Beating Amazon with Real World Engagement


While there are several reasons some retailers have been annihilated, in part by online selling, there is one big time strategy that can help stem the tide: Engagement.

Sounds too easy, right? Well it isn’t necessarily easy, but it is one of the most surefire strategies for keeping your organization relevant and staying in business. Now, I am not talking about being the big box discounter that claims to offer the lowest price on everything in the store. There is only room for a few of those in the marketplace. What about all the others, though, from small retailers to large?

I’ve been amazed to watch some pretty powerful retailers crash and burn recently, as internet sales take even more market share. I’ve experienced many of their missteps myself as the consumer.

I have always researched before making any sizeable purchase, and the internet has allowed us all to quickly investigate, read reviews, and compare pricing on any number of products. I might already know what refrigerator I want to purchase based on that online research, so I go to the big box appliance store and see the product that I want, but now the price might be significantly higher than I had seen online. Now, I am willing to pay a little more to buy locally, but not crazy amounts more. On more than one occasion, this big box store let me, a buyer that was ready to pull the trigger, leave their store without getting the sale from me. I was happy to see when this retailer quickly learned that was not a great sales strategy, and they changed their ways to be darn sure they captured buyers like me and registered those sales. Their sales and stock surged in the years since.

A popular department store and mainstay in our local area still has not figured that out, and more annoyingly, often when I went to buy something, I would be told by the clerk that this item would be 30% off next week. I’d say, “I can get it right now online for that price, but I want to buy it here, and I don’t want to have to make another trip here in a week to buy it.” The only response I would ever get was, “Sorry.” Now what sense does it make to blow off and lose a buyer this week at a price you will happily sell it for next week? Insane. This retailer just closed their local store and is in the process of closing many others.

Newsflash: when you have a buyer that has gone to the trouble of making the trip to your store and is ready to make the purchase that pays for all that overhead, you should do everything in your power to close that sale rather than have them walk out. If you don’t, eventually they will stop walking in altogether.

Now that is not the one strategy I wanted to share, but it is the mindset that should precede the next step I want to share. Engagement.

Product reviews, videos, extensive product descriptions with Q&A forums – all of the online shopping experience nuggets we have grown so used to – are all about engagement. Brick-and-mortar stores could also engage consumers with these same types of attributes while inside the store, but on top of that, there is one HUGE engagement factor that online cannot offer.

That is to touch, feel, and use the product in a real world setting. A few examples:

  1. An appliance store where appliances are set up in “live” kitchens and are actually operating, so people can try them out.
  2. A plumbing fixture business with shower heads hooked up, so people can really turn them on and off to see how they like them.
  3. A patio furniture and grill shop that has groupings set up outside with the grills operational, so people can try them.

Not that earth shattering you say? Hold on – there is more. Before I get to that though, how many places have you been to that sell things like appliances where the product is simply lined up against a wall, with most of it not hooked up or plugged in to try? Quite a few, so even here, there is room for big time improvement. Imagine an Apple Store with none of the product plugged in and turned on to try!

Now, there is one more step to this engagement process that is huge and that very few retailers are doing. Take the appliance store that now has the appliances and stoves set up in an actual functional kitchen design, but now add in guest cooking classes or an interior designer giving in-store tutorials on how to design a better kitchen.

How about a business that sells grills having an outdoor cookout where anyone can come and get lunch cooked on a grill, with reps on hand to discuss the various types of grills and how to use them? We have a business in our area that does just that for grills, and it is very successful. To date, they have not yet converted that success story to other product areas.

How about a small apparel retailer inviting people to nominate someone for a makeover on a regular basis and partnering with a hair salon to pull this off and turn it into a monthly event?

Tell me you can do any of these things online. You cannot, and yet here we are, practicing retail strategy like it is 1950. Just put products on a shelf and they will sell themselves. That is just not going to happen anymore for most of you in retail.

Beyond retail, similar points could be made. The bottom line is this: Think about what online sellers are unable to physically do or offer and start experimenting. Make it fun and interesting, and make your business a destination. We are social animals and you must give people a reason to come to your physical location. If you are just a physical alternative to buying product online, you are losing the battle. It takes much more effort and commitment from potential customers to show up at your place, rather than just make a few clicks and be done. Give me a reason, teach me new things, allow me to have fun, and now I want to be there. You are bringing an added value to the shopping experience, and most people will reward you with purchases for keeping them actively engaged.

Get going on making engagement happen. I dare you.

This post’s song is I Dare You by The xx and about engagement on a personal level: