The dynamics of retailing have changed significantly and traders who want to turn back the clock are just wasting their time. How often do you hear traders say “Just bring back the customers we used to have” as if we simply have to recreate the conditions of the past. It is true that we need to understand what drives our customers but meeting their needs is going to involve totally different ways of doing things and the customers we used to have no longer exist.
The answer to our question “Who is in control of retailing?” used to be wholesalers who searched the world looking for products and then made them available to retailers often with a high degree of exclusivity involved. Then retailers got wise and started doing the same thing. They would go direct to factories overseas, cut out the wholesaler and offer direct to their extremely grateful customers who liked the new transparency and the slightly cheaper prices that often went with it. But now, thanks to the world wide web, it is the customer who has direct access and their understanding of what a product is worth has changed significantly. Online retailing is quiet amazing. You can sit in the comfort of your home, examine catalogs at your leisure, make a choice, pay immediately, and then sit back and wait for the goods to arrive, usually delivered to your door. The convenience aspect is huge and there is little doubt that the customer is now in control.
Does that mean that retailers like us are superfluous? Well, no. Consumers still want to touch and feel products. They still want expert product advice. And they still enjoy the bricks’n’mortar shopping experience. But, to put it crudely, you cannot afford to piss them off because online is a very attractive second choice. Does that mean that retailers like us need to change how we operate? Well, yes. We need to get the convenience aspect really right. No broken promises, no nasty surprises, and no stock outs (unless you set up a raincheck). Keeping up with what's hot and being innovative is also very important. We need to provide great value at all times, not just in the product, but in the services that go with it. Even more, we need to show that we are prepared to go the extra mile to meet their needs. It is becoming increasingly apparent that price is not the be-all and end-all of good customer relations. Customers will be prepared to pay a little extra, maybe as much as 20% extra, if the service you provide is exceptional.