It was a dark and stormy night as hordes of customers descended upon the Home Depot store in Hazlet. Sandy lurked 500 miles away, but memories of Irene were even closer. Twelve gauge extension cords and five gallon plastic gasoline containers were popular commodities, and as shoppers ringed the store waiting for the next supply of generators to arrive, store clerks handed out pizza slices, water bottles and all the Snickers you could eat.
In this instance, Home Depot was putting the principles of e-commerce to shame.
Amazon.com links insatiable demand with limitless supply, but until it can figure out how to meet the powerful urge of instant gratification, brick and mortar stores aren’t going away any time soon.
A recent Bloomberg Business Week profile of Best Buy offered an interesting glimpse into the challenges “big box” stores face when competing with digital competitors. Critics of “big box” stores claim they only serve as showrooms for companies like Amazon; customers see the merchandise in person and then seek out digital bargains online.
However, research suggests only a small percentage of customers who visit a Best Buy actually purchase their TVs, smart phones, or other electronic gadgets through the Internet. And article authors Brian Gruley and Jeffery McCracken outline why these digital competitors may see their competitive advantage soon slip away:
Online retailers could lose some of their pricing edge as more states force them to levy sales taxes. Sony and other manufacturers have begun to demand that Amazon set some prices no lower than at stores. Where price gaps narrow, in-store shoppers may be more inclined to collect their stuff immediately rather than wait for UPS (UPS). “It looks like there’s a big opportunity to get consumers outside the store inside the store,” says Guy Rosen, CEO of data firm Onavo.
Gruley and McCracken suggest the Holy Grail for brick and mortar behemoths is good old fashioned customer service, especially when the circumstances require human intervention. I frankly don’t know the difference between 12 gauge and 16 gauge extension cords, but the courtly gentleman with the orange apron and “Tom” name tag did, which means I should be able to run my refrigerator on a portable generator just fine.