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One Good Reason to Stay

Published May 06, 2021 By Fernanda Cardoso

My father’s birthday is this week, so my son wanted to buy a book for him. Normally he would go to the bookstore in our neighborhood. I know that ordering books online has long been a challenge to this type of experience, but this is one that holds a traditional place in my family. I always loved lingering in bookstores, sipping coffee and browsing. The feel and smell of the paper was all part of this experience. The shopkeeper’s recommendations and reviews helped in making the final selection. Returning to the store to give my own review of a selected book was also a treasured part of the experience. I passed this on to my two sons as we spent many hours together picking out books to read when they were young.

But the bookstore shut down for a time during the pandemic, and the need for books, like many other things, was met with Amazon. And now, even though the store has opened again, my son’s first thought was to order from the Internet. I encouraged him to wait until the next day and to check out the store first.  He told me that he was busy with no time to shop and that Amazon would have a bigger selection anyway. I assured him he would not get the book on time, as we had a birthday dinner planned for the next night. He rolled his eyes and bought the book before he went to bed. Wouldn’t you know that first thing in the morning the phone rang – it was the building concierge letting me know we had a delivery from Amazon.

How do you compete with that?

E-commerce has been growing in Mexico during the last decade, but it increased a whopping 32 percent in 2020, outpacing the global average. Much of this was out of necessity, but what happens now?  This is a turning point – will we emerge from Covid doing the majority of our shopping online?

I believe that the act of shopping is about socializing and experiencing, at least as much as it is about buying. But what happens when shopping becomes just about buying? Post Covid, this is a real scenario we may face. But it does not have to be this way. Our communities, our neighborhoods, our culture all depend on personal interaction. If we stop leaving our houses, if we pack our days so full that we have no time to browse and linger, what happens to us?

We, as part of the retail community, do not have to sit back and watch this happen. It’s our job to remind people that brick-and-mortar has its advantages. If we don’t, if we give up, physical retail will disappear as a form of social interaction.

Most large retailers have e-commerce platforms now. Here in Mexico, at least, the services are not always very good, the deliveries take a lot of time, and you do not always receive what you thought you ordered in terms of size, quality and quantity. The process of making returns is also not ideal. Of course, many retailers are putting a great deal of resources into their e-commerce platforms to compete with Amazon in hopes of hanging on to the client base they had pre-Covid.

But competing with Amazon in the online space alone might be a fool’s errand. These retailers must also put effort, time and money back into their brick-and-mortar locations.  Mexican shoppers are among the most brand loyal in the world. If you can capture them both online and in-store you can compete.

So where does all of this leave the smaller retailer? If big box retailers can perfect online ordering while elevating the in-store experience, is there even room in the marketplace for the little guy? 

Diversity of places to shop is important, so assuming small retailers cannot compete with national brands in selection, ease, and even price, they need to change the desire of the shopper to favor them, because of the areas where they can compete.

To paraphrase Lady Gaga: Your customer has a hundred million reasons to walk away. They just need one good one to stay.

That reason is experience. Customer experience. 

As the millennial generation, and those coming behind it, are the ones driving the economy, it is imperative that retailers figure out what these customers want so they can attract them back to physical stores. Contrary to what it may seem, people really do want to have in-real-life experiences with real people. They want to touch and feel and try on and compare. They want to be helped by people that know the product they are selling. They want quality in the product, and quality of the experience. As we move toward full opening, retailers of all sizes must elevate and change the experiences they offer.

History tells us that nothing will be the same as before – disruption always breeds change, whether it is man-made or an act of God. Each season of change reshapes the landscape and redefines consumer expectations. Retailers and those of us that serve them must adapt, think outside the box, and re-create the experience of shopping. And then, of course, be ready for the next inevitable wave of change.