The “R” in Retail Stands for Relevance
An MBA grad might look at the retail business and define success as increasing revenue, decreasing overhead, eliminating cost overruns, etc. The casual observer might even look at stories about the decline of retail and make the judgement that online is beating offline to death simply by offering price satisfaction and ease of use.
It turns out that maybe these are not entirely clear lines in the sand. We have had a series of conversations online and offline with some retailers, consumers and analysts, and we have created a collection of interesting perspectives on the jobs that retail (online and offline) get done for people.
It turns out that success will come to retail box stores and even retail online through the practice of relevancy, something that online media does well and that retailers everywhere are learning how to deliver.
In the offline world, relevancy is the emotional core of choice. It’s like content, but it’s normally delivered through people. It’s subtle. It’s based on a gentle push and pull of asking questions and seeking answers.
What relevancy in shopping does is it shifts the job of retail shopping from one of just getting a product to one of resolving an emotional “why.” We found this out by asking people about their experiences.
We asked Quora members following the Jobs-to-Be-Done Approach what was missing in the current retail experience in big box bricks and mortar stores, and we found two great answers. I also talked to Alexandra Mysoor, co-founder and CEO of online retailer Generation Orange, an online-only retail store for natural products.
We started from the basic premise of “What’s Missing in the Consumer Experience in Big Box Retail Stores,” because that’s where most people experience shopping.
What you see in his answers are that in an offline environment, certain types of chooosing win over online.
In many of his points it’s about a tactile experience. One finds relevancy and certainty by being able to see, touch, smell or use something before they buy.
This does not mean that there is no competition between online and offline, but it does suggest that offline is not losing BECAUSE of offline, as the case is often made (see our response to the Jason Calacanis Rome is Burning argument about Amazon vs. Best Buy).
Other jobs that I have personally used Retail for (choosing over online)
1. Buying a gift that I think may need to be exchanged or returned. Especially for non-tech savvy family members — here I have to choose a chain store — this happens a lot with my parent. Other things that do this job: gift cards. I rather buy something, because at least I tried to find something thoughtful, and it magically becomes a gift card if they want it to. The gift receipt is a great, fairly recent innovation that helps me do this.
2. Handmade items. If I want to buy art or pottery — I want to see the exact one I am getting. Even jewelry — I really want to see the exact one I’m getting. Etsy is kind of competing here on variety (and price somewhat). At higher price-levels, bricks and mortar are better for me.
3. Fitted items. running shoes, suits — can’t imagine buying them online. I guess if I went to the store, found exactly what I wanted and then went to zappos, I could. Retail can compete by having odd brands, that you can’t find online or undiscounted items (like Apple retail stores or this natural running store local to mehttp://www.goodforthesole
4. Heavy items. There are things that just can’t be shipped very efficiently, and so they are hard to get. It has to be heavy, but cheap, so that shipping costs are prohibitive. Free weights, for example — much easier to get at Dick’s.
5. Super cheap items. Again, not worth the shipping cost. Amazon can compete here with prime. Hardware stores have a lot of items like this — need a single nail or a variety of nuts and bolts.
The Alarmists Try To Tell Us Something Important: Retail Is Dying — But It’s Not; Its Practitioners are Changing
Retail is really about relevancy. Jason Calacanis recently wanted us to know that the retail world of bricks and mortars is ending, and a retail apocalypse is coming. Not exactly true. We looked at the Best Buy scenario and it shows us the opposite.
And then I talked to Alexandra at Generation Orange. She makes the case that online and offline are actually blurring, because they both need something that the other does well.
“There is so much fatigue in content; and there’s the same thing in terms of retail. [Shoppers ask,] ‘H?ow do I figure out what works for me?’” says Mysoor.
For online, it’s a sense of immediacy and being able to hold the item you wish to choose. People have money, they have time when they are online. What they want is relevance; they want the feeling that someone is offering them something that means something to their emotional lives.
All Rise, Curators
People frustrated with overabundance of choice, but an inefficient retail system that does not organize this choice well, can find satisfaction with curation.
Mysoor is working on this with Par Avion, an idea that came from her experience growing up Indian in the Midwest and receiving “exotic” Air Mail envelopes from a family member.
The site will be a curated shopping experience. Mysoor goes around the world and brings back items she finds in her travels and then recommends them to women to buy.
Why? Women are looking to online shopping as a form of that “retail therapy” that we know so well.
“I get to follow my passion, find the products and send you video clips of me using the product,” says Mysoor. But what she does really really well with this thing is connecting to influencers. In her video, she talks about driving interest in her product offering by giving people who find people for her business a chance to talk to her.
This is delivering relevance and delivering a social connection. When people shop, they want the tangible exchange of emotional values, ideas, and recommendations.
Offline is improving this opportunity to deliver relevance; right now the system doesn’t do that well. In offline curation, the salesperson often does not deliver relevancy. Instead, she or he delivers an option to pay more – a meaningless add-on to a product you are already kind of happy with or completely happy with.