Sunday, February 22, 2015

Online Retailing At The Expense of Stores?

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, a very reliable source of research and information, has revealed that their research shows a more than 5% increase in overall customer satisfaction with online retailers for the year 2014.


While this is good news for online retailers, I’m finding another aspect of their research to be a bit disturbing. During the same 2014 time period, this research also showed that overall satisfaction with “retail” actually declined 1.4% compared with 2013.


What this means is that consumers are less satisfied with physical retail locations, while feeling better about the online experience.


This is excellent news for the likes of Ebay and Amazon, and other business which are primarily online. My problem with this is that some of the major retailers, which achieved their financial status from having numerous large stores, are reducing their concern about their physical locations while beefing up the online attack.


Just last week I saw a story about the increased millions of dollars that WalMart is spending specific to its e-commerce operations in 2015. If and as the large physical location retailers push their online inventory to shoppers, they could very well be reducing the traffic to their actual stores. This would eventually mean fewer jobs and fewer customers going through their doors. Yet, at the same time, WalMart, Target, and Meijer appear to have increased a portion of many of their retail stores which sell grocery items.


It would appear that the strategy is to give local residents reasons to come in to the stores at least once per week for grocery shopping and “move” the other items to online. As more and more grocery and related items come to the shelves, it means other items are being removed, and likely kept in the warehouses to be sold online.


The view from here is that consumers should have a reasonable choice between the physical location and online. Some enjoy the “touchy feely” ability to be able to go in and look at a product, compare it with others nearby on the shelves, and be able to head right home with their purchase. Not everyone wants to deal with shipping costs and waiting for days before their item arrives.


Too many of the large retailers don’t see this as a problem. They should. Many of them still advertise the convenience and availability of their inventory online. However, it still takes too long for orders to be shipped out. They don’t care, but consumers should.


If it is their business to sell anything online, they should have the staff in place to ship it out within 24 hours at the most. This crap of ordering something on a Monday and then wait until Wednesday to receive a “Your item has been shipped” e-mail needs to stop. Consumers should not have to pay extra for expedited shipping. If they can’t ship it out right away, then don’t have it available online.


As it is, the online “people” and the in-store “people” don’t always work together as it is, even though it is the same company.


Here is an example. Two weeks ago, we decided to get a new printer for our office. I went online and found a couple of possibilities, and then discovered that, on that day, Office Depot had the best price by more than $20.


Using their “Check availability” feature, it turned out that the most convenient store had only one of them in stock. Not wanting to take any chances (at that price), I ordered it online for “same day pickup” at that store.


After receiving my confirmation e-mail and going in to that store about two hours later, they store associate “could not find” my order in the store. She then called her manager who realized that the printer was still on the shelf and was never processed for pickup. The manager went and took the item from the shelf, entered the data, and after a roughly ten minute wait, I left the store with my printer. A ten minute wait with nothing more than a quick apology.


I still wonder what would have happened had that specific printer been sold during that time. But that isn’t the point.


The online service by a lot of retailers needs to improve drastically. However, it should not be improved at the expense of reductions of store inventories either. We need for the consumer satisfaction levels to be on the increase at BOTH the retail and online levels.







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