Monday, December 17, 2007

Retail stores try to stay relevant/compelling for web-savvy shoppers

Over at BusinessWeek they've taken a very comprehensive look at how the increasing amount of web-savvy shoppers is affecting the retail industry. They conclude that the big change in shopping behavior boils down to a lack of patience on the part of this new type of shopper. For example, if a customer can't find what she wants at a store or has trouble getting information about that product from store reps then she'll simply go online. This is obviously dangerous for bricks-and-mortar shops, since a customer shopping at Best Buy who leaves because she couldn't find what she wanted, won't necessarily make her purchase from BestBuy.com. She could just as easily go to Amazon, and Best Buy would have lost a costumer because their in-store experience was not up to snuff with the web (despite the store being much more costly to maintain).

This should be a wake up call for retail stores, especially during the biggest shopping season. The increasing power of the web must make retail outlets more prepared to serve customers if they want to remain relevant. The clich├ęd model of the pimple-faced teen with no product knowledge working behind the counter simply isn't going to cut it anymore. The store's power still lies in being able to provide personalized experiences and information to customers, and if somebody is shopping in-store they're basically saying they value that. They don't want to be bothered by no-nothing idiots. They want a very friendly and knowledgeable human being to assist them. No more jaded sales employees. If customers don't require (or don't value) that level of interaction, they're more likely to stay at home and do their shopping online.

The article also discusses how Best Buy in particular is putting its employees through a much more rigorous training process which hopefully makes them better prepared to answer customer questions and provide more informed recommendations, as Bill noted two weeks ago. Best Buy's chief competitor, Circuit City, has also made it much easier for customers to order online and then pick up their purchase in the store, which makes for an effective integration between their web and retail shopping experience. So it's obvious they're paying attention to what's happening and trying to react. In-store pickup is a good example of using the web's wide net to funnel people into the bricks-and-mortar store, and has the potential to become the cornerstone of many multichannel marketing approaches in the future. But Best Buy gets my applause for understanding why people still shop in stores -- it's the people and the experience. And that's what they're trying to focus on and improve now.

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