:
A greeter. Well-worn they may be, but Walmart’s greeters never let consumers down. They deliver a simple hello – no pressure, no assumption, and very low-key. Compare that with the familiar first encounter in most retail stores, “Hi – anything special you are looking for today?” Or even worse, but all too common, no one says hello at all.
Not all web sites are the master of the low-key greet, but the best ones have found a way to connect with customers as soon as they enter the website. They establish immediate rapport with visitors through simple messages, or cookies that recognize the customer.
Have Plenty of Staff. Retail websites are all about the individual visitor; there is never an issue of a shortage of staff. Once a customer finds what they want to purchase – even if there is a quick session of online chat help – checkout can be completed instantaneously.
Sell Everything You Have. Consumers do not want “online only” availability if the store exists. What benefit is it for them to showroom products in stores only to have to order them online? In-store ordering in the absence of a truly compelling reason to do so has been a bust – just ask Borders and Barnes and Noble.
Have It In Stock. In addition to the need to sell everything via both channels, products must be in stock at the physical store. Even the mighty Apple is falling victim here – increasingly its retail stores only stock mid to low-end spec models of its products. Those who want extra memory or a new type of hard drive must order online.
Financial and cost structure issues aside, in retrospect moving the consumer experience from retail to e-tail looks pretty easy compared to transitioning a store offline. Before making this very risky transition, e-tailers need to make sure that they can offer customers an in-store service that is equivalent to their online offerings.