September 14, 2010

Multi-Channel Retailers: Is Smartphone Friend or Foe?

Several weeks ago, in preparation for a company golf outing, I stopped by a local Walmart to pickup a dozen of golf balls.  When I finally decided which one I wanted, I launched the Red Laser app on my iPhone 4 to check if the price is comparable.  It turned out that most of the online stores are offering the same price or slightly less plus shipping charge.  Knowing this is a fair deal, I proceeded to check out.

Thinking back, I've run into countless times where I find myself doing this at Brick & Mortar stores.  I recall one time, I was looking at a pair of kitchen shear, the online price via Amazon was slightly cheaper but no sales tax and my PRIME membership shipping via 2-Day express convinced me to place an order via the Amazon iPhone App while standing in the store.

As a consumer, I feel badly about my behavior but I'm not sorry for being a smart shopper that is connected in the mobile/wireless world.  As an internet retailer (my full time job), I am baffled and felt helpless because mobile-enabled websites/applications will give consumers more opportunities to compare product prices from offline to online.  If you work for a national multi-channel retailer, you'll know what headache I'm referring to.  In order to stay competitive, retailers with local stores often run a separate eCommerce business with better online pricing than their offline retail location.  As you mobilize your eCommerce site for Smartphones, you better prepare your store managers for when customers bringing up the same product on their mobile device while asking for the online price in-store.

In the case if a vendor only has a small mom & pop's retail store, what can you do about of this? With a store lease, staff salary and other overhead, your in-store pricing might not be able to compete with direct discounters online.  Will your store offer enough value added services such as customer support and provide the instant gratification to convince your customers to buy from you?  Or is it better to find more ways to cut cost so you can price-match when the situation arise?  I really don't know whats the best answer to all of these questions.

No comments: