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Beating the franchises and box stores: Are you making it easy to buy?

If you’re competing with a franchise or a box store like Starbucks, WalMart, Costco, Best Buy or similar, one of the best ways to stand out from them is to combat one of their biggest failings: They make it extremely difficult to buy in an environment that built to offer the illusion of easy shopping.

It’s particularly true for higher priced items, or items that require some level of technical knowledge and enthusiasm, such as – but not limited to – handheld HD video recorders, digital SLRs or computers.

Of course, they make it easy for the local computer or video store to differentiate in 100 different ways as long as it isn’t price. Local stores can’t often compete with national box stores and mail order houses on price, so they have to find other ways to do so.

Think about the purchasing environment in these box stores. Despite what they try to make you think, it isn’t laid out to optimize sales. Instead, it’s designed to reduce employee staffing requirements and minimize losses. Sounds kinda like a Presidential campaign:)

Want some evidence?

  • Selling computers: Computers are all password protected so you can’t begin to see how well they work, much less if they are suitable for the job.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: Video and digital SLR cameras are cabled to the countertop.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: There’s nothing to photograph, other than a bunch of gear under lovely fluorescent lights.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: There’s rarely anyone there who knows a Fstop from a Fbomb.
  • Finally, there’s no one who is truly a specialist on the gear they sell, and only a few people who have a smattering of knowledge – if you’re lucky (and if they work that day).

All those things are fine if you have done a pile of research and know exactly what you want. To be sure, many people do just that because they’ve gotten used to the lack of support/help at these stores.

Have you ever asked a question in a franchise or big box retail store and found that the store’s expert on that topic (if they had one) knew less than you did?

Of course, they might just order online rather than waste 30 minutes and $10 worth of gas to drive to the box store. If they do that, you know where they’re going – the cheapest place they can find online that has a reasonably dependable reputation.

Why? Because the stores have already forced them to do all the heavy lifting. After all that, they’re tired.

But there are others out there who want a resource. Need some advice. Want to try the gear out before they buy it, just to make sure.

If this is the best method for selling things and creating a relationship with a customer that lasts and lasts, why don’t you see the following?

  • A car dealer who allows test drives as long as you don’t leave the parking lot.
  • A jeweler who won’t let the lady try on that big engagement ring.
  • A Chanel store that has no tester bottles.
  • A camera store that leaves the gear locked in the glass case and expects you to make a buying decision by ogling it through the glass.
  • A grocery store that doesn’t allow you to thump a melon.
  • A florist that doesn’t let you smell the flowers.
  • A bookstore that doesn’t let you browse or sit and read a book.
  • A software company that doesn’t offer a downloadable demo or trial version.
  • A coffee shop that smells like candles.
  • A hardware store that keeps tools and other trinkets locked up like cigarettes at the grocery store (while you do see this at Home Depot, you don’t at Ace).

Yet that’s exactly the kinds of things that many stores do.

They put up a glass wall between the customer and the merchandise. That wall makes it hard to buy unless you know exactly, precisely what you want. They force you to be the expert, offering little or no expertise for prospective buyers seeking advice in their store.

Now think about how some other big retailers who make it easy to get in the mood to buy. Apple stores. Barnes and Noble. Talbots. Nordstrom. Some locally owned stores have picked up on it, but many have not.

Maybe you don’t have a brick and mortar store, but instead have an online store. That doesn’t mean you don’t have similar issues challenging you.

Ever been in an online shopping cart that just makes you want to scream? Sure you have. Now think about the last experience that was so simple and pleasant that you were tempted to buy more.

Whether that experience was online or in a brick and mortar retail store, the rarity of that experience sticks with someone. If they don’t have that experience with your business, they’re going to encounter it somewhere else.

When they do, guess who they aren’t going to visit again?