The Death of Retail or The Evolution of Retail?
After I got out of the Army I entered the world of retail. The malls were like communities within communities and there was a lot of money to be made. The halls were filled with stories of large commission checks and the purchases that followed. Sales people talked of home ownership and car leases. This was before the Internet boomed and PC’s were a luxury’s not a commodity. Cell phones were still in bags and our mall even had a home phone store. Go ahed and click the link if you do not remeber what a home phone is.
I remember the day I got my first Packer Bell home computer and my AOL Dial up. I was in front of my machine for hours on end and then I realized you could walk away while it is trying to connect to the Internet. Not too long after this I got a job offer that would take me into the heart of technology. Or I should say, I was being tossed into the deep end of the pool.
I remember arriving in the office complex that had 3 sales people, four executives and over 40 IT professionals. The company was finalizing the Y2K software they had built (for no reason as they would later find out) and everyone had computers or laptops. It was like I had time traveled. The fact was this was the middle of the revolution. We began working on payment solutions, mCommerce and a whole host of things that currently drive many commerce transactions.
As a young executive I was very vocal about how so many really depended on the sales person to help them make a decision. How in retail the looks, feel and the science of the sale was all a part of the process. A computer that needs time to connect and search around would never replace the immediate gratification of the instant purchase. In my mind there was no way you could ever compete with the Nordstrom experience. I did feel that mCommerce could be a part of retail but I never felt as if the big box would crumble.
As we began working on payment systems for the likes of First Data and its subsidiary Western Union, PayPal (was named Confinity at the time), and CardServices I began to see the end goal. Giving the consumer the power to chose how they wanted to show and where. Information on products and pricing. While eBay was still in its infancy the future was becoming more clear.
Soon you began to see the evolution of commerce and technology converge. Companies like eBay became giants and valuations soared. Company’s like Home Depot began to shed it’s industry expert sales force, Nordstorm began to do away with it’s liberal return policy and the net began to surge in growth. Consumers were more willing to spend then ever and sales associates became clerks.
Now fast forward to a few years and long gone are the days of commission sales people filled with product knowledge and a desire to help you (let alone an incentive). We now have self check out, sales people that point to isle numbers and raving fan service is a thing of the past.
With the world taking to the net like never before, with Internet speed slike never before we are Begining to see the empowered and connected consumer. Social selling tools, peer reviews of products and so much more just with the click of the button.
Want to know the best price just google the products name. Visa, Master Card, AMEX, PayPal, eCheck and so many other options at the consumer finger tips.
Need a few outfits with shoes to match for the special day? No problem Zappos.com will send you anything you want and shipping is free. Send back what you don’t wat and shipping is free. Need to wear the outfit to know? No problem Zappos has a 365 day return policy no questions asked.
This is just one of many examples of how the net is replacing the brick and mortar stores. The cost of connecting with the actual customer is a lot lower on the net and you are not responsible for an over priced lease. The consumers want service, price and security and right now the brick and mortar retailers are failing on all three points. Consumers have less and less time to shop and have higher demands then ever before.
With this change has come a new era in online shopping. Social selling, direct to the consumer interaction with feedback, no shelf space competition, no co-op or MDF spends that do not help you or your brand and no more annoying “sales” people that either do not know or care enough to know about what their jobs are and how important we the consumer is to their job. Consumers get what they want, when they want it and at a price they want to pay.
As more and more people connect to the World Wide Web it has truly become World Wide. Without an active Internet based marketing and selling solution your brand will likely become a dinosaur and fade away in the history of what was selling.
We need to embrace the consumer at the places they like to shop and interact. We need to adopt our business to fit their needs and wants. The consumer knows they have choices and they expect us to react and provide them what they want when they want it. Brick and Mortar Retailers are failing every day. Borders put the mom and pop book store out of business and the Internet put Borders out of business. Brands like Circuit City have closed their retail locations and are attempting to rebuild their presence on line. Blockbuster has given up market share to kiosk and Netflix.
I can go on and on about the evolution of retail. The fact is the Internet is the future and present. Ignore it and you will fail.