The Changing Face of Retail

CNN.com ran an article this weekend on retail “showrooming” by consumers.  It’s an article that anyone who’s followed the rise of Amazon.com saw coming more than 5 years ago.  Consumers have always chased the best price for an item.  Before it was malls – people would go from store store to store looking to find the best price on those blue jeans they had their eye on.  That wasn’t considered a problem because everyone was competing on the same playing field.

Now though brick-and-mortar retail is forced to compete with e-commerce.  How is the local bookstore supposed to compete with Amazon?  Their fixed costs and overhead will never be able to defeat the scale of Amazon.com.  Does that mean they are doomed to failure?  Reading through the CNN article it certainly seems that way. There is a definite sense of doom and gloom.  In fact there is an actual reference to doomsday.

But it’s been shown that local can compete with the big e-commerce companies – but it’s not by using the standard retail models.  If you’re a bookstore, why aren’t you partnered with the local coffee shop?  If you’re the local coffee shop, why aren’t you partnered with the local consignment shop?  There are so many opportunities to leverage local but none of them are possible by stores working independently.

Local universities are great examples of how to do retail right – but none of them use traditional retail models.  Universities know the audience they are working with (yes, it could be considered a captive audience but bear with me).  The storefronts at the university all work in collaboration.  You rarely see a lot of competition between the locations on campus.  Additionally, they all actively try to get people to go from one to the next.  AND they are figuring out how to partner with e-commerce.  What difference to the store if they buy right there or buy on-line?  Why no push customers to higher levels of interactivity?

Don’t assume that showrooming has to be negative.  Use it to your advantage!  Show the online prices and compare them to what you are selling it for.  Then give your customers a REASON TO BUY.  If you know that you are going to be more expensive, find a way to offset it.  Maybe you’re able to give a free bag of custom local coffee if you buy 5 books.  Even better if you can’t get that coffee any other way!

Think outside the brick box.  Use what you have to your advantage and know that you’re not just competing with e-commerce but also China, Japan, Australia, Brazil….who said global wasn’t the new local?

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