‘Go Online,’ They Said, ‘It’s Easier’: We’re Caught in the Transformational Global Vortex

Feb. 8, 2018

Here’s the premise of this article: Online shopping is not yet as seamless as it’s going to be, and traditional retailing is less appealing and in many ways less satisfying than it used to be.

Like many shoppers, my household is increasingly more reliant on some of the benefits of online shopping. Last month, like many people, my wife and I uttered the proverbial holiday season mantra, “We want to get our Christmas shopping done early this year.” As usual, we ended up doing it in waves. Wave one was done in early December. By mid-December, we’d started wave two, or as I called it, “The (near) final assault.”

Holiday gift giving tends to be a moving target, so I decided to employ some advanced tactical thinking last year: Go online for wave one to knock down the big items, and then back-fill the balance with local shopping. Brilliant, I thought. Upon deciding on the items to be purchased, we felt pretty good; an excellent balance of dollars spent versus value received. However, from the get-go, my brilliant plan began to unwind.

The last Sunday afternoon in November, a full month before Christmas Day, the Bulldog, aka my wife, attacked our plan with a vengeance.

There are several key things to note here in the shifting landscape of 21st Century shopping. First, minimum advertised pricing; the item we wanted was priced the same everywhere. I’m not surprised as this has become an increasingly common practice in many industries; tires and automotive aftermarket are no different (pretty much). I have respect for the companies that manage pricing integrity across their distribution channels. Second point, online research is good, online purchasing not so much; it’s rather clunky and has very high abandonment rates.

Given that the pricing was the same everywhere, we selected Williams and Sonoma. If the price is the same, go to the place with the best reputation. Well, try as she may, the Bulldog was unable to get Williams and Sonoma’s website to accept our order. Me, Mr. Solution, instructed Bulldog to have them delivered or we would pick them up, “them” being the new Calphalon stackable pots and pans. I knew that pots and pans were going to be easy because there are no options, no color choices, no optional accessories, everything in one box, one size fits all. The Williams and Sonoma website, though beautiful in its “holiday theme,” was a total bust; unable to see store inventory, we abandoned the prestigious retailer.

The Bulldog, with her usual high percentage kill rate, moved on with determination. The net result, after checking some of the largest national retailers, she ended up buying factory direct. I’m not a fan of factory direct because no matter how much a manufacturer promises online, manufacturers are typically poor online retailers, strong promises but weak results (like some tire manufacturers). By mid-December; no pots and pans, no tracking numbers. I’m preparing for disappointment. Can’t I just point and click and be happy?

Retailing is evolving dramatically, both online and in-store. Today’s retailing is caught in a transformational global vortex, a whirlpool of shifting activity that is transforming how goods and services are currently delivered to the marketplace, but varying greatly by product category.  About 90% of all retail transactions are done in brick-and-mortar locations, with the remaining 10% done online. Some day we won’t see the process as either/or, either in-store or online, but a more homogenous process that is functionally more consumer centric.

However, I wished I could drive to the mall, park my truck, enter the busy store, make my purchase, stop at gift wrap, drive home, and place my gifts under our tree. The experience I described is no longer available at most retail locations. My plan was for a seamless satisfying experience; what I got instead was a retail world in transition.

My suggestion for independent tire dealers in 2018 is to redefine and refine the brick-and-mortar experience. Ask yourself what your customers really want, and then ask your customers what they really want.

Over the years, I’ve read in-depth studies commissioned both from major rubber companies and retailers. I sum it up as follows ...

* Customers want fast, friendly service that costs less!

*  “Fast” means prompt convenience.

*  “Friendly” means knowledgeable and helpful.

*  “Costs less” means value and bang for the buck.

*  Customers will find what they want, online or in-store!

*  You’ll need uncompromising consumer-centric service  to compete.

Prepare for the unavoidable increase in digital retailing that is coming with a vengeance!    ■

Wayne Williams is president of Wayne Williams Marketing, a marketing and branding company with emphasis on retail “counter intelligence.” Located in La Habra, Calif., he can be reached via email at [email protected].

To read more Counter Intelligence articles, see:

Branding Is a Beacon: The TIme Is Right for You to Rethink and Rebrand

We Are Retailers: We Must Keep an Eye on the Details in Retail

Simple Truths in Retailing that Never Change

I Got Schooled by a School Teacher

About the Author

Wayne Williams

Tire retailing expert Wayne Williams was president of ExSell Marketing Inc. and longtime author of MTD’s popular “Counter Intelligence” column. He died in July 2018.