No One is Doing It

This past holiday season I decided to challenge myself. I have always been opposed to shopping online, yet the stories my friends were telling me made it hard to deny the ease of the platform. The thought of staying home and not subjecting my introverted-ness to holiday crowds seemed very appealing to me, so I plotted out my cyber shopping and clicked and ordered. Now this doesn’t mean I didn’t support local, nor does it mean, that I didn’t go into big box—I did it all. I will save the best for last. And every experience was completely unique. I’ve rated all of my experiences on a scale of 0-5 in the hopes of defining my analysis of these platforms.
Overall, the ability to shop online is amazing. I can sip my coffee, find my gifts, and watch my gift list shrink in the comfort of my home. What I found most fascinating was buying straight from Instagram. The social platform has begun its transition into marketing powerhouse, and I was hooked. I admit, my trust in the platform was low, despite the ease of the initial process. My misgivings were reduced when the giftee received the item in the mail and it was wrapped with my note, plus the actual gift was better than the picture on Instagram.
Crate and Barrel: 5 points
Pro: Engaging marketing, ease of ordering, follow through on promised experience
Con: None!

 

Now, when I bought directly from a magazine (like Instagram, I was lured in by a good picture), I did not have the same result. Unfortunately, I bought five of the same item, money was collected, only to be notified by email just one week before Christmas that the order was back-stocked and would not be available for four months. OK. Refund. I was disappointed but tolerant, because when you’re featured in Magnolia with a riveting product (as this product was), you need to anticipate that the demand will be x10.
Schoolhouse.com: 2.5 points
Pro: Engaging marketing, ease of ordering
Con: Lack of follow-through on promised experience, Inability to meet demand

 

And Dear Amazon Prime, where do I even begin? Disclaimer: I am very new to the world of Amazon Prime, but I believe in the basics. For example, if I send gifts to people and pay for wrapping, please wrap them! Another basic? When I buy something and it arrives already opened, I’m disappointed (and a little grossed out). And when I buy something for others and it arrives broken and unwrapped, I’m doubly disappointed. Amazon’s advantage lies in their size and their ability to fulfill needs quickly, not as a gift shop.
Amazon Prime: 2 points
Pros: Ease of ordering, Large selection, Fast and free delivery
Cons: Lack of follow-through on promised experience, Poor customer service

 

Stores who have both online and brick and mortar retail should be the most flexible and have the ability to offer the best experience. I discovered this year that is not necessarily the case. This was a very personal experience for me. This year, we decided to do new stockings for my crew. We selected these new stockings via a voting process (let’s say it’s complicated). So when I found the perfect stockings for the clan, I was elated. And then the email: “We have canceled your order.” What? Perhaps worst of all, it wasn’t the whole order—it was just one stocking. Of course, the store didn’t have it in stock either. Not only was the delivery of the product a complete failure, the delivery of the news was as well. It was coldly digital, accompanied by no apology or offer to help in any way.
NAME OF STORE: 0 points
Pros: Perfect product
Cons: Lack of follow-through on promised experience, Poor customer service

 

The stories go on and on. I think they could be exemplified by this simple fact: the last gift just arrived on Thursday, Jan 11th.

 

Now for the in-store experiences.

 

Target: 3 points
Great store hours; at 7 am, there was not a shopper in sight, but shelves the were empty and the staff was busy restocking. It’s a very good option if you want self-service.  

 

REI: 0 points  
Overall fail. I was there when the doors opened and there were plenty of staff available. The problem? They were only interested in whatever they were talking about behind the cash wrap, and not their customer. I walked in and right back out.

 

Anthropologie: 0 points
Anthropologie is my go-to for creativity and ideas, but they were so busy there was a line around the cash wrap. I walked out.  It’s christmas… staff properly. Similarly, LuluLemon, Apple, Lush, and Ikea lost a lot of business because of long lines.

 

Alter’d State: 4 points
While this store was buzzing with customers, it was equalling buzzing with staff. There was no line; in fact, as I was checking out, I grabbed five more things because it was that easy.  And the staff was friendly and happy to be there.

 

Samsung Luggage Store: 5 points
Frankly, I was blown away by my experience. There was one staff member. Phone ringing, customers in and out asking a lot of unique questions, all as she was taking us through six different suitcases (setting each one on tables so we could see all features). She managed the store and made a great sale.

 

Thyme in the Garden: 5 points
This local store gets rockstar attention. Thyme in the Garden was so enjoyable and relaxing. I visited more than I intended to just because of the care and unique selection.

 

So, what’s to be learned through all these retail experiences? There’s a lot of talk about the demise of retail, but the assumption that Amazon is taking over and will replace brick and mortar is not correct. With Amazon, as I experienced this holiday season, there’s no connection. No experience. I found utterly unenjoyable, and frustrating to boot.

 

That lack of connection isn’t solely the realm of big online platforms; it’s something I ran into even in the smallest local shops and big box retailers. It’s that lack of connection, not Amazon, that will run you out of business. When brick and mortar businesses become more like the computer generated people you get on Amazon, they fail, and in that failure they perpetuate the idea that retail is dying. The best experiences I had this holiday shopping season weren’t defined by whether they were online or off, they were defined by their ability to follow through on the experience—products, presentation, customer service—they promised. When I experienced that connection and personal attention, I was happy, and I was a bigger shopper.

 

As evidenced by my own experiences, no one is doing excellence well.

 

The survival of retail begins here and now. The tools to use against Amazon and against the general lull of shoppers is genuine connection and offering an experience that others can’t, from product to service. Become excellent: offer great products with knowledge, confidence, and great customer service, and follow through on the promises you offer. Become excellent, and become successful.

Comments (1)

Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after
I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr…
well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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