On a recent business trip to the picturesque city of Boston I had the morning off and decided to hit the streets. I was amazed at how dead quiet all the stores were. Two hours in I couldn’t keep my curiosity at bay and started talking to shop staff running the higher end stores on Newbury Street. Every single piece of feedback was some variation of “people just prefer buying online these days”. I’m not talking about music and bookstores – they’re long gone. We’re talking high end clothing (Kate Spade, Ermenegildo Zegna, Ralph Lauren), grocers (niche and normal)… even bakeries. Businesses where you would bet your life people would prefer buying in-store. The frustration was obvious as commissioned in-store staff were merely running a showroom for the brand’s online store.
Things have really changed.
If you were in the market for anything in the nineties or earlier you were pretty much at the mercy of salesmen at different stores. More often than not the better salesman would land the deal… not the better product. The salesman had the power – he was the pro and the buyer was at his mercy. He could make up stories as he wished and you couldn’t really verify everything.
Fast forward twenty years and all stores are seeing visitors that know as much about the products as any “salesman”. Most buyers enter stores these days knowing exactly what they’re looking for. The in-store pro might be a nice-to-have… but too often just an irritation for educated shoppers. The “salesman” is an untrusted nuisance. Why trust one guy in a store when I can find 700 reviews on a product online?
My last stop for the morning in Newbury Street was a shoe store where a rundown twenty something explained to me that visitors leave their store disappointed a couple of times per day and she hates it. “We can’t stock every shoe in every colour and in every size. So, like, a guy goes online sees a shoe he likes and pops into the store to try it on. Most of the time we don’t have the exact shoe in his choice of colour and size and will have to resort to measuring his shoe size and nudging him online. He’ll place his order online and even if he’s happy with the shoes he’ll order online in future. I’m not selling shoes anymore – I’m measuring sweaty feel all day”. I really felt for her but something was very obvious – things have really changed.
I put on my frugal hat and asked her a very middle class question… are the shoes are cheaper online? Another nope. Shoes sell at full-price online. The buyer isn’t online for a bargain. He’s online for a non-invasive, low pressure buying environment where he has a variety no store can offer him.
Your online buyer has changed from a bargain hunter into a sophisticated, educated buyer who deliberately chooses the online environment over brick and mortar stores.
Then there’s the studio concept.
One of the most interesting finds in Boston was a very established high-end tailor that has completely moved over to a studio/online model. You can visit his small studio to have your measurements taken and feel out a few samples of cloth. If it weren’t for the suits on the storefront mannequins you wouldn’t have an idea you’re suit shopping. Your measurements are stored online and you can cook up any creation online that will be masterfully crafted to your personal measurements and delivered to your door in 4 weeks. They explained to me that if you take every option into consideration they would have to stock over 10 000 suits instore to match what they can offer you online. Ten thousand. No customer will ever hear we don’t have this in your size again.
You can find quite a few of these demo rooms / studios across Boston (And probably across most modern cities). Businesses of all varieties are trying to move essential parts of a buying experience into brick and mortar “stores” (they’re called studios now) – the rest is moving online.
A bit impersonal isn’t it?
Not at all. 99% of these studios welcome walk in visitors but are most working on appointments. Instead of walking into a store and asking “who can help me with cameras?” someone will be waiting for you – prepared to show you what you want to see. If you’ve decided to go with Sony you can bet someone will be waiting to tell you about their latest cameras and answer all your questions. You’ll have a valuable experience for a change. You’ll be meeting with someone that won’t try to hard sell you anything. You’ll actually be having an on-topic conversation with someone who understands exactly what you’re looking for. No one will be trying to tell you one size fits all.
Although I can’t speak for every business in every industry – things have changed. More and more buyers are embracing new ways of buying products they really care about.
I’m not saying you’ll save 50% off mall-prices, but you’ll meet with someone who is non-commissioned and actually really loves jewellery. You’ll meet with someone who understands you’re looking for something truly unique and specific. We’re on the same page – you’re looking for the perfect ring… and that’s exactly what we’ll help you find.