Monday, February 23, 2009

The difference between shopping in the real world and online

So I've just come back from lunch and a few revelations came to me on my walk around town.

1. The Internet has changed shopping forever. OK, we've known this one for years and years. But it was only today that I actually got depressed about it. I looked at all these great shops with their pretty displays and thought, "I could go online and fine ten times as much of anything you could possibly stock in your little store." The poor shop-owners don't have a chance, there is no-way a bricks and mortar store can ever compete on range. Ever.

The depressing thing was that I like to touch and feel things, the texture, the look... yes I admit it, I like the SMELL of books. You can't get this online. This is the only thing the little stores have over the Internet. They have reality. Real people. Real customer service. All I can say is: little shops, customer service is the ONLY thing you have over the Internet - so used it well.

2. The key is in engagement. Walking down the the street I also passed a large number of pamphleteers. You know the people with a little A5 photo-copy selling you something or telling you about the next rally organised by the socialist left.

Most of the pamphleteers had it all wrong. Chatting to their buddies, casting a strange glare, handing you a pamphlet as if it were a controlled narcotic. It's not a hard thing, it does take a little technique, but shock-horror it's not hard. Smile, be open, say hello, say what you're giving the passer-by.

Conclusion? The traditional shop must evolve. Utilise your best asset - customer service. Leverage the Internet for what you cannot provide - range - affiliates, distribution agreements. And for the online retailers? Take a lesson from the humble street pamphleteer. If your usability is poor, or you don't have an open and welcoming appearance, then people might pass you by. Say hello, put a face to your store, utilise your best asset - range. Take lessons from the real world on the things you can't offer - personal customer service, just because you're online, doesn't mean you can leave the customer in the wilderness.

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