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The Death Of Retail. The Symptom Is Not The Problem

Georgina owns and operates a speciality gluten free food store in Brisbane and like many retailers she’s experiencing a problem. Increasingly people are coming to browse but not to buy. The perception is that if I can get it cheaper or faster online why would I make the trip to your store?

So Georgina has resorted to charging customers a $5 fee to look because she’s tired of people just coming in for advice and then leaving to buy from supermarkets or online stores. I feel her pain and her desperation but I doubt that this will solve her problem.

The reason bricks and mortar stores are closing left and right has everything to do with the perception of price over value. Customers are no longer willing to drive across town to your store, find a parking spot and browse your shelves in the hope that you have the very thing they wanted in stock. They are not going to make a trip just to complete a transaction because they don’t have to.

The value of bricks and mortar stores was that they were the only places to get the thing you wanted. When you can get that thing in two clicks of a mouse where does the value lie?

It lies in the potential of the interaction. The way you make customers feel. In being generous. In finding ways to give people more than you put in their shopping bag. So much more that it’s worth the effort to come back, not for the gluten free flour or a paperback but for the connection with you and the story they can tell themselves.

The retail stores that are dying are trying to sell something (anything!) to everyone instead of finding the people they can delight. The people who aren’t just looking for a bargain. The ones who want something to believe in and who will cross town to pay more if they have to because you touched them.

The businesses that survive won’t have more shelf space and cheaper prices, or even rules to discourage customers from coming in to engage. They are the ones who can work out a way to capitalise on the things the big guys can’t and won’t do.

What’s killing retail isn’t the world wide web, it’s that retailers forgot about creating meaning while they sold commodities. The solution is not to punish people for having a choice. It’s to be the better choice.

Image by thisisbossi.