The way that Amazon is winning the retail competition provides a few valuable lessons that may keep other retailers in business and help stop the bleeding in the industry.
Amazon stays connected to what consumers want, and is excellent at selecting products that consumers want and need. Amazon’s large selection of products is part of its success formula. To win in today’s world, retailers need to consider diversifying. For example, an outdoors clothing store may also choose to sell very popular camping equipment to increase sales. Or a shoe store could also sell socks and pantyhose. Avoid sticking to narrowly defined core product lines to grow your success.
Recent research shows that 42% of Canadian shoppers prefer brick & mortar retail as a preferred starting point in a shopping experience. So the key becomes being the store of choice to start with. Just like the West Edmonton Mall is a destination for people wanting an experience, retail stores could offer more experiential shopping. For example, maybe a brick & mortar store could set up “life scenes” in store with other additional products that you can sell, while helping to draw in customers who want to see the latest scene. If you sell shorts and t-shirts, what about a picnic table in the summer time with popular summer items? A few sunny days ago, I was eyeing up the makeup line at Old Navy hoping to find some sun tan lotion. No such luck, and a rare missed opportunity by Old Navy.
The personal touch is key in customer service. Amazon welcomes you by name to the homepage. The brick & mortar equivalent may be offering water, tea or coffee, and being close to or providing a washroom for people who need one. Regular customers should be welcomed in with a familiarity that knows which new tops or products they have to see before leaving. Notes can be kept on a front desk computer system that also shows what the customer has recently purchased so matching items can be pointed out.
Amazon’s distribution centers around the world support them in speedy shipping deliveries. The online world is global. If a retail store is struggling in its current market, perhaps the focus should be growing larger to include other countries. Canadian retailers have a currency advantage state side, and if you’re not already selling to the US, consider adding it as a market. Expanding into another country requires careful planning, and is best done in stages.
For online orders, a tracking system that lets customers know where a package is at any time can help create customer satisfaction. Retailers need to be transparent in what duties may be charged for merchandise. I was personally surprised recently when I thought I was ordering from the Canadian branch of a store I regularly frequent, and FedEx called me with $38 of duties on items that had cost well under $100. If I had expected it, I would have been okay with it. But it was the surprise that makes me hesitate to buy clothes online again from that store.
Online reviews are influential. Having online reviews about specific items so people can see what customers are saying about the product helps people make a buying decision. Old Navy does a great job of managing these. Having recently bought some summer clothes at a brick & mortar Old Navy, I was happy to respond to their emailed request for a review. I love the clothes, so marked them all 5 stars and gave all a positive review. I was also happy to complete the customer survey, mentioning two employees who were wonderful (and I know the manager will buy them each a coffee!). This makes me feel great!
Websites need to be responsive (easily viewed on mobile) because so many people use their phones when accessing the internet. To win at SEO, websites also benefit by being HTTPS these days to be judged as worthy by Google. It’s surprising how many businesses aren’t there yet.
Amazon saves shipping information on its system so when a customer is making a new purchase they don’t have to re-enter all their information. This makes buying easy. On mobile, especially, customers don’t want to spend minutes typing in their information when they have already done so for previous purchases.
Calls to Action need to be bright and obvious so customers see them. The brick & mortar equivalent may be keeping dressing rooms open so customers don’t have to spend extra time waiting for someone to attend to unlocking a room. I realize that some stores keep rooms locked with hopes of preventing shoplifting. An assistant positioned close to fitting rooms can help prevent thievery, and be present to help customers fetch different sizes. Well placed cameras are also effective, as is a friendly relationship with your local police department (and mall security if you’re in a mall).
Online marketers believe that a customer list can be powerful. Retailers can extend additional sales to your current customer list. A list is a good vehicle to “bundle”, “market” and “sell” additional products or services. I have always been a fan of fashion shows for current customers. These can effectively mix in-store events with the online world. Using today’s technology, a fashion show can be videotaped and broadcast online through You Tube and on the retailer’s website and Facebook page, so new customers can see the show as well. This could be done quarterly with the changing seasons.
Although many retailers are disgruntled with Amazon’s growing success, there’s a lot to be learned from the way they operate their business and their customer-centric attitude. Let’s hope our most-loved retailers use the resources that are available to them and adapt their businesses to suit the customer to survive in today’s changing market.