Sometimes I get so frustrated with how retailers handle their different channels. Case in point...
Last weekend I headed out to a local retail clothing store to look for a birthday present for my brother. While I was shopping in the store, I noticed a lovely top for myself. It came in two colors. I was interested in purchasing both colors, but the store only had one color in my size.
Since I had already been looking through the direct mail catalog the retailer had sent, I knew that they have both a catalog and an on-line channel. I figured that I would simply go home and order the item on-line when I ordered my brother's birthday present. With free shipping, this seemed the perfect solution.
The perfect solution until I got home and tried to create my order in the on-line channel.
Channel distinction or channel competition
- First, I found that the discounts currently available at the store were not to be found on-line.
- Next I discovered that the top I was interested in was not carried on-line.
We are talking about 20% off a number of items. The savings was not insignificant for my order. Now I was forced to consider whether it was worth my time and effort to return to the retail store to purchase and receive the discount. The store was 20 miles away.
The retailer's solution - call in the order rather than complete it on-line. The customer order specialist could apply the store discount to the discounted items. Note that this was not publicized anywhere. Store sales associates in two different stores gave me different instructions.
It took me 10 minutes of searching to reach this conclusion. I learned later that this top was a "store only" item. This was the first time I had run into this situation and frankly, the practice surprised me. The reverse is often true. Catalogs and on-line stores routinely carry more items than the stores do. Limited retail floor space drives this channel distinction.
The retailer solution - call a retail store, have the sales clerk locate the top in my size in another store, call that store and purchase over the phone, have the purchase shipped to me.
If it weren't for the fantastic women (store sales woman and phone order agent) who were dedicated to helping me achieve my goals, this could have been a disasterous buying experience.
But it begs the question, why is the retailer creating cross-channel angst in a business it controls? Aren't there enough challenges competing against other retailers? Why must the retailer create competition in its own channels? This makes absolutely no sense to me.
Buyers determine their channel preferences.
Today's technologies have enabled buyers to seamlessly cross from channel to channel while in their buying process. Buyers set their own preferences.
I prefer to shop for and purchase clothing in retail stores where I can see, size, try on and touch the clothes.
My friend Jennifer prefers to shop for clothes from the comfort of her home. She buys most of her clothes on-line.
Buyers aren't going to be bullied into shopping a non-preferred channel because of distinctions a retailer makes amongst its channels. Indeed, retailers that make these arbitrary channel distinctions (from the buyer perspective) are taking both the risk of losing the sale and the risk of losing the customer.
Channel competition costs sales and customers
In this competitive buying environment, that risk just doesn't make sense.