Your store’s answer has implications beyond the sale.

To many small businesses, Amazon is a giant sinkhole that threatens to swallow up all of retail. But there are ways independent stores can shore themselves up against the slide.

CBA is at the center of one such initiative—the Get It Local Today! (GILT) program that tells shoppers where they can find a nearby store with the product they’re 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 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’ve 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 GILT program that has been greeted enthusiastically by publishers as well as retailers.

He’s been encouraged by the “pretty much universal support” for the effort, and also surprised by something he’s learned from stores signing up that points to another Amazon angle—almost 40 percent of respondents have said they’re prepared to price match the online retailer.

That’s considerably higher than he would have thought, he admits, but it seems to be reflective of a growing practice in Christian stores.

“We’ll price match all day long,” says Sue Smith, store manager of Baker Book House (BBH) 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’re inviting them to come back again.”

Erik Ernstrom, business intelligence manager 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.

“Take a 50 cent hit and upsell,” agrees Wallington. “That’s something Amazon won’t do.” It’s also part of the appeal of GILT to suppliers. “We aren’t just selling product—we’re putting bodies in your store. It’s true for us and others that the average transaction is more than what is was. The problem is getting bodies into the store.”

Publishers really want to see more people at brick and mortar too, adds Ernstrom. “They see the value,” he says. “They see the long-term benefits of getting customers into a physical store, and they need that.”

THIRD-PARTY SALES

BBH’s price-matching practice is part of a well-thought-out strategy that seeks to engage Amazon at every point. With a huge used books section, BBH also sells some of that inventory on Amazon as a third-party retailer.

Admittedly the scale of the store’s operations probably makes this more do-able than for some Christian stores. One independent retailer who also sells through Amazon says that recent changes to the online giant’s policies are making it harder for smaller players to make anything.

“When you take [all the costs of doing business] into account it’s a slim-to-none—to loss—in margins,” she says. “Hopefully the profit on some makes up for the—for sure—loss on others.”

—Andy Butcher

Read “To Price-Match Amazon or Not to Price-Match, Part 2.”