Published on: December 10, 2013by Michael Sansolo
Sid Caesar, a pioneer of television comedy, once said, “Comedy has to be based on a truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end.”
So let’s reflect on a piece of comedy and the truth and wisdom it may have revealed about the seemingly unavoidable attack of shopping by click. Because in that joke is the seed of a discussion that all the brick and mortar retailers need to have when wondering exactly what the future holds.
Last Wednesday, MNB’s Eye-Opener featured a wonderfully satiric take on Amazon’s push for ever-faster deliveries to consumers. Faux news commentator Stephen Colbert bemoaned the idea of waiting even 30 minutes for a shipment from Amazon, even if it comes in a sky-borne drone.
Colbert offered up an alternative idea: a place where consumer would visit, find the goods they want and place them in carts. Colbert said his idea could be called, “Spending Habit Opportunity Places, “ or SHOPs.
Hmmm…that might sound familiar.
The thing is, I understand the world is changing and that the future of retailing no doubt has a big place for Amazon.com, delivery drones and who knows what else. Anyone ignoring the potential impact of click retail need only think back a few decades to remember the time when many scoffed at the idea of Walmart successfully mastering the sales of food products.
But it would pay for many companies to take four minutes to watch Colbert’s video and use it to start a conversation.
Through satire, Colbert manages to lay out a powerful argument for why shoppers might still really like going to stores in five, 10 or 20 years. There is nothing like touching, seeing, smelling and possibly even tasting the products.
If retailers focus on creating the best in-store experience possible they might have many ways of keeping shoppers coming back. Let’s remember, the Main Streets of America are filled with retailers who found a way to weather the storms of supercenters and warehouse clubs, and are still doing quite well today.
It wasn’t easy, but it was done. It could be done again. But it will require a compelling shopping experience, a clearly stated value proposition and much more to overcome the simplicity and ease of shopping by clicks. We can’t possibly imagine how much simpler or more compelling on-line shopping will be in five or 10 years, but that’s the mark we have to exceed.
Remember, this wouldn’t be the first time.
A number of years ago, when category killers were on the march, there was considerable discussion that some products would be lost by supermarkets forever. In fact, some are far less important today thanks to the amazing success of some category killers such as PetSmart and Petco.
At the time one very sharp retail executive told me he could imagine a time when there would be category killers for everything—groceries, fresh products, health and beauty…well, you name it. Then, he predicted, someone would have the great idea to gather them all into a single store and call it something special like a super-market.
His point was that change and the re-invention of retail are both constant. Sharp merchants, he said, would find a way to make even the old ideas new, current and compelling.
Stephen Colbert predicted his SHOPs could be ready to open by 2025. I’m betting it can be done even faster. It just takes some curlicues.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
- KC's View:
- A couple of follow-up points, if I may…
For one thing, I used to find few things as annoying as retailers who would whine about category killers. After all, I reasoned, weren't supermarkets originally designed to be category killers in the area of food? And if they lost that edge, whose fault was it, exactly? Not the competition's…
Second…I would refer you back to yesterday's piece about AMC Entertainment, which is selling shares at a preferred rate not just to employees, but also to members of its loyalty program. The reasoning is that if customers actually have a stake in the business, it will encourage them to bypass the competition to go to an AMC movie theater. The company is doing it at the same time as it invests in an improved moviegoing experience - digital projection systems, more comfortable seats, better food, even bars. The company is seeking out and developing every possible way of establishing sustainable relationships with customers.
In other words, it isn't impossible to compete with Amazon and its online brethren, but to do so, companies have to do the same kinds of things. They may not have to reinvent the wheel … but they almost certainly will have to point the wheel in new directions, and drive it in a way that is both faster and surer.
Baseball, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) says in Bull Durham, needs to be played "with fear and arrogance." The same goes for retailing.