In an issue of McLean’s, one of Canada’s leading weekly news magazines, there is an article titled “Thanks for the tip, I’ll get it on Amazon”. The writer, Brian Bethune, talks about the struggles that independent, brick-and-mortar book stores are having competing with online companies such as Amazon. And while, according to this article, this issue is more acute in the book industry, it is an issue that runs across multiple industries. The article talks about a practice of “Showrooming”, which is when a potential buyer goes to a book store, or any store for that matter, and gets information about a book from the experienced staff, and then goes and buys it much cheaper online.
While there may be some unique issues surrounding the book industry, “showrooming” is not unique to that industry. Nor is the reverse - something we all know and love called “browsing”. In a study I saw last year, 42% of all in-store purchases started with people browsing the internet to research a product and then going to a brick-and-mortar store to make their purchase. The reason for the trip to the store is that we humans are, for the most part, still tactile and want to see and touch something before we buy it. The more expensive the item the more that comes into play. As long as the price difference between brick-and-mortar is reasonable, many people still want to see, touch and have human interaction with someone to gain their firsthand expertise of the products they sell.
The second half of that last sentence is the heart of this blog “…human interaction with someone to gain their firsthand expertise of the products they sell.” Are your sales people and is your web site showing you as an expert in your field? One of the first sales I made after joining Iciniti was to a company that sold products to corner stores. As we closed the deal, the CEO commented “Now I can go back to the office and fire all of the sales staff.” To which I commented “Yes…and next year you can declare bankruptcy.” To say that the CEO was shocked by my comment is an understatement, however, I went on to explain that today he didn’t really have any sales staff; what he had was highly paid order takers. His new online store was going to take care of the order taking, and now his sales staff could do what they were really meant to do… sell product. In his industry, that meant gaining more shelf space for his products, introducing new products to the mix and finding new customers. Sales will always be about relationships and “expert” sales staff are key to that, but as experts, they have to know their product better than the customer, and they need to be able to guide the customer to a buying decision. This builds trust and binds your customers to you. My advice was to get rid of the “order takers” and develop a true sales staff combined with the automated order entry of their new web store, which he did. In an industry that typically sees 2% to 4% growth on a good year, that company grew 32% the next year.
So how does that pertain to online shopping? Your website is where customers come to gain insight into your expertise about your products. The better you are at creating an online trust relationship between your company and your customer, the more successful you will be; provided, of course, your products are reasonably priced compared to your competition. Study after study has shown that your products and services don’t have to be cheaper, there just has to be a perceived value in the knowledge your website and staff put forward.
I have said for years that it was critical for a company’s website to not only be easy to navigate and properly match their brick-and-mortar brand, but to also show that they are experts in their field. So how do you do that? BLOGs are an excellent tool. BLOGs are one of the easiest ways for your company to show their leadership in an industry. Showing your leadership and knowledge is the first step in creating a trust relationship between you and your customers, and this is true for both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions. Remember that 42% of all in-store sales start with online research of you, your company and your products. BLOGS allow you and your staff to show both product and industry expertise. This is why it is so critical that your web platform unify the web store and all of the other content on the site such as blogs, forums, news, reviews etc. All of these bits of content go towards showing potential customers that you have industry expertise. Your blogs show your industry knowledge, your forums show your interaction and caring towards customer specific issues, news shows that the world is watching you and reviews show what other customers think about your products and services. And of course, because search engines love current, relevant content, having up-to-date blogs, forums, news and reviews get you a better organic ranking in online searches. Based on industry studies, if you have done a good job here, a good number of people will buy. The percentage varies depending on the price and complexity of the product. Books have a higher number of people purchasing online, while backhoes are more likely to be bought on premise.
This leads to part two. Keeping in mind that 42% of the customers that walk into your brick-and-mortar store will have researched online the product that they came to buy. It is therefore imperative that your sales staff have expertise that extends and enhances the information on the website. Nothing drives me crazier than researching a product online, then going to the store I decide to buy it from and talking to a salesperson that knows less about the product than I do. That is where I start “showrooming”. I show up at my favorite electronic or music store and first try to find a salesperson. If I manage to do that, I want to know their experience with the product I am about to purchase. Often times I have been told “You can just go to the website and look that up.” Well… if I am going to do that, why am I going to purchase it from you and help you get commission? The other thing it tells me is that, as a company, you have decided to compete solely on price - service is clearly not in the equation. So now… your website better be good because you are now forcing me to create a relationship with a virtual person; your website. Your blogs, forums, news, online chat tool and product reviews become your virtual sales staff. If you can’t create a relationship with me using the web tools that you have available to you, the price becomes the only differentiator… and that is a terrible place to be.
Provide your customers with tools that allow them to easily create and manage online relationships by incorporating blogs, forums, news, social media, product reviews and rankings, and cross selling tools such as related items and people who bought this also bought… Of course, you also need to be able to run all of this on virtually any mobile device.
Today, whether your customers are “showrooming” or “browsing” your website must have the tools you need for creating and managing the online relationships so important to your business.