Neuvation’s January 3rd Newsletter (removed since posting) struck a chord. John Neugent was writing about the cycling industry and competition between local bike shops and online retailers, but the same issues are at play in the ski industry (incidentally, many bike shops double as ski shops).
Neugent is biased as his internet sales are much more robust and profitable compared to his brick and mortar sales. I come from the opposite retail perspective: a brick and mortar store with higher sales than our rapidly growing online store. Yet our vision regarding loss of business to online competitors is the same. Neugent writes:
“My job, either in my retail store or on the Internet is to give customers what they want while at the same time make a profit. Because of the Internet and more recently smart phones, our customers have fundamentally changed. Retailers who don’t change with the market will die.”
“The debate in the cycling industry should be how we can best provide those core services to our customers at a profit and not try to figure out ways to change their shopping habits.”
This is well put and on point. Customers want to utilize the internet to get the best deal. Consumers have developed shopping habits that include internet based comparison shopping. Local shops cannot change customers shopping habits, especially by brow beating them with guilt.
Knowledge is no longer the bread and butter of local shops. Consumers can become more knowledgeable than many shop staff by doing independent research.
What local shops can do is step up their services. Shops need to make consumers want to shop locally first. A small difference in mark up is acceptable but a significant difference needs to be accompanied by value added services. The larger the price variance compared to the competition, the more extensive the services must be.
Shops need to create an experience and connection. Relationships and bonds are far more important than trite “providing excellent customer service.” Providing excellent service is a customer’s minimum expectation. Great service will get you one sale. Great relationships will keep the customer coming back for many sales.
Not only can shops not change consumer shopping habits, they need to create new customer habits: namely visiting a shop because it is a community center and reaches the customer beyond the pocket book and into the heart. Local Bike Shops have been doing this for years by hosting rides, events, and programs. I think ski shops have an opportunity to step up this local community element.
Check out this video about 718 Cyclery bringing an extensive and personal touch to buying a bike. This experience is certainly worth paying shop prices for:
How could a ski shop create this type of experience? Would you buy in store instead of online if you could talk shop with the tech and then watch or actively participate in mounting your bindings? Would having “shop time” with a tech make a difference?
Some shops sell custom footbeds, a very personal experience that can’t be duplicated online. But why doesn’t every shop include this free with the purchase of boots at full retail? My last three boots were all purchased online. I might have purchased in the shop if a free custom footbed was included. Instead, I purchased this service but at a lower total price than shop retail plus the footbed.
How about a backcountry shop hosting free “Intro to Backcountry Skiing” courses if you buy a full setup? How about hosting social events as a way for turn earners to connect and find partners?
What other services could shops offer to create a personally dynamic experience?
Do you feel connected to a specific shop? And if so, why?