Competitive advantage in a changing world

Everyone is obsessed with speed. Speed gets us to point A and B, both in distance, time and concept. Speed enables a reporter to gather information immediately to get to the main task of analysis and production of the written article. Speed in filing documents enables a secretary to organize things on time to make room for other pressing tasks. Speed provides instant gratification for customers who want things right away; one-day shipping from online purchases provides this faster than a retail store can order new stock.

Another obsession we have is price. We want things cheap. Even if we would gladly pay thousands of dollars for a luxury or designer item, we want to spend as less money as possible for that particular purchase. Just because you can afford a Louis Vuitton bag doesn’t mean you don’t care about how much it costs. Even for the rich, or perhaps more so, less money spent on one thing means more money can be used for another.

We all know that online retailers have both of these advantages over physical stores.

Andy Sernovitz talked about how retailers have an advantage over online sellers who dominate on price and speed. While many think that the brick and mortar store is a channel that is taking a backseat over online avenues, there is still hope for physical locations. In-person customer service may just be the competitive advantage that stores must capitalize on.

Having worked in customer and client service environments allowed me to learn that people like attention. As human beings, we like to be noticed, because acknowledgment validates our existence. When others know that we exist, our opinions are heard and our needs met. I’ve tested this in the food service industry. I wanted to see how others would react differently if I communicated with them differently. For the first half of the day, I greeted customers with an eager smile, looked at them in the eye and engaged them in conversations even if these had nothing to do with the restaurant or their order. For the second half, I only looked at them when letting them know that they were next in line and to get their form of payment, offered no smile and didn’t even look back when I gave them back their credit cards or their order number. How they treated me was a reflection of my treatment of them. They themselves smiled when I did, some even winked and on the borderline flirty, while the others who received no warm smile from me were in turn cold and reserved.

This experience confirmed that people want to be treated like they are the most important people that ever walked into the store.

What other advantages do physical stores have? In terms of products, brick and mortar stores have an opportunity to give the customer a tactile experience of the products. A product is much more than its look, dimensions or specs; as important are its texture, color variation under different types of lighting, material composition and hem detail, among a few other things. Providing the customer a sensory experience of the product beyond the visual is something that online stores currently cannot do.

In terms of services, physical locations are spaces where a brand associates have the ability to form a relationship that goes beyond merely selling something, but in engaging customers in a more human manner, such as complimenting them, or giving them a quality recommendation that matches their needs because assessing the physical characteristics of the customer is a possibility in these locations. A petite woman who goes into the store can get recommendations not just on clothes but also on heeled shoes that match those clothes, and she can try them right then and there at the point of sale. The customer can fully see if the products are suitable for her. An online store may possibly recommend shoes that match the outfit, but it’s a trickier event because the purchase is contingent upon how she imagines herself in those clothes and shoes. It can be a rare amazing hit, or an inconvenient miss if she needs to go through the hassle of returning products that didn’t deliver in reality.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is the most adaptable to change.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s