Flip the debate to realise opportunity

I’m bored of the sensational debate created by many traditional retailers and journalists where online is pitted against bricks and mortar retail.

Hyperboles including ‘cannibalise’ ‘death’ and ‘extinct’ are bandied about to describe the impact online has had on many physical stores, in an effort to create an environment where the two can’t coexist symbiotically.

I completely disagree.

These limited arguments obscure the fact there is large opportunity for traditional retailers to embrace online, with or without an online store, as opposed to hiding in the dark and hoping online retail is a trend that will soon pass.

I also dislike that retailers who have opened online storefronts are marginalised, as though we were all supposed to be united in ignoring the online marketplace altogether.

Online retail and other advances in technology, including smartphones and social media, have provided consumers with a voice. Customer reviews and opinions on products provide a plethora of information for the consumer to help make the best decision for them, quickly.

As Forbes.com contributor Adam Ozimek suggests:

“The pre-sale services offered by Amazon, in particular customer reviews, are usually of far greater use to me than a showroom when buying electronic goods. Sometimes when shopping for electronics I’ll make the purchase in the brick and mortar (so returns are easier and I can get it faster) while looking up the ratings of the product on my iPhone at Amazon.”

Traditional retailers should take advantage of some of the downfalls of many online retailers. Many offshore sites and cheap product deals take weeks for the product to be delivered; whereas if traditional retailers adopt better pricing models and improve customer service they would be able to compete on a much more level playing field.

The time has come for traditional retailers to flip the experience – retailers should be differentiating themselves by creating a fantastic customer experience that won’t be able to be replicated online. If you’ve ever visited an Abercrombie & Fitch store, with its club-like shopping environment, you’ll know what type of experience I am talking about.

Online retail is to traditional retail what the printing press was to journalism. It represents a tremendous opportunity for traditional retailers to evolve.

For too long, traditional retailers have been complacent – they have been inflating prices and countering this with poor customer service, driving consumers to look for other available options.

The power of online should be embraced and encouraged in-store. Traditional retailers could have readily available tablets to encourage customers to read product reviews, as well as implementing experiences you can’t get online such as cooking classes, product experts who take you through each product to show you its features, and even smaller tactics such as coffee on arrival.

There has been a seismic shift in power from the retailer to the consumer, but we must never lose sight of the fact the consumer should have always been the most important aspect of any retail decision.

John Winning is CEO of Winning Group: Appliances Online, BigBrownBox.com.au, Winning Appliances, and Handy Crew.


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