Retail’s Secret is Immediacy but It’s Still Not Being Done Right

Remember a few years back when the complete death of stores was predicted? There’s been more than a few names to fall off the map, more have restructured and I still see plenty of empty storefronts in suburban malls but retail has hardly gone the way of the movie rental chain. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see many reasons for this: the desire for tactile feel, the ability to move quick quantity, live interactions, but more than anything, I believe retail’s true secret is immediacy.

Think about it for a minute, unless you live in San Francisco, New York and perhaps Seattle or Los Angeles, getting something right now still means getting into the car and driving down to the closest store to pick it up. Technology may have moved fast and the ability to wait at home is a strong win but behavior is slow to change and shoppers are still very much impulsive — waiting too late or just wanting it now.

This is a tremendous advantage, especially in the real retail meccas which are not the major cities but rather the suburban stops where customers have nothing but space to fill. However, stores have been slow to truly leverage their most powerful tool. Sure, you can now order for in store pickup, ship between stores and connect with mobile experiences from the couch, but when it comes down to the full execution, there’s a lot to be desired.

Stopping off at my Dick’s Sporting Goods today for a sleeping bag, the large size I wanted was out of stock, an old retail limitation with fixed shelf space. To get it in: 5–7 business days. Compare that against Amazon’s Prime’s speed, Backcountry.com’s frequent free 2 day shipping offers or even Dick’s own e-commerce options and it was neither a compelling nor competitive pitch.

But impulse still had me and browsing competitive retailers, Cabelas had the same bag for less money. A seemingly obvious win despite the long drive to their location but like so many, their site had no clear inventory tracking option for stock. This left me playing the phone game with retail clerks trying to understand me over a busy floor while customers in front of them stacked up to wait. No luck there.

Finally, retail remains bad at price — that of others but also their own. The more I browsed, the more alternative deals I saw that I could not get. At the same time, deals I could use buying locally didn’t work online, even though the product I wanted was only there. In other cases, I’ve seen web clearances that stores don’t use, coupons they can’t accept.

As a customer, this all adds up to what a retailer should never want: a reason to look elsewhere. As soon as the flag is thrown on inventory, price or options, you can bet today’s shopper is checking out the alternatives, online and local. That’s not just bad for the retailer either, product brands rely on stores to be their advocates, push their line and they invest heavily with demos and training behind it but as soon as someone starts to look at price, you can bet options come back into play too. By the time I got home and started digging in, Dick’s was not the only option and Marmot was not the only product. And, as I thought more, dug up more comments, the biggest risk of all started to creep in — do I even need t

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