retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

These days there is a very thin line between cool and creepy and our endlessly increasing reliance on electronic communication with customers makes it essential we understand that.

The following all really happened.

One day recently, my wife ordered some sneakers from Zappos, but was dissatisfied with one pair. Following the on-line company’s instructions, she took them to a local UPS store to ship them back. Within one hour of doing that she got an acknowledgement from Zappos of her return and a credit to her account.

She was floored. After all she returned the sneakers to a UPS store, not Zappos’ corporate headquarters. Obviously, Zappos and UPS have a working arrangement that informs the company when a package is on the way back so the customer experience can be completed. Like it or not, that’s the new customer expectation of service that we’ll all be up against today and tomorrow.

It was cool.

But put that speed of response into another context, and it can move into the realm of creepy.

Last weekend I was out on a bike ride when, thanks to some wet leaves, my bicycle decided to go right while I was turning left. It ended up in a bush while I skidded across the pavement, leaving elbow skin along the way.

A little more than 24 hours later Map My Ride, the Under Amour-owned app I use to track my rides, sent me a curious article titled “How to regain your confidence after a crash,” even though I didn’t report my crash to the app, didn’t post it any where on social media and didn’t talk about it on line at all. (I whined quite a bit in person!)

Let’s be honest; bike riders fall all the time so getting an article on dealing with crashes isn’t a complete bolt from the blue. But explain this: Kevin uses the same app and he told me he never saw the article on crashes. How did they know it was me who specifically needed it that very day?

In both cases, this is the new world. More than ever we are going to have to find ways to be cooler than ever without being creepy, to make customers say Wow, not Whoa. The same customer who might be delighted by recipe suggestions that fit with our tastes and preferences might be offended by products that suggest we have weight problems. One set of suggestions is cool, the other creepy, invasive and annoying.

Our customers’ expectations of service, like it or not, are being established by companies like Zappos just as our concerns about privacy are raised by Alexa, Siri and whatever. We are all part of the eco-system now and that means we need contemplate and prepare for this new world.

It’s unavoidable just as those wet leaves were for my front bicycle tire. Oh and because I haven’t whined yet, my arm still aches. Thanks for asking.


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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