Keeping consumers in the shop, not online [Bizcommunity (South Africa)]
(Bizcommunity (South Africa) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Faced with the growing number of consumers who go into brick and mortar retailers, browse, price compare and then leave to buy online, retailers need to overcome this phenomenon and get back their business.
One option may be to charge to get advice from an assistant in a camera shop or a PC reseller, or make potential consumers pay a R200 fee for test-driving a vehicle or sampling clothes, shoes or even perfume. Many would be outraged and vow they would never go back again. Though these may sound like ludicrous, maybe even offensive schemes, many retailers, who are experiencing a growing problem that has been dubbed 'showrooming', are considering them.
Showrooming is when customers want to shop for something, go into a store, try it out, ask questions and advice from the staff, check the (usually cheaper) price online in-store and walk out. It seems it is a problem for all bricks and mortar businesses and reportedly, there have been businesses that have gone bust because of this. (In a cynical gesture, the staff at UK-based camera chain Jessop's even put up a sign on their now-closed store windows saying "The staff at Jessop's would like to thank you for shopping with Amazon. Dodging tax 1% at a time.")
This is neither a new phenomenon, nor is it going to go away. Many industries have been decimated by the power of the internet and online stores. Whether we look at music, book and media publishing, toys and shoes, travel agents and estate agents, many industries have changed the way in which they do business with customers. Very few have made the transition without considerable pain.Consumers see advantages
If you look at it from a customer's perspective, shopping online offers a number of advantages. First, there is the convenience of not having to get into your car and spend time shopping around at a number of different stores, perhaps even at a number of different malls. Second, you inevitably find cheaper prices that typical physical stores cannot compete with, given high overheads of premium rental, staff, stock in storage and more. Third, the risk of buying something unseen has been mitigated by customer comments on the internet and in the social media. Indeed, many companies such as Amazon encourages people who purchase products to review them and makes recommendations, based on what their customers have indicated they like.
Thus, while personal service experiences may not always be part of online purchases, this is mitigated by the speed, convenience and savings benefits.Responding to showrooming
So how do you respond to this attack on your bricks and mortar business? Solutions may appear hard to implement, but often it is not about matching what happens online.
When I first saw the discussion about showrooming, it looked like a no-win situation for bricks-and-mortar retailers. Should they charge for try-outs, samples, test-drives and good advice and perhaps take this fee off when their customers actually buy? Should they ban customers who do it? Can they get exclusivity deals with their suppliers? Should they develop their own online and smartphone/mobile strategies?
Then it suddenly struck me... online stores are just another competitor, albeit a competitor that offers better prices and greater convenience. Therefore, businesses threatened by these new competitors should do what they have always done to attract and keep customers. They may choose to imitate and follow a strategy of 'if you can't beat them, join them' but they must also find ways to offer even better value to customers and prospects so they are not tempted to go the well-known, established and trusted websites. Making it memorable
The best way to do this is to offer them personal and memorable experiences that simply cannot be imitated on line. I like the convenience, simplicity and the prices of buying books from Amazon, but as a booklover, I cannot resist browsing in my local bookstore, smelling and feeling the books, and even grabbing some not-inexpensive coffee and cake while I am there. However, when I do buy the book, I do not care that it is 10% more expensive. What was important was just being there.Real store experiences can or should be:
- Personal - involving human contact as opposed to "web-bots," and offering bespoke or customised products. In today's depersonalised and impersonal world, customers are looking for authenticity. Warmth, empathy, caring and enthusiasm are essential, as is your ability to know stuff about your customers.
- Entertaining - surprising, playful, thrilling, "secret," humorous, or even sexy. You can do so much here, even on a limited budget, including live demonstrations, special events, roadshows and an attractive or unusual physical space or location. You can design special themed events and even give away memorabilia to customers to remind them about the experience.
- Engaging - let them learn something new, explore, offer their views, connect with each other or even take a role in the show. Also try to involve as many of the five senses as you can and create and emotional experience that hits them between the eyes. Boundary breaking - beyond the expected, innovative, remarkable or maybe even outrageous. It can include where and how you promote your business, touching on taboo subjects, (a beautiful young lady once asked me if I wanted a "Chilly Willie," which turned out to be a chocolate and chilli ice cream,) or doing the opposite of what others are doing. One YouTube video shows a business where, instead of trying to make its website look like a store, it has made its store look like one is walking into a website!
- Value creating - since customers are giving up the advantages of online shopping, what else can you offer that makes the sacrifice worthwhile?
Maybe it's just my age, but there are lots of things I just won't buy online and the companies that want to sell them to me better be ready for it - or lose my business.
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