Often you'll read pieces in the paper, or hear people on the radio bemoaning the decline of retail growth, and one reason will always get a mention - online competition.
"Price, price, price!" we hear. People buy online because they can get things cheaper! They avoid taxes! They don't have to pay staff! They do't have to pay rent! They can undercut all the people who are out there in the real world, working hard at a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.
I'm not buying it.
Price? That's a smokescreen. A red herring. A diversion. An excuse.
The received wisdom is that real world clothes shopping is a better experience, but online clothes shopping gets you better prices.
Speaking for myself - it's all backwards.
Newsflash to retailers of the world, in many cases, price is a tiny reason people prefer to buy online. The big reason is that it's actually not much fun shopping in your stores!
And the reasons that it is not fun are all things that could have been fixed, but weren't. people didn't have any other choice. "Sure, the parking is horrible, but if you want stuff for Christmas... you're going to have to deal with it!" Actually, no, we're not giong to have to deal with it. any more.
I learnt this last week.
I spend a lot of my time online. A lot. I'm surprised I still have an actual body any more. I'm more like Tron. But on Saturday I decided to get out and do some clothes shopping in 'real' clothes shops. It was a eye opener!
The first one I went into was a pop up sale. They had a whole bunch of designer labels. I walked in and the guy there took one look at me and looked away as if to say "Sorry... we cater to people who actually know who Karen Walker is..."
I tried on some jeans. I felt a little stupid having to ask, but I said "Are these men's or women's jeans"
"Okay.. so do they... y'know... squash your boys?"
He just looked at me, stunned.
"I don't even know how to answer that. Like I just said, they're unisex."
I tried them on. And as I walked out of the change room, he looked away intentionally, so as to not catch my eye. He served another customer and did not say a word to her as she dropped several hundred bucks on some designer garment his company was trying to run out.
I left. Fairly humiliated.
Now, here's the kicker. When this guy's company looks at their sales stats and wonders why they're not making lots of money, there is a good chance that they're going to say "The problem is competition from online shops who can undercut our prices!"
No it ain't. The problem is that the sins of traditional retail stores have ben papered over by their monopoly on the goods. But the party is over. And now these sins are on display for all to see, but consumers don't have to put up with them any more. And traditional retail stores have been very slow to repent.
So here they are, a couple of the REAL reasons why online stores are winning the retail war.
1. Rude Staff
We've all exprienced it. The girl in the shop just doesn't want to be there. And she doesn't care whether you buy or not - it doesn't make a difference to her. And it shows. In fact, she would be happier if you just turned right around and left the store! You're interupting her pants folding. Go away.
2. Uneducated Staff
I like finding out stuff about the clothes I buy. I like to know about the designers, about the brand, about the construction, about the ideas... However, it usally ends in a lot of awkwardness as the retail assistant just stares at me blankly. It's like they're thinking "Mister, don't ask me questions... just buy it, okay?"
Christmas 2009... in a car park of a major shopping centre. It was late, I was tired. Worst experience of my life. Never again.
"You look amazing in those floral harem pants" No I don't. And you know it.
I could go on... and I probably will. Another time. :)
(***And, of course, certain of these sins are comitted by online shops as well, and some real world retail shops do a great job at serving their cusomers! I'm genenralising. Which I'm allowed to do).