It seems not a week goes by without a message appearing in one medium or another, lamenting how badly retailers suffer from the advent of the internet. It’s being repeated so often, you’d almost start believing it.
And now the retail crisis has even reached a point where an appeal to the consumers’ morality is being made (NRC Handelsblad 21 december, Opinion & Debate): never ask stores for a discount any more. You mustn’t haggle any more, because retailers don’t have it easy. For shame!
But that rhetoric is completely out of touch with reality; the rules of the game of supply and demand have changed with the advent of the internet and the mobile phone, and almost everyone is in on it. It reminds me of record labels: they’ve been crying for years that the internet was the enemy of the vinyl music industry they represented, and they refused to adapt, even though now we all know the internet has produced more successful bands and musicians than that entire analogous prehistoric age.
For retail, it’s the same way: the internet is not a threat, it offers new opportunities. But you’ll have to live by the new rules of the game: consumers have less and less time to spare, and when they want something, they’ll start their search on their phone. If you want them to physically visit your non-digital store, you’ll have to compete with those thousands of stimuli per day that vie for their attention, their time and their wallet. You’ll need to offer absolute value and relevance or be unique. Or you’ll need to offer a real experience: car dealers complain about less passers-by dropping in, while getting ten times more people than they have room for signing up for their ‘experience day’ on the race track in Lelystad. Why are test drives still held in boring industrial parks, why haven’t dealer shops and race tracks been integrated with each other yet? You could go put the pedal to the metal to your heart’s content before signing the sales contract.
Furthermore, the internet can help you get massive crowds, too. You don’t have to look far to see that in action. Look at the top rated hotels, restaurants and attractions (including retailers who offer an interesting experience) on Tripadvisor ó you won’t hear them complaining about the evils of the internet.
Nor about haggling customers: if they won’t agree to the stated price, there are plenty of others who will.