To many small businesses, Amazon seems like a giant sinkhole that threatens to swallow up all of retail. But there are ways independent stores can shore themselves up against the online giant.
CBA is at the center of one such initiative—the Get It Local Today! program that tells shoppers where they can find a nearby store with the product they are looking for, in-hand right away.
The hope is that a good price and immediate availability will trump Amazon’s best online deal, which in most parts of the country—same-day delivery only being available in some urban centers—involves a delivery-by-mail delay.
The program, due to launch as soon as a critical mass of stores has signed up, is “the best option I have seen to make any sort of pushback against Amazon,” says Zach Wallington of Christian Supply in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Digital specialist for the store and the Covenant Group headquartered there, together with others from The Parable Group, Wallington is one of the key players in the Get It Local Today! program that has been greeted enthusiastically by publishers and retailers.
Wallington has been encouraged by the “pretty much universal support” for the effort, and also surprised by something he has learned from stores signing up that points to another Amazon angle—almost 40 percent of respondents have said they are prepared to price match the online retailer.
Here’s what some are saying about the decision to counter the Amazon effect by price-matching:
- “We’ll price match all day long,” says Sue Smith, store manager of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and current CBA chair. Her philosophy: Don’t send away empty-handed a customer who is standing right there. “I always say to my team that it’s not about the transaction in front of you,” she explains. “It’s about the next one, and the next one, creating an experience where you are inviting them to come back again.”
- Erik Ernstrom, manager of business intelligence at Parable, agrees that trying to price match is vital, without giving away the farm. Plus, he notes, making a sale even at a discount provides the opportunity to sell something else such as a case and highlighters for a Bible purchase.
- “Take a 50 cent hit and upsell,” agrees Wallington. “That’s something Amazon won’t do.” It’s also part of the appeal of the Get It Local program to suppliers. “We aren’t just selling product—we’re putting bodies in your store.”
- When it comes to showrooming—when in-store shoppers use their phones to price match online deals—Baker Book House’s staff is encouraged to engage shoppers who are on their phones by asking if they can help and telling them that the store can match anything they might find.
- One independent retailer who found he couldn’t price match an online Bible deal “shifted gears and discussed Bible cases, tabs, and other stuff, which she did purchase from me,” he says. “I told her to bring the Bible in when she gets it and we could imprint her name on it for $5, and she said she would.”
- “You have to play the game,” says Smith. “Call the publishers and see if you can get a discount.” Many times suppliers are willing to work with stores as much as they can because of the potential additional in-store sales.”
- An additional card that indies can play against Amazon is the community buy-local one. If you have a good relationship with a local church, Ernstrom says, you might be able to point out that your store not only supports it by resourcing its members, but sometimes indirectly employing them and making it possible for them to tithe.
- Good merchandising is another effective anti-Amazon strategy because it can counter the perception that the online retailer is cheaper on everything. Actually, it’s usually only the top 150 or so frontlist items, notes Wallington.
- “You always have to have things on sale; if everything is full price you’ll never win,” says Ernstrom. “You have to have sales throughout the store—every section, every endcap. If they get the impression everything is full price, they’re going to think they can get it cheaper somewhere else.”
Read “To Price-Match Amazon or Not to Price-Match:” Part 1 in the December issue of Christian MARKET, and Part 2 in the January issue.