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The Amazon Prime Directive

Moving away from the light....and into the darkness of night
Creative Commons License photo credit: mendhak

What did you learn from – and change in your business – after Amazon launched Amazon Prime?

If you aren’t aware, Amazon Prime is a membership-based service that provides access to Amazon video-on-demand and free Kindle books from the Kindle lending library – but more importantly, it upgrades all purchases to from regular ground shipping to free two-day shipping.

The question remains – what did you take away for your business from the launch and subsequent success of Prime? Did it provoke you to change anything about your business and how you work with customers?

Even if you don’t do retail, there are lessons to be learned from what Amazon is doing.

The Fresh Prime of Bel-Air

Plenty has been written about the success of Prime and what it’s done for customer loyalty.

One quote from the Small Business Trends piece (linked above) that might get your attention – a comment from a Morningstar analyst who researched Prime:

What we found is that, generally speaking, last year Prime members spent about twice as much as non Prime members. (emphasis mine) They spent about $1,200 dollars compared to $600 for non Prime members. What’s also interesting is that the average person shopping online last year spent approximately $1,000. What that says to us it that Prime members generate more incremental revenue per than non Prime shoppers. They are doing most of their online shopping on Amazon as opposed to going to other sites. Prime members generate more income.

Recently, Amazon took the service a step further with the introduction in Los Angeles of Amazon PrimeFresh, which expands upon their Seattle-based test program.

What can you take away from this and implement at your business? Do it for them. Deliver it for them. Automate it for them, as appropriate. All with more personal touch than Amazon can afford to do *in your community* and *in your market* with *your customers*. Yes, automation *can* result in more personal touch.

The key is the emphasis on your community, your market, your customers. I’m not suggesting that you try to clone Amazon.

Behavioral shifts

There’s much more to this than automation allowing you to buy produce via your web browser. Customer behavior is central to what Amazon does.

When Amazon saw that Prime members behaved differently, then they could work differently with them. Simply by buying a membership in Prime, a buyer is telling Amazon “I am going to buy more, more often.”

If your customers could send you a signal in advance like that, how would you use it to improve what you do for them? How do you care for your best customers? How do you encourage new customers to take advantage of what you offer like your best customers do? How do you make buying friction-free and easy?

Now reverse that. If you look at customers who buy more and more often from your business, what are you doing to take care of them? What if you did those things for more of your customers – would it turn some of them into Prime-like customers?

Amazon, WalMart, You

We’ve talked repeatedly about “When Wal-Mart comes to town“. Amazon’s taken WalMart’s game and made it more convenient and logistically efficient.

Take from them what makes sense for your business and implement it a step at a time, even if your implementation looks completely different. The lesson is doing what matters for your customers, rather than blindly cloning what Amazon or WalMart do.

For example, let’s say you sell high quality, organic meats that your area’s chain grocer doesn’t carry.

Do your customers forget to stop by your place? When they’re at the grocery, do they grab something there because it’s in front of them? That convenience can cost you a $25 sale. How many can you afford to lose each week?

While you probably can’t afford to provide same-day delivery like Amazon does in Los Angeles, you can serve your neighborhood or small town in a similarly convenient way. Maybe you deliver on Thursday evenings so people have their weekend meat supply for campouts and family gatherings in advance of their weekend grocery shopping. A part-time employee could deliver their pre-paid orders.

You don’t have to cover the whole state 24 hours a day, just your market area (or part of it) as convenient.

Make quality, local buying easy. That’s the local Prime Directive.

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Your story says why you care

One of the things I help business owners understand is how to tell their story (and why they should bother).

Sometimes, business owners don’t have a story, or at least, they think they don’t. Yet when you ask them, it’s a rare person who doesn’t have a tale that answers “How’d you get into this business?”

Many times, the work people do is a means to an end, or at least it seems that way on the surface because they just haven’t thought about it as their story.

Sometimes they got there by happenstance or by being in the right place at the right time. A family tradition leads others into a line of work after a parent sells or leaves them a business they didn’t even consider being in. Some folks “grow up” in the business and follow in their parents’ footsteps – even if that requires years of college.

For others, a business might have come out of something they’d done forever and decided to turn that activity into their way of making a living – say, a serious fly fisher starting a fly shop or a fishing guide service business.

More often than not the story is rooted in their passion for the work, for solving the problem their business solves, or the people they work with while doing so.

Your story is what sets the stage for a well-worn quote: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.“  (Attributed to everyone from FDR to a soccer coach from UNC to John Maxwell)

It does that because how you got to where you are today says a lot of about the “how much you care” thing.

But sometimes, the answer isn’t so exciting. Or so it seems.

At Our Company, we strive to stay current with the latest products and techniques. We consider ourselves experts in our field and we invite you to take advantage of our expertise so that you can be assured to have the equipment, accessories and service that meets your needs.

Please take a look around our website. Youâ??ll find information about the comprehensive line of cycling products and services we offer to maximize the fun factor in your outdoor activities. And be sure to check out our Resources & Links page where you can access all sorts of valuable information for cycling enthusiasts.

Stop by and visit us at Our Company â?¦ weâ??d love to get to know you better.

Check out Our Company online and add your â??Likeâ?? on

Only 2 things in all of that give you any idea what they do: “cycling” and “outdoor activities”.

Why you?

I can buy cycling gear in a lot of places, including WalMart and Amazon.

I buy it from locally-owned stores for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I want access to someone who can do more than just hand me the bag with my stuff in it. I want access to an expert who will base their answers to my newbie questions on their 27,438 miles of riding.

I have a lot of wants, just like people who play Warcraft, brew their own beer, restore mid-1950 Chevys or manicure Bonsai trees.

People who do those things don’t want to buy stuff from someone who doesn’t know anything about those things – and they sure don’t want to buy them from someone who doesn’t care about those things.

Something like this (which I just tossed together) tells people why you care:

We’re cyclists. The finest moments of our lives are memories of eating dust on single tracks only we and the bears know about, getting air at BMX events, leading the Tour de Hometown (even if only for a moment), riding in the kiddie seat on the back of our parents’ bikes during a trip to France and sharing the same memory with our kids right here at home.

Every bike, component, accessory gear and clothing in our shop is tested and personally approved by our staff. We don’t just hire salespeople or mechanics. We hire cyclists. We know you want help from someone who’s been where you’re going – or wants to ride along.

When we aren’t on our bikes, we love to use our combined 74 years of road racing, BMX, trail riding and cross-country touring experience to help you get the most out of your ride. We can’t wait to meet you and talk bikes.

If they know your story, they’ll know why you care.

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Is the lack of Wal-Mart actually a tax?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lordcolus

A lot of thoughts come to mind both ways about Wal-Mart‘s effect on local businesses and consumers.

No shortage of them are provoked by this Forbes op/ed saying that the lack of access to Wal-Mart in NYC is actually a tax, and continues by stating that building a WalMart in NYC is economic stimulus.

For example, the author ignores the local sourcing that WalMart used to do during its “Buy American” phase. He also fails to discuss that when left enough time in a competitive market devoid of Wal-Mart, poorly run local businesses tend to fail anyway.

What do you think?

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Remember The Simple Things

Jeffrey Gitomer* sums up a lot of understanding of people, sales, psychology and more when he says “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.

Do you make it easy for them to buy?

Really? Let’s talk about it.

Beyond impulse

Are the things you sell displayed in a manner that will make it easy for your customers to select exactly what’s best for them?

Or…are they displayed in a manner that maximizes how many things you can get on the shelf?

The question is prompted by the recent untimely and tragic death of our old TV**. I recently had the (ahem) “luxury” of shopping for a replacement HDTV after our old one finally gave up the ghost.

I had a budget in mind, so after a little browsing on the net to see what was new, what features and standards were must have (and which ones were not), my youngest son and I caroused around town to the usual suspects (minus one that was closed) to find a new box.

The brands and models were pretty much the same from store to store, for the most part.

But something was different

What differed – radically so – was the presentation.

Two examples of the several we visited:

Store A

  • Had units scattered about in no particular order. It’s possible they were grouped very roughly by price.
  • Their display was moderately helpful for a standing customer (no seats) because half of the sets were more or less just below eye level. The rest were barely off the floor, which didn’t show off those models well.
  • Their pricey 3D sets were presented well, in a manufacturer-provided display with goggles.
  • Their sets displayed the same picture on most sets so you could compare. It was a mix of sports and scenic shots and “regular” stuff.

Store B

  • Had sets jammed so close together and displayed at differing angles above, at and well below eye level (again, no seats). The first thing I thought of was the clothing stores with racks and aisles packed so tightly that you can’t walk between the racks. They didn’t have their sets displayed in a manner that was designed to encourage you to take the time to browse, evaluate and buy. If you knew what you wanted and they had that item in stock, no problem.
  • Had models scattered all over the store with no rhyme or reason. Not grouped by size, price, features, manufacturer or any other sensible criteria. They were clearly just shoved where they’d fit, making it almost impossible to compare two closely priced or sized models.
  • 3D sets were just…where they were. It would’ve been impossible to evaluate them properly as displayed.
  • The most expensive (and amazing) set was a Sony non-3D set whose picture and specs were way over the top the best we saw all day. Yet this set was presented in the middle of a row of stacked up stuff with cardboard boxes across from it in a narrow aisle where your face was less than two feet from the massive screen. If I was the Sony rep for this store, Id be taking the manager out for a long chat. And their manager. And their manager.
  • Their sets displayed a buffet of content, with so much variety from screen to screen that was almost impossible to compare models.

Where’s the recliner?

Some audio stores figured this out before the box stores killed all but the high-end audio places: Build a room that presents your gear in its best light (or sound, as it were).

If I’m selling TVs, I want a small number of my very best selling TVs a normally lit room (like people’s homes) with a recliner, coffee table, couch, etc sitting around. I want them paired in good, better, best pairs with the 6 best selling, best quality units I have in those three price ranges. I want them to sit down and take a look. Toss em the remote and let them visualize that sucker in their own home.

All the other models, if I have to have all them, can be presented grouped by size within price range and paired so I can compare like models. Remember, you want to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer to make the best choice for their needs and budget. You don’t want them walking out frustrated because they learned nothing from shopping in your store.

The reason to make a sale is to get a customer, not the other way around. Your business is about customers, not TVs or Kitchen Aid mixers or snowblowers.


Yes, I know the mass merchandiser in you is going crazy. You may think want your store to look like Wal-Mart so that you sell them SOMETHING no matter what.

Well guess what? The best TV display for the buyer’s needs was…Wal-Mart’s. They were grouped by size within price range. No, there wasn’t a couch or a recliner. Yes, there was crazy-bright fluorescent lighting. Yes there were strollers 2 aisles over and video games beeping 20 feet away and a blue light special (whatever) announcement over the loudspeaker every 13 seconds.

Still, the layout was optimized on that wall to make it easy to choose a TV, not to make it easy to get all of them out of the box and on a shelf so we could say we did so.

Interesting that Wal-Mart would win in that department and not have the best price. Go figure.

*If you haven’t read Jeffrey, I suggest you do so. Good stuff. Start with “Customer Satisfaction is Useless“.

** Jim Rohn said “Poor people have big TVs. Rich people have big libraries.“  Meaning – educate yourself. And keep at it. Watch a little less TV, read a little more. Do better for yourself in the next year by spending time to better yourself.

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CPSIA thoughts from a manufacturer/retailer: Cut that line

Don't wanna leave!
Creative Commons License photo credit: kyz

This morning I received a private comment from a reader. He gave me permission to repost it here.

Hello Mark

In Europe they have a “no lead policy” based on roHS (Lead Free). All the US components I buy are roHS compliant so that they may be sold in Europe.

I can also sell in Europe by simply documenting my purchases. I can not afford to sell in to the children’s market any longer in the USA as testing costs would exceed the Gross revenue of our children’s products. As of Feb 10th we will no longer make little backpacks for kids.

This is like a dream come true for China and Walmart. In about six months all the kids will be wearing green clothes with little red stars. The toys will have the same color scheme of course the selection might be a bit mundane.

Dave Sisson CEO
Jandd Mountaineering Inc

Hopefully, the pressure that all of you are putting on your Congressional reps and Senators is helping behind the scenes. Likewise, our calls to the CPSC. This situation is sickening and the timing simply couldn’t be worse.

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Heard in the slammer: “I used to make handmade toys”

One of these days, my granddaughter would love it if I bought her a little homemade bear like the one in the photo.

Trouble is that after February 9th 2008, it’ll be a violation of Federal law to sell it to me.

Doesn’t matter if it’s sold at a small retailer, a craft fair, a resale shop or in your expensive, high-end, fancy pants, mostly-imported toy store. Bottom line: If you sell or handcraft toys or clothing for kids, it’s entirely possible that you will be out of business as of February 10th 2009.

Read that again. It’s 56 days from today (Dec 15, 2008).

While it would be easy to dismiss this as me overdosing on too much caffeine, I’m sorry to say that isn’t the problem.

CPSIA – A Slam Dunk

Remember Christmas 2007?

Not only were retailers flush with good retail sales, but the news was full of recalls of defective toys from China and elsewhere – in some cases, toys made in the Chinese plants of American toy “manufacturers”. Lead was a prevalent issue.

These problems angered the nation at large and embarrassed Congress. In those circumstances, its just a matter of time before legislation results.

In this case, the result was the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). If you’re a craftsperson who makes toys and kids clothing or a retailer who sells these items, the CPSIA is your Patriot Act and you aren’t the good guy.

This law was so well-favored that when you combine the results of the House and Senate votes on the final legislation, it received only THREE “No” votes.

More presidential candidates MISSED the vote than did those who voted against it. 

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed on July 31 2008 and signed into law by President Bush on August 14 2008. The Act makes it illegal to manufacture or sell toys, clothing and other items for children that do not meet the act’s testing and labeling requirements. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget has been increased by $620 million so they can enforce this law, whose details were largely left up to the commission.

All it would have taken to help small business owners exemption-wise was to include some common sense testing and labeling exemptions for all natural toys and clothing. That would have left a good piece of legislation in place, without threatening a ton of home-based businesses.

Unfortunately the CPSIA contains nothing like that. Work at home folks don’t have a big lobby in Washington. The handcrafted wooden toy crowd has only the newly founded Handmade Toy Alliance, which at last count had fewer than 100 members. As you might suspect, they aren’t a power player in Beltway circles.

The big boys like Mattel, Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us are substantially impacted by CPSIA, but quite frankly – if they had been better corporate citizens from the outset, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Mostly, this is great news for parents trying to find better products for their kids.

There’s always a “but”

Again, there is nothing in the Act that eliminates or alters the testing and labeling requirements for those that use 100% all natural materials during manufacturing. Perhaps that was considered a loophole that was just too big.

Is petroleum a natural substance? If so, then all plastics must be too, right? And why isn’t lead?

Before you go off the deep end about your cousin who chewed on too much lead paint when he was a kid, I have to say that in general, I am a fan of this legislation. It’s the only way to get large importers and offshore manufacturers to get their act together.

Obviously this law was sorely needed to deal with repeated instances of imported items containing lead, small parts on infant toys, much less the weaknesses in our existing regulations.

Objects in your mirror are larger than they appear

If you think a little harder, the target is much bigger than a bunch of craftspeople selling their wares on (link goes to their open letter to the CPSC re: CPSIA), eBay, craft fairs and small local retail shops.

Anyone who sells this stuff has a new cost of doing business to add to their expense list. Anyone who has these items in inventory has to get rid of that inventory by February 10, 2009 (some can wait till August), or pay to have it tested and labeled per CPSIA requirements.

While the large manufacturer suddenly has a substantial new COGS item, it’s the little guy is the one who is going to suffer the most because they simply can’t afford the testing that is required.

For example, there’s a retired lady here in the Flathead Valley who makes little wooden trains in her garage woodshop. She carefully scans paint manufacturer websites and questions their representatives by phone to be sure there’s no lead or other nasties in the paint she uses on her carefully made toys. Her business is history if the CPSIA stands as written.

I just don’t care…or do I?

You might be thinking that you really don’t care. Maybe you don’t have kids or you only buy toys and clothing from major American manufacturers (er, I mean importers). Or maybe you don’t own a store that caters to kids, so why would you care?

It’s time you started caring, but let me help you decide. Here are a few examples of businesses that will be impacted by the CPSIA, otherwise known as “reasons to care”:

  • If you make wooden trains in your garage and sell them *anywhere*, you get to pay $4000 per toy to a 3rd party testing lab to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • If you make sock monkeys at home and sell them at your local craft fairs and tourist shops, you have three choices: sell them in violation of the law, close up shop or pay the fee to have your items tested. Each SKU = $4000, most likely.
  • If you own a small toy store, sell items that cater to kids, or you sell antique toys or anything else that comes to you without CPSIA-compliant labeling, you have to pay to test every item, or make sure that it has been tested. Presumably, testing a small sample of the same lot is acceptable, but “presumably” is not a way to stay legal. I suggest contacting a testing lab and/or attorney for more info.
  • If you import all your toys from Europe, you have to have them all tested, despite the fact that Europe has for years had stricter toy safety standards than the U.S. Again, the same advice as above regarding testing of items in the same lot.
  • If you create or sell science kits for homeschoolers, the CPSIA appears to apply.
  • If you’re a school who buys such kits, your vendors may also be subject to it.
  • Every U.S. toy manufacturer who actually manufactures items here at home – and likely had nothing to do with the toy recalls from 2007 – still has to pay to test their toys. That part makes sense, unless the items in question are made from 100% natural materials.
  • If you enjoy shopping for your kids at craft fairs, online at or eBay, or you like buying used toys and clothing – sales of items that do not conform to CPSIA regulations and that have not been tested will be illegal to sell to you.
  • If you sell items for kids on eBay, all your existing untested or non-compliant inventory has to be sold before February 10 or it cannot be sold without being tested. The phase-in starts with larger concerns, but it’ll get to you before you know it.
  • Retailers can be held liable for selling any handmade toys or children’s items that are not tested by a CPSIA-compliant lab and labeled per the CPSIA.

If you don’t own a business that has anything to do with kids, don’t think it doesn’t impact you. Think about the owners, employees and family members of the businesses described above. They might not be spending money in your store by the time the CPSIA gets done with them.

Do these artisans buy computer paper, coffee, towels, hamburger, gasoline, haircuts, dog grooming, fine wines, appliances, landscaping, envelopes or tires from you?

What will they buy from you if they are put out of business by this law? Are you in line for a bailout?

Suddenly, it’s time to care, eh?

What do I do next?

First, call your Senators and your Congressional Rep. DO NOT email them. DO NOT fax them. Those things are far too easy to ignore.

Call them and hold their feet to the fire.

Next…Research and legwork.

Remember that your existing inventory falls under this law, whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer, regardless of size. Some of the regulations kick in later in the year, so I suggest you read this coverage at Fashion Incubator for additional details. Here’s additional info on what must be tested per the CPSIA.

You have 56 days as of Monday December 15.

The full text of the law is here: HR 4040 or if you prefer a PDF, here. Check out the CPSIA frequently asked questions (FAQ) list at

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s website does a nice job of summarizing this well-intentioned, but incomplete bill.

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Stampedes and shootings: Just another Black Friday

It’s hard to imagine why big national retailers continue to play the fools game, thinking that by discounting their prices 40-50% or more they’ll increase their profit.

Perhaps they think they’ll make it up on volume.

When you cut prices, the first thing that you give up is a piece (or all) of your profit.

Retailers who spent the weekend falling all over themselves catering to an upscale clientele don’t have this problem, especially if they’ve cultivated and groomed the relationship with that clientele all year long.

They didn’t have to go to the home of an employee and explain how a young employee was trampled to death, simply by having the misfortune of being the guy who unlocked the front door to his employer’s store.

When price is the only way you have to differentiate yourself from your competition, you deserve any pain you feel on your financial statement at the end of the quarter.

Is that the only competitive edge that you can find? If so, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Is there a Wal-Mart in Pamplona?

Another “competitive edge” – one that contributed directly to last weekend’s trampling death and injuries at a Long Island WalMart – is the special sale that starts at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and offers limited items at the special pricing. 2010 update about stampede.

Our store is better because we can get our people to the store before yours. Woooo, impressive.

If your competitors’ move their start time to an hour before yours, when does it end? Do you start a Cold War over who can open their doors first? In an ultra-competitive environment, is that really how you want your clientele to choose who their vendor is?

Do you really have to stir up a frenzy over one (or 10, whatever) $299 plasma screen TV to get people into your store? Is that the only edge you have?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve told you to read Cialdini and will again. We’ve discussed scarcity and will again. However, we’ve also discussed common sense. Hopefully, we don’t have to discuss making sure your staff and clients leave the store alive.

Is it really worth having 300-400 people stampede over your staff and each other as if their survival depends on it? This isn’t the first time it has happened. Human behavior is not a surprise in these circumstances.

Yeah, sure. You can blame a small percentage of morons for this ridiculous behavior, but it isn’t just the customers in that store who were in the wrong. But… big retail, in their typical lazy way – they continue to confuse the customer with the sale as the most valuable part of their business.

All this focus on creating temporary insanity among your prospects for one transaction on one day illustrates the lousy, if not non-existent, relationship that most large US retailers have with the buying public.

That’s where the problems really lie. When you commoditize your marketplace by competing solely on price, you’re one of two things: Wal-Mart or crazy.

Wal-Mart can afford to do these things. Their entire business – and the systems that drive it – is built around that premise. They have the logistics, automation, buying power and mammoth size to make it happen.

If you aren’t Wal-Mart or crazy, you have to do something different and better. I don’t mean to suggest that you can just double your prices, do nothing else and expect all to go right with the world.

You can’t.

Remember, Business is Personal. Build the relationship. Deliver the value. When nothing else matters, they’ll shop on price.

Make other things matter.

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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?

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Is your business in the gap between passionate and mainstream?

Today’s guest post is from Seth Godin. Earlier this week Seth was talking about the choice businesses must make when deciding what market they are going to serve: a passionate group or a mainstream one.

wouldn't want to be what she just caught sight of...
photo credit: sherseydc

Are you the local cafe that serves coffee, or are you the best place to get the best, gourmet coffee anyone can find within 100 miles?

Do you sell any old religious item that can be found in any store, or do you sell only high quality items that aren’t made in China?

Do you sell mountain bikes that someone can find at Wal-Mart, or do you sell only the finest Rocky Mountain custom mountain bikes to people who wouldn’t dream of buying a bike “off the rack”?
It’s an important choice, especially given the things we talk about here.  One of those markets requires you to be a lot more personal, to have a much stronger relationship with your clientèle.

Amazon Apple Competition Corporate America Microsoft Retail Small Business Wal-Mart yahoo

Change that your business can believe in

In the midst of conversation about change (hard to avoid that word these days), the “kings” of business came to mind.

Names like Woolworth, Sears, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble. Technologies like fax, Palm Pilot, Walkman and Yahoo.

Barack Obama Nashua Rally 37
photo credit: No. Nein

No one could beat Woolworth … until Sears came along.

No one could possibly rival Sears … until K-Mart came along (and later…Wal-Mart).

No one could possibly rival Waldenbooks … until Barnes & Noble came along (and later, Amazon).

No one could break into the big three television networks and become the leader in their bread and butter – the news …until CNN came along (and later, Fox News and MSNBC).

Nothing could possibly rival the fax machine … until e-mail came along? And then RSS, Twitter and blogs.

Nothing could possibly rival the Palm Pilot … until Windows mobile Smartphones and the Blackberry came along.

Nothing could possibly rival the Walkman … until the iPod came along?

The music stores were indestructible, until Wal-Mart came along. Recently, iTunes replaced Wal-Mart at the top of retail music sales.

Yahoo, once the 500 lb gorilla in the internet world, is now garage sale material in the eyes of Microsoft and worse, Wall Street. One thing that is consistent about business is constant change. The power of the internet to force that change is even stronger.

But it isn’t just about big monster Fortune 500 and Inc 500 businesses. It happens in small business too. The long-time leader in the studio software business when I entered it was a DOS program… as late as 1998! A few years later, our software and others in the market had that owner moving into real estate sales. I’m sure you can look around in your market and tell similar stories.

Break the mold
photo credit: paper by design

When Wal-Mart started up, you can bet that Sears thought “Who do those guys think they are???” even though they had made Woolworth feel that way only a few decades earlier.

Rain Man was right about K-Mart, but it still took Wal-Mart to put them in their rightful place.

Do you think ABC/NBC/CBS felt they were unbeatable? Palm? Sony and their Walkman?

Complacency is a great weapon for an upstart newcomer. Complacency is dangerous, often deadly. Kmart is the role model for the “totally complacent, dont get it, have no clue” business.

Are you the big cheese in your business niche? Getting complacent, not adjusting to change (in fact, not PURSUING change) and (here it comes), not pursuing the slight edge CONSTANTLY is what keeps you out of trouble and forces your competition to constantly play catch up.

Yesterday, I was talking with a programmer friend about some new mobile technology. He said “My clients never asked me for that stuff.”

I told him it was his job to show his clients why they need to use the technology – if it really does offer them an edge.

If they have to ask for the new tool, it’s likely because a competitor is already there. Someone else is teaching clients about new tools in that market. That’s the player you want to be.

Dont play catch up. Be the lead dog with constant change, constant improvement and pursuit of the slight edge.