Lessons For Online Retailers

Undoubtedly diluted by its newly established unholy early Thanksgiving Day start, Black Friday this year did not live up to expectations. While the usual stampedes and shockingly avaricious behavior provided the expected Proud-to-be-an-American warming of the heart, ShopperTrak estimates that shoppers spent a mere $11.2 billion at physical stores, a 1.8% decline from Black Friday 2011. Meanwhile, Black Friday’s online sales were up 20.7% vs. last year’s and Cyber Monday proved to be the biggest U.S. online shopping day in history, recording $1.46 billion in sales, according to comScore.

It seems clear that -- in spite of emerging real-time algorithms that adjust prices so fast that you can no longer count on finding the lowest possible price anymore -- online shopping will only get bigger. Probably because if you are like me, you will do anything to keep from walking into a shopping mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Frankly, I don't really like malls any other time of the year, either, but at least they are less crowded and you don't feel like wherever you’re standing is in somebody's way. Consequently I have been an aggressive online shopper for years. The UPS and postal service guys are probably at my house as much as they are Dunkin Donuts or the gas station.



Here's what I have learned about online shopping that might help those whose lunch is now being eaten by Amazon:

Prime was friggin' brilliant. It gives me a powerful incentive to try Amazon first.  And trust me, all you laggards out there, when your "Amazon" products are NOT eligible for Prime free shipping, you are quickly bypassed. Free shipping is the industry standard now -- and so returns should also be free.

Improve your product listings. Static photos of the box (even if I can rotate and see all sides of it) are not enough. Get a little rich-media going. All the cool kids have enhanced product pages. So if you don't, you look like the old five-and-dime on Main Street. If I have to call you with questions, that is points off for stupidity and laziness.

Stop shipping big stuff in original packaging. It’s very hard to surprise someone with a Christmas gift when they saw it sitting on the porch after UPS left. Put it in a cardboard box or slap a little paper around it. Those who don't -- I am keeping a little list.

If you say it will ship in a couple of days, it had better. If I have to follow up and ask where my order is, it REALLY pisses me off. This year some moron tried to blame "Chinese customs" for a three-week delay. Sir, that’s your job: to make certain delays don’t happen.

Preemptively communicate in exceptionally clear language. Shit happens. I know. But it is not up to ME to figure out what and how to fix it. It is, to my mind, part of our implied contract for YOU to send me an email 1) indentifying the problem and 2) what you are doing to fix it -- and, if you can't, 3) make it up to me somehow, like with a 15%-off coupon. I can be exceedingly reasonable if I feel like I am communicating with an intelligent, concerned retailer and not some part-time "can't help you at my level" temp.

It is a pretty safe bet that anything bought online in December is a Christmas present. Don't ask me to "review" the product 24 hours after you ship it. Ask me in January. And stop offering me magazine subscriptions to participate in satisfaction surveys. It is the moral equivalent of saying you will send me a DVD of "Ben-Hur" or "Shane."

Finally: This is the age of social media. Screw up and the world will hear about it.

OK, loyal readers, now it’s your turn. Fill the comments box with other ways to help educate retailers on how to get and keep your holiday business.

3 comments about "Lessons For Online Retailers".
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  1. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, December 7, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.

    not everybody at once.....

  2. Rob Schmults from Intent Media, December 7, 2012 at 2:11 p.m.

    Good stuff George. As a consumer, I am 100% in agreement. As a once -- and perhaps future -- retailers I can also empathize with the retailers on a couple of these:
    -- Poor photography. When a retailer knows they are going to sell a lot of an item and at a decent margin, it makes sense to invest in photography. If not, the cost of photography (which is shockingly high) can't be justified. In those cases they either shot a quick, vanilla shot or (more likely) take whatever the manufacturer provides. Solution: the slow expansion of manufacturers providing better content (images and descriptions) needs to accelerate. They have the most to gain from syndicating great images and descriptions to their retailers so consumers can make more informed decisions.
    -- Large item shipping in it's own box: Over boxing Little Billy's new bike isn't just expensive (it is -- not just doing it but because it increases the shipping), but in some case impossible. A lot of those "ships in own box" products are going straight from the manufacturer who typically don't have any capabilities to do over boxing. Partial solution: retailers must make sure they clearly communicate when something ships in it's own box. That way the consumer can at least try to avoid Little Billy's surprise being ruined. Not perfect, but sometimes a little knowledge goes a long way.
    In general, retailers have gotten better, but will probably always have a way to go in terms of meeting customers' expectations.

  3. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, December 7, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.

    FYI, the last item that came "unwrapped" was the size of a bread box......otherwise I get your point

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