Retail Fail


by Samuel Greengard

In the spirit of the holidays I'm continuing my ongoing rant discussion about the state of online retailing. It's amazing that so many big-name companies continue to operate their brick and mortar stores and online storefronts as two entirely separate entities.

You know, you buy online and but can't return the item to a store. You spot an item online and try to purchase it immediately but the item isn't available at the store. Or you get two entirely different prices from the same retailer based on where you're buying. In some cases, retailers offer a low price guarantee but won't match their own online price!

Don't laugh. I've had all these things happen. And I'm sure I've missed a few dozen others.

The point? As Ravi Bagal, vice president of retail and distribution for Verizon BusinessVerizon puts it: "Customers expect a seamless, consistent experience, whether they are visiting the store or its website, or shopping from a smart phone." Click here for a short Podcast on this topic.

It's critical to recognize that in an era of e-business, m-business and physical stores, it is increasingly difficult to succeed with entirely different business units, separate staffs and disconnected IT systems.

Of course, some companies have tried to create a more integrated experience. Give Best Buy credit for allowing customers to order online and pick up an item in a store a few minutes later. And give Macy's kudos for identifying at its site which products are also sold in stores and making it simple to return online purchases at a physical location.

But this is only a beginning. How about storing data for both online and store purchases together and handling returns online (so I can step into the store and merely drop off the unwanted item)? What about putting information kiosks in stores and providing the same technical details I glean online? Or, for that matter, displaying specs and technical data on the demo PCs and TVs you're selling? And, if an item is out of stock, why not let me decide at the POS whether I pick it up at a store or have it shipped?

Let's face it, customers are getting smarter. They're carrying barcode scanners in their smartphones, they're accessing coupon codes online and they know pricing and other details--sometimes better than your own sales staff. You will either accommodate them or watch them embrace your competitors. It's really that simple.