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Observations on Retail in the United States today

Last night and today my wife and I ran around getting errands done… shopping.  As a result, I’ve got a few observations:

  • Retail staff are obviously getting spoken to about customer relationships.
    – At Kohls last night, I had possibly the best cashier I’ve ever been served by.  At the end of the his service, he pleaded with us to complete a survey on his service to us.
    – At the Sears hardware store multiple floor personnel greeted me and offered me help.
  • The SKUs that stores carry is still abysmal.

My assessment is this:

  • At least in my case, I’m so used to store personnel that in the past just didn’t give a damn, I really don’t know how to react to these newly caring personnel.  I’ve learn to become so self-sufficient when I’m shopping, that I feel like these folks are intruding on my shopping experience.  Strange, eh?
  • Retailers next threat is a new threat from Amazon.  In the New York Times article “Amazon, Forced to Collect a Tax, Is Adding Roots,” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/technology/amazon-forced-to-collect-sales-tax-aims-to-keep-its-competitive-edge.html?smid=pl-share), David Streitfeld reports “Amazon will soon be able to cut as much as a day off its two-day shipping times, said Jeff Bezos, its chief executive, in an interview. This will put the much-rumored same-day delivery — the elusive aspiration of every online merchant — potentially within reach in some metropolitan areas.”  Amazon has an almost endless lists of SKUs… almost everything I could want for less than retailers have fewer SKUs I really don’t want so much.
  • Helpful personnel are only great if you’ve stock something you can sell your customer.

It only stands to reason that the following use case would be more optimal than Amazon’s next day shipping:

  • I go online, say to http://www.BestBuy.com, find what I want, but see that it isn’t available in my local store.
  • I place an order for NEXT DAY DELIVERY (or if early enough in the day, SAME DAY DELIVERY) to be delivered to my local store.
  • When item is delivered to my local store from a district distribution center, I am notified and go and pick it up.

Lots of retailers provide delivery to local stores now, but to the best of my knowledge, none of them do it in one day.  There are lots of advantages of this to the retailer and me:

  • The retailer better competes with Amazon.
  • The retailer has an extended set of SKUs available at a short time.
  • Since I’m coming into the store to pick up the item, the retailer has an opportunity to cross-sell me something.
  • And for me, I don’t have to be home to accept the delivery: my item is securely delivered to my local retailer.

This means that retailers are going to need to tune up their distribution centers and online systems, because without that, their local presences, with limited set of SKUs, will matter less and less in the face of Amazon’s next day “retail lite” model.

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