Online retailers know they have one huge asset going for them versus traditional retailers: they can save you time by being just a few clicks away from your purchase. Online sales represent over 10 percent of total sales in the U.S. market and that figure is growing at about 10 percent per year. To counter this ‘time saved’ advantage, many retailers are now offering online sales of their own with local store pick-up – which isn’t so much about saving time, as etailers are evolving into a 2-day (or 2 hour if you live in a major city) shipping with free return scenario, as it is of just getting in the game.
If I could make a prediction – I think with the trend towards tribalism in the premiere and luxury markets (meaning, people buy a product that reflects their perceived values or taste), story telling becomes ever more important to online companies. You now have to give the customer a reason to shop with you, a compelling story about why they want to become a part of your tribe. And in the near future, I think you’ll see that not only do you have to tell a compelling story about what your company represents in the mind’s eye of the customer, you’ll have to be able to do that with 24/7 two-way communication as customers pose questions and delve deeper into the feature/benefits of any given premiere product. This is true Millennial shopping by phone.
Which leads me to Time Well Spent. I think the best way for retailers to compete against online merchants is on the basis of time well spent. That means offering a true experience that is engaging and drives customers into stores. And the more time your customers spend with you in your store, the more money they are going to spend.
Time well spent starts and ends with product knowledge and compelling, hands-on experiences. If I’m going to come to your store, I need your people to know everything about the product. Much, much more than what I can read online. And I want to touch and feel. I want a glass of water or a shot of espresso if I’m going to spend some time evaluating the differences in any two products I’m comparing.
In other words, I would advocate for a small investment into Experience Shopping for retailers. Perhaps you set up a small café (okay, a refreshment stand!) or offer hands-on experiences where customers can really take a product for a test drive. Get your vendors to supply free samples so customers can really compare and discover what’s best for them – not what some algorithm has chosen for them online.
If I come away from a retail experience knowing I got exactly what I wanted at exactly what my budget could afford – that’s time well spent. And if the experience is memorable – I’m going to share that with all my friends. So, IMO, retailers need to develop a time well spent strategy and provide something to their customers that no etailer can compete with.