Okay, this is one story that has been in my draft for way too long. Publish or perish. It came dangerously close. I had ‘firmly’ decided that I will finish and post it when Amazon bought out Whole Foods, but judging by the date on the calendar, no points for guessing how that turned out.
WHY THIS PARTICULAR TOPIC?
Well, primarily because this is something that picks up steam every single time something new happens around us.
Amazon announces it is going full throttle in logistics → Share prices of FedEx plummets
Amazon gets into India → It will obliterate the local players
Amazon comes into existence → Mom n pop stores are dead meat now
E-commerce continues to pick up → It is the death of traditional retail
Well, guess what — very few of those predictions are even close to the reality. Businesses don’t work like that.
SO, TRADITIONAL BUSINESSES HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT?
Of course they do. But that happens with every breakthrough change, or even simple innovations. When you make the overall lives of your consumers better, easier, simpler to deal with, they would respond in a positive way. And if you, as a business, can’t smell the winds of change, then sooner or later, you will become irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter how many marketing tactics and gimmicks did Google use to popularise Gmail, and how badly they leveraged their leadership position in the ad serving market, one of the prime reasons why Gmail ‘just clicked’ with its early users was how smooth it was. And then there was the obvious case of storage capacity the likes of which webmails were never known to offer. It was something amazing, and the fact that the whole interface behaved just perfectly made it worth the effort to move on to adopt a completely new email identity.
The same is the case with traditional businesses vis-a-vis Amazon. Amazon is making sure that irrespective of what you want, you can get it on Amazon, at ‘great’ prices, and delivered within acceptable time frames. Find yourself frequently wanting faster delivery? Hey, we have Prime for you!
(And then we sweeten the pot by giving you countless other benefits of using Prime. You . feel as if you are paying for all those video watching privileges, but the fact is I have just reeled you in. Why will you buy stuff from elsewhere when you know I WILL deliver it to you in a day at no additional cost? The prime membership? Well, you get to watch movies, tv shows, original web series etc in that expense, don’t you? The delivery is completely on the house.)
HOW DOES THAT AFFECT BUSINESSES?
By putting consumers in a place where they are used to finding whatever they want, at good prices, and at amazingly fast delivery speed, Amazon has been successful in changing consumers’ behaviors and expectations. If you, as a business, can’t live up to that, Amazon is going to happily cater to that disgruntled consumer of yours — earning a loyal consumer for itself along the way.
Want to retain your consumers? Change! Do better. Get better at delivering value and the perfect experience to your consumers. Because Amazon will keep on doing just that.
The thing is. This unspoken rule has always been there.
If you don’t cater to your consumers’ need and expectations, someone else will.
And that is the only reason why there is a NO in the title of this story. The absence of Amazon would not have saved you from the responsibility of catering to your consumers well. Because the shop next door would have done that to get ahead.
The only difference that Amazon brings to the table is the expanse of it. Now instead of you competing with your neighbourhood stores to ensure your ‘service’ is the best, hundreds of thousands of businesses like you are competing with one shop that is present everywhere without it actually being present anywhere. You are all fighting one common competitor, in addition of competing with the traditional competitors you have always known you have.
SO WHY DO PUNDITS SAY TRADITIONAL RETAIL IS DOOMED?
Data, my friend. Data.
If you look at the numbers, you will find that in the last 3 decades or so, in the US alone, the number of malls have grown more than twice as fast as compared to the population growth. On the other hand, between 2010 and 2013 alone, the average number of visits for a consumer to the malls declined by 50%.
The natural conclusion? The growth of ecommerce is resulting in the decline of traditional business! Fortunately, and unfortunately, that is not entirely accurate. The fact is — the expectations of consumers are changing, and most of the traditional retail companies are not able to live up to those fast changing expectations.
Amazon is not killing retailers.
The bad service quality retailers are delivering is killing them. In short, it’s not an annihilation by Amazon, it is suicide by the retailers.
Take aa very vague and very random example of augmented reality. It can help a consumer walking into your store reimagine his home with all the furnishings that you have to offer. And when depth perception platform becomes mainstream in the smartphones out there, it can help consumers reimagine their homes with the furnishings you have to offer — while sitting in their homes. That shift is bound to happen. And Amazon is going to make sure that it is ready. As a retailer, are you? That’s the question.
If you aren’t then you don’t get to blame Amazon, you have yourself to blame for it.
Now the tech capability isn’t easy for everyone to get inhouse, or it may not even be affordable to hire the necessary help. But customer service? Customer delight? You surely can strive to getting that right, can’t you? So why aren’t you doing that?
Raises a big question on your willingness to do what needs to be done to stay ahead of the curve, doesn’t it?