Chris Morley’s experience in both online and offline retail highlights the similarities between them, reinforcing the idea that ‘retail is retail is retail’. This week he discusses the notions of shrinkage and customer service.
All retailers know that a percentage of stock will be stolen or lost. Either way, the item will leave the shop without money going into the till – sadly, this is a fact of retail. The good retailers will understand this early and adjust prices to account for missing stock so they aren’t out of pocket – they may even invest into security devices to try and reduce theft and the resulting loss of income.
This is the one area where online can really come into its own.
Obviously, it is virtually impossible to steal from an online store. I mentioned safety before; if online sites are made safe and secure with high levels of fraud protection – then 99.9 percent of all online transactions will be without any concern for the verity of finances. Online retailers will face cart abandonment due to various reasons, but as frustrating as this is, it pales into insignificance when compared to stolen stock.
The age old saying ‘the customer is always right’ is certainly a concept promoted by many retailers: do anything you can for your customers, even if they are wrong – they are right! Customer service, good customer service, may just be the best weapon a bricks-and-mortar retailer has in their arsenal when comparing to online sellers. A friendly smile, courteous, and accurate advice go a long way to securing sales no matter what the product.
In juxtaposition with the increased sales that good customer service can give, bad customer service can be just as detrimental to a store’s bottom-line.
Again, this is an area where the online guys are improving: we regularly see terrific examples – utilising live chat, being proactive, giving reassurance through policies and presentation and offering multiple contact methods. Now, with social sites such as Facebook, online businesses can be smart with the way they engage their buyers on these open sites. Going forward, online sellers will learn to embrace all channels available to them to communicate to the customer, and they will do so in a way that conveys that warm smile and ‘can do’ attitude.
Experience can’t be bought, and given that many of the old adages for retail can be applied online, there is no reason why traditional retailers won’t work out how to apply these learnings to their online stores, online leaders may change again and replicate leaders in the traditional sense.
Pureplay online retailers have garnished these concepts over time, dynamically adjusting them as needed. Meanwhile, traditional sellers need to get their online houses in order before they can apply their exhaustive retail knowledge to them. This will take time to implement and with the way that online changes daily, coupled with slow bricks-and-mortar sellers’ ability to change, this shouldn’t be something we see happening anytime soon.
However, it is necessary to bear in mind the importance of experience and that overnight success stories simply don’t exist.