My Business Editor Simon Sharwood has learned, the hard way, that the online retail juggernaut isn’t invincible. In fact it sometimes offers worse service and choice than bricks and mortar stores.
Online retailers aren’t invincible. They do have certain advantages, but some recent personal experiences lead me to believe some also display some immaturity that smart real-world retailers can turn into opportunity.
I’ve found three weaknesses I think traditional retailers can exploit, both in-store and with better online efforts of their own.
The weirdness of territorial copyright and its impact on global e-tailers
One of my favourite authors has just published his first book in four years. I just re-read the prequel to get ready for it and was ready to press the “buy now” button on the day of the new book’s release. Thanks to the miracle of e-books I looked forward to reading the book on the same day of its global release.
I wasn’t allowed to, because the rights to the e-book version of the novel don’t apply in Australia. The online bookstore cannot tell me who does have the rights or when I might be able to acquire it. There was no-one to contact for information.
I’ve also just read a rather fun book, again purchasing it as an e-book. Would you believe the sequel isn’t available in Australia as an e-book, again because of global copyright weirdness?
A similar experience earlier this year saw a music publisher’s global online store invite me to buy a new album at a discount price. I’d be emailed on the day of release with download codes for the music. All went well – except on the day of release I discovered the album had actually been released in Australia for ten days. Going global had made me late!
Local retailers have some clear opportunities to position themselves as a source of goods that may be hard to buy online, or sold late, in other territories. There are even opportunities to beat global e-tailers.
Delivery remains a weak point
I recently travelled to the USA and made some online purchases. Only one in three arrived within the advertised time and attempts to retrieve the goods turned into an email spat. Locally, I’ve had similar problems. The ‘all care and no responsibility’ attitude that some e-tailers persist with isn’t good for the sector, or for consumers. Stores that have stock on the shelf ready to go may represent a better experience!
I’d also say that it seems worth investing a lot of time and energy in the delivery experience when you contemplate your own online ventures, as it can mean the difference between customer satisfaction and frustration.
On the Internet, no-one knows you are a sole trader
I once purchased some goods online from an e-tailer I’d never heard of. Its site looked slick and the price was right, so I made the order anyway.
It turned out the e-tailer was actually a sole trader who, when pushed about slow delivery, revealed that he had stacked the goods in his out tray and hoped to get to the post office tomorrow!