It was during this last holiday season when I first noticed it. While watching TV, an advertisement came on touting Walmart would now price match with competitors. Then, I read in a press release that Best Buy would now price match online competitors as well, presumably to avoid “show rooming,” the phenomena of customers coming in to try out products, then purchasing those same products online. In the context of the retail space, these are some of the biggest gorillas telling the rest of the world they acknowledge things have changed and are ready to change with it. Pretty revolutionary stuff.
The Changing Times
Price matching is just one step for the renovation of the modern retailer. The other major step will have to be customer experience.
Online retailers can offer a price. What they can’t offer are the sights, sounds, smells (hopefully pleasant ones) and sensations of an in-store experience. That being said, this hasn’t stopped them from trying.
Zappos, a successful online store, has incentivized their sales reps to spend MORE time on the phone with customers. The theory is that this extra time spent on the phone will help the company — and the customer — know just a little bit more about each other. So far, it’s working for Zappos. Sales are off the charts.
The Future of Retail is Innovation
Yes, retail has changed irretrievably, but hopefully for the better. The future will belong to retailers that are more creative and innovative — those who can see meaningful patterns and then act on them. Those that understand what we like, what we dislike, and why. When the moment comes when I am ready to buy something, they have something in mind. With a good experience, and the right offer, there’s a good chance we’ll be coming back.
But what does that mean for traditional, brick-and-mortar retailers? How do retailers, or other businesses for that matter, turn their customers and prospects into advocates? Loyalty programs and price matching can go a long way getting people back into stores, but is it enough? Perhaps it is. In any case, the lesson is clear, innovative retailers that learn how to build a truly customer-centric culture will be the ones that continue to live and thrive another day.