Retailer/Customer Relationships: What Retail 2012 Can Learn From Retail 1912
Mary walks into her favorite store on her way home from lunch with a few friends. Upon entering the store she’s greeted by name by the shopkeeper and asked how she liked her purchases from two weeks ago. She’s also told that more of her favorite items just arrived and the shopkeeper set aside some of the items just in case she wants them, which she does. After looking around the store for a bit, Mary decides what she wants. When buying the items, the shopkeeper asks if she wants her items delivered and if she wants them charged to her account on file. Without producing a wallet or ID to pay for the items, Mary leaves the store with her two shopping bags in tow and heads home.
Ironically, this isn’t some far-fetched futuristic view of the ideal shopping experience, but rather how things were routinely done about 100 years ago when shopping transitioned from weekly marketplace visits to more frequent visits to storefronts on Main Street. It’s also the experience that everyone in the retail sector — large or small — should be aggressively trying to emulate. Using IP-enabled devices like smartphones is helping consumers make this goal a reality.
Think about it: A century ago, shopkeepers and customers actually knew each other by name since their visits were frequent. Loyalty wasn’t a function of points, deals or discounts, but of service. Relationships were built on trust. Merchants knew their customers’ likes and dislikes and strived to deliver on those preferences. Putting purchases “on account” was done in part because some payments were done via barter and some were handled by the “man of the house,” who settled the account at a later time.
As dreamy as it sounds, shopping then wasn’t perfect by any means. Goods, by and large, were kept behind stores’ counters and required shopkeepers to retrieve them one at a time. Items were bought and stored in bulk, which meant that some items had to be both weighed and wrapped. That made shopping a time-consuming activity. Product selections weren’t plentiful even though merchants tried to stock what their customers wanted. In spite of these drawbacks, what defined this retail experience more than anything was the connection between customers and merchants. It was intensely personal. After all, many were on a first-name basis.