TechCrunch giggles wondering what the new Microsoft store will be like: “Will it be wall-to-wall Vista boxes? Will you have to sign a license agreement to get in? Will they avoid the color “BSOD blue”?”
So for today’s snippet from What Would Google Do?, here’s a snippet from the chapter on retail, starring Gary Veynerchuk.
Most of what Vaynerchuk does—or what our dream restaurant would do—could be done in any establishment. Why not expose a store’s sales data so I could use that information when I shop? Why not expose my own sales data to me and make suggestions on that basis? Why not gather and share reviews of products so I can make the best selection for my needs and leave happy? Why haven’t local stores followed Amazon’s lead with these services? In his book The Numerati, Stephen Baker says that retailers are only just beginning to think of ways to exploit the data they have about us—like having our shopping carts make personal recommendations.
My wife and I sometimes ask our supermarket to stock a product, but that’s a rare encounter with spotty results. Shouldn’t the store have forums where customers could ask for products and managers could see when those requests reach critical mass? I know, this suggestion ignores one fundamental economic factor in grocery and other retail businesses—that brands pay fees for shelf space that contribute to stores’ bottom lines. But I have to believe that a store that sells me what I want to buy will be better off than a store that sells me what someone pays it to sell.
No local store or chain can compete with the just-in-time, inventory-light efficiency and limitless selection of an internet retailer. So I wonder how the role of the local store changes. Perhaps it becomes more of a showroom run by or for manufacturers. Rather than selling the merchandise right there, it might offer easy ordering and earn a commission. In the chapter on publishing, I looked at printing books on demand. In the chapter on manufacturing, I ask how cars should be sold post-Google. If I were a merchant—a department store, a chain, a local retailer—I’d hope to find a way to curate unique merchandise for my customers as eBay and Etsy?.com do for theirs. Maybe a store, like a newspaper, needs to become less a one-for-all clearinghouse of commodity goods and more a pathway to what I really want.
Perhaps a store, like a restaurant, can become a community built around particular needs, tastes, or passions. Look at the data that is created and shared at Netflix and Amazon through sales rankings, automated recommendations, and customers’ reviews. Now imagine starting direct conversations among these people. What could be unleashed when Vaynerchuk’s customers and fans talk with each other, asking and answering questions, sharing opinions, finding new value in their association with and around him? It’s hard to imagine such a community forming around a tire store, of course. But it’s not hard to imagine many others where communities could grow: athletic stores (my local store promotes running clubs’ events and Nike is holding its own races around the world to encourage such communities to form); food stores (where an instant community of olive-oil fans can gather around choosing which brands to order); electronics stores (if I can read ratings of TVs at Amazon, why can’t I see them when I’m in Best Buy?); garden stores (anybody know how to keep the deer at bay?); hardware stores (let’s share open-source plans for playhouses); toy stores (any advice for a grandparent buying an eight-year-old boy a video game?); and clothing stores (H&M should have a dating service: “Size 4 petite seeks 34-inch waist, 34-inch inseam, 42-long—no khakis, please”). . . .
The internet has caused me to go to stores less often. I can’t remember my last time in a department store. The mall, where I once browsed, now bores me. Wal-Mart’s size scares me. I still enjoy Apple stores but that’s often for the education and the free wi-fi and sometimes for the opportunity to ask a fellow cult member for advice. Stores have become dull. Their merchandise is the same and they have less selection than I find online. They are stocking fewer items and running out more often. They charge higher prices than I can find searching the internet. Sales clerks give me less information about products than I can get from Google and fellow customers. And I have to drive to stores, using ever-more-expensive gas and time.
The store’s salvation is its customers. Rather than treating the internet as a competitor, retailers should follow Vaynerchuk and use it as a platform. Enable your customers to help you stand out from the crowd. Why should I go to your sneaker store, car dealership, or wine store to buy the exact same merchandise I can find in a thousand stores and sites just like yours? Price will no longer get me there; I can find the best prices by Googling, not driving. Good service? That should be assumed. Information? I’ll trust it more if it comes from the community of shoppers. How can you connect with that community? How—to follow Zuckerberg’s law—can you help them organize? How—to follow Vaynerchuk’s law—can you build a ball field where they want to play? Turn the store inside out and build it around people more than products. Your customers are your brand. Your company is the company it keeps.