ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Amazon and the Brick and Mortars

If retailers don't react to this trend they will go the way of...

I'm not revealing any big secrets here when I tell you I love Amazon.
It's like being able to shop at Wal*Mart without the fat people in sweat pants and the cashiers who don't know how to operate a cash register.

I like that customers review the products they get, and despite the fact that a good 20% are from crackpots or people who are critiquing something OTHER than the product-- for example the BATMAN 1966 TV Series Official DVD Release has over 120 reviews-- pretty good for a product that doesn't even exist yet.  What the hell are these people reviewing?  You can't write a product review for a product that doesn't exist.

But you sort through the in-breds and basement dwellers and you can get a pretty solid idea of whether or not the product you're buying is worth the money being asked.   AND Amazon and their affiliated sellers all offer generous return policies-- simply print out the postage return label (on them) and leave it outside for UPS to pick up.  For some items you don't even have to do that-- just print out a barcode, put in in the box, seal it up and put it out for UPS to come with their OWN label to put on it.  Amazing!

Recently I bought a NeoTV device at Target which would allow me to watch NetFlix on my TV-- before this I had to watch it on a computer, my iPad or my iPod Touch-- my Touch is old enough that I can't connect it to the TV- -well, I can but all I get is the audio portion, great for Old Time Radio, not great for movies.

The NeoTV Device was on sale at Target-- I bought it purely on impulse got it home and found out I needed a HDMI cable to hook it up.  I hate it when they do that.  A quick check on Amazon found several cables for $5 ea.

I wanted to connect it right away so I went over to Staples to find one, and I was shocked to discover the cheapest one they had was $25.  I even went so far as to ask the clerk why Amazon's prices were so much better and his reply, and I'm not making this up, was:

"Oh yeah, they'll always have better prices, we can't compete with them."

Some of the cables they had were $40-- and a quick check on my iPod found the same cable on Amazon for $5.

I'm all for trying to support my local retailer but $35 more??

It's a new world Retailers.  You need to face it.   Like an old man in a computer class (and I've had my share) you need to drop the resistance to change and instead, embrace it.  Look for ways you can enhance your market share and actually compete with Amazon.

...BORDERS.  I miss you, why didn't you listen?
I offer you some pieces of advice to make yourself not only sustainable, but profitable.  As much as I love Amazon, I want a brick and mortar retailer who can do all this.  I'm available for consulting too.

1. Train your staff.
From the managers all the way down to the guy you hire to sweep your floors they need to be trained in customer service.  They need to recognize the value of the customer.  Every customer in your store is keeping you alive, making sure they feel welcome and that they get the service they expect is not negotiable.   When I ran a 50K square foot market and brought the sales from $400,000 a week to just under One Million one of the first things I did was hire a guy to sweep the store during it's busiest hours.

But he was more than that-- he was also a roving greeter, making sure the customers were finding what they needed.  He would react to any damaged items on the shelves immediately, and he ensured that the aisles remained shoppable at all times.  He also cleaned both bathrooms every 60 mins.

I had clean floors, bathrooms and someone live on the floor to assist customers.

Cashiers need to know how to react to a problem and those problems include something not scanning, something scanning wrong, what items are on sale, who is in charge at that moment and how to get them to respond immediately and most importantly-- how to focus on the customer and not co workers, no personal conversation while they are on the clock, and without being told, they open another register when there are more than three people in any checkout line.

I once had a situation in a smaller store where most of my cashiers called in sick, while the cash office had to come to the floor to ring, I kept one in the office to man the phones, handle problems and attempt to call in additional help, and I also had my floor man walking the crowded front end lines with crackers and cheese as an apology to those standing in line.  Rather than having a horrible experience waiting in line, we attempted to turn it into a cocktail party at the cost of a $10 platter.

Properly training your staff will not only make them better employees, it will improve morale.  A clerk who knows how to do their job feels no stress in doing it.  It's when they feel overwhelmed or lost that discontent occurs.

2. Discount your products.
Everyone who shops at Amazon knows they aren't going to pay full price for anything.  That's the big sell with Amazon.  Discount everything.  So guess what-- you need to as well.
Maybe you can't offer the 40% on an item they do, you have expenses, I get that, but you can take something off it-- even 10% will give the buyer an incentive to just buy with you.

3. Stop the club card discounts.
I know, you retailers like them because you can track purchases, much like Amazon does with its own software, but buyers hate it.  How many frequent shopper cards do you think we can carry around with us?

4. Make it FUN to come into your store.  Make me want to be there.
TRADER JOE'S and WHOLE FOODS do this with samples and an atmosphere where it appears the employees actually enjoy working there.  FISH! The great book on the Seattle Fish Markets explains it as simply as this.

It may not be the job you dreamt of, but it's the job you have now, make the most of it.

I used to hire local bands to play concerts in my parking lot on Saturdays-- I'd set them up on the roof and set up samples in the lot as people came into the store.  The music was always non offensive non obtrusive but it created an atmosphere of fun.  It made people look forward to coming in.

I was sad to see BORDERS close, but I saw it coming.
A quick search on the internet found several boards of employees complaining about how they were treated.
They would often be out of stock on items.
They would often have lines that were too long.
They played the music too loud, and sometimes things like Carly Simon's Broadway Hits.  Really?  Do you think I want to hear that?

Newbury Comics used to blare heavy metal music as a policy in their stores,  thinking thats what appealed to their customer base, but what they were overlooking was an expansion of that base.  You don't eliminate an entire demographic with short sighted thinking.

Good luck retailers!  And you Barnes and Noble-- you're next, after Best Buy closes.