A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I worked at what was then the world’s largest retailer. While most of my compatriots saw this as a summer gig in a terrible job, I learned a lot from that experience including some lessons that are relevant to this day. Today I hearkened back to lessons learned while dinosaurs roamed the earth as I visited today’s largest retailer.
I’m sure that some of the people reading this are going to laugh but winter’s coming here in Northern California and I was looking for a heater. Never mind the fact that there are those who are shoveling snow we Northern Californians are whining about our nights in the 20s. Heck, at least it’s not Southern California where temperatures below 50 mean ski jackets and Ugg boots.
So, back to my visits to the various “Marts” around here. One of the consistent things about stores whose names end in “Mart” is that finding assistance is difficult, if not impossible. Just finding out where the heaters might be hidden is an exercise in frustration as you wander the endless landscape of stuff they want you to buy looking for what you actually do want to buy.
Finally you find that besieged employee who has a ring of customers around them such that you wonder if the street performer would be jealous of the crowd.
“Heaters?” If we had any they’d be on aisle 5840. In the middle of the aisle.
Okay. So off I went to the place where there may be some remedy for my waking up wondering if the chattering in my teeth would cause long-term damage to them.
Finally at my designated spot, I notice a big, empty shelf with lots of price tags for heaters. Empty shelves. But you see what you might be able to buy by the price tags, if they had any inventory at all.
This was true at both of my local Walmart stores as well as my local KMart store. See - we have all the “Marts” covered here.
When I worked for Sears as a high school miscreant they continually drilled into our heads to “never say no, say catalog.” I can still sing the song from my days training there about this since I heard it frequently enough plus it was such a stupidly catchy tune.
So it made me wonder how much value there would be in actually having employees in the first place, and then giving them access to a computer system where they could tell a customer something like, “well, we don’t have those in stock but I can have one at your front door in two days with our free shipping.”
Or even offering to have an item delivered to the store at no shipping cost might earn additional sales.
Would the additional sales in the store justify paying the slave labor wages of additional people in the store? Perhaps. And would customers potentially be significantly happier? Almost certainly.
For example, in my case, I looked around on the various web shopping places (okay, Amazon) and found a huge variety of heaters of all sorts. Finally I settled on one for about $40.
I’m not going to assume there’s much money in that sale - perhaps $2-3 at the most - but imagine if someone went into these giant box stores and knew that they were either going to walk out with a basket full of discounted stuff or that discounted stuff was going to come right to their front door.
If that purchase didn’t meet their needs they need only return to their local store and resolve the issue with either a return or exchange. This would beat returning anything to Amazon hands-down and would give the giant box store a distinct edge. In fact, several edges.
The customer would have a secure way of making their purchase. They would have a real, indifferent individual from which to make their purchase and there would be an easy way to return that purchase if need be. All of these absolutely would trump the experience at Amazon.
Oh yeah, and now Amazon is America’s largest way to buy your stuff, not any of the Marts.
For research purposes on this article I looked and, sure enough, Walmart’s website was full of heaters of all sorts. In fact, there were at least 50 pages’ worth of heaters. So the inventory is there. Somewhere.
For decades Sears was the nation’s largest retailer with a position of superiority in so many ways. But changes in reality along with huge blunders by Sears caused them to decline rapidly.
Considering that buying something at the storefront location of Walmart is such a miserable experience what with parking, trying to find your items, the masses in line and the inevitable person wanting “some spare change” in the parking lot no wonder Amazon has leapt forward.
But if you went in for a specific item and were able to get that whether it’s in the store’s inventory or not would be a huge plus. This can be applied to a local store as well - tieing in to a large inventory of readily-available goods means customers are more apt to find something at your store and less likely to just click on Amazon. Many suppliers do offer quick shipping and easy access to their inventory and a customer knowing that they’ll get what they want at your store can mean the difference between giving you a chance and just tapping on the Amazon app on their phone.
I actually saw this example play out just yesterday at an auto parts store. A customer was looking for a specific part and the gent behind the counter didn’t have it, but after a moment of staring into his computer screen he realized that he could have it by tomorrow. Bam, the transaction happened and the store earned over $400 in business on that one transaction.
Walmart has an opportunity to remain on top, if only some of the Walton family would just read this blog. And, perhaps, your business can learn from my days at Sears.