Reclaim your ground and take back the customer.
CBA’s Get It Local Today! program is poised to arm Christian retail stores with the ammunition they need to do battle against Amazon’s online attack by countering the online giant’s only defense—good price and immediate availability.
Stores that participate in Get It Local Today! will capitalize on their ability to provide immediate service by telling customers where they can find a nearby store with the product they’re looking for, in-hand, right away.
To level the pricing battlefield, Sue Smith, store manager of Baker Book House, Chuck Wallington and Zach Wallington of Christian Supply, and Erik Ernstrom, business intelligence manager at The Parable Group spoke with Christian MARKET about whether stores should price-match Amazon in “To Price-Match Amazon or Not to Price-Match, Part 1.”
The conversation continues with a discussion on how to turn showrooming to brick-and-mortar’s advantage and harness the growing power of the ‘buy local’ movement.
Dealing with showrooming
Practices vary when it comes to showrooming—when in-store shoppers use their phones to price match online deals. Baker Book House is proactive, with staff encouraged to engage shoppers who are on their phone by asking if they can help.
If they are showrooming, customers can sometimes feel a bit awkward, Smith acknowledges, so staff members are coached just to tell them that the store can match anything they might find.
One independent retailer tells how he spoke with a showrooming shopper and found that he just couldn’t price match the online deal. “I 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. She said she would. Another shot to win her back. [It’s] not a total win, but I’ll take it.”
While those we spoke with recognized that Amazon actions might vary from store to store, they agreed that all retailers need to have the same attitude when it comes to the online retailer.
“I see too many stores that just seem unhappy about Amazon, and that comes across to a customer,” says Ernstrom. “We are Christian bookstores—we should have joy no matter what we are doing. If you are grumpy that someone is asking you to price match, they are going to know that.”
Baker Book House has a don’t-criticize-online-shopping policy that extends to not bad-mouthing publishers for internet sales, either. “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, Ernstrom agrees.
That good attitude needs to extend to dealing with local churches that may be buying from Amazon, he adds: Keep in mind that they might be shopping online because they think they are getting the best deal there. Remember too that they are probably trying to be good stewards of their money—a perspective that presents an opportunity to explain how your store might be able to serve them better, rather than just seeming whiny.
Promoting ‘buy local’
An additional card that indies can play against Amazon—carefully—is the support-the-community one. Ernstrom points to the growing “buy local” movement, which argues that big chains are ultimately bad for communities because the money they take in doesn’t stay in the area in the same way.
If you have a good relationship with a local church, he 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.
Ernstrom recalls once taking a slightly edgy approach with one regular shopper looking for a commentary set. Having agreed to give a sizable discount to price-match, he rang up the transaction, placed the books in a bag and put it behind the counter, tongue-in-cheekily telling the customer, “You can come and get it in five to eight working days.”
Having made the point that buying at brick and mortar meant not having to wait to get the product, he then handed it over.
Sometimes stores are even more direct. When a shopper told one independent she would get what she wanted from Amazon rather than have the store order it, he told her, “Yes ma’am, you can, and you can also buy a Playboy and Koran while you’re there.”
This “isn’t my normal strategy,” he concedes, “but I figure if they are bold enough to throw Amazon in my face, I might as well let them know where I’m coming from. They don’t understand how it affects us as retailers until you make them aware of it. Then when we’re closed, they wonder where we went.”
Good merchandising is another effective anti-Amazon strategy, says Ernstrom, because it can counter the received wisdom 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, while recognizing that the kneejerk Amazon-costs-less mentality is tough to counter. Nevertheless, “you have to have sales throughout the store—every section, every endcap. If they get the impression everything is full price, they are going to think they can get it cheaper somewhere else.”