Small Business Tips

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Hot Off the Marketing Home Furnishings Press-Amazon Courting Suppliers During April Spring Market-2017

Amazon-Amazon-Amazon! Seems like every other supplier with whom I spoke at market had been contacted by Amazon this week. Since Amazon has announced that they are entering into the brick and mortar retail business, their young, nubile team  was putting on a full court press in High Point with vendor meetings galore.

As an Amazon Prime customer myself, I certainly appreciate the finer points of shopping with them for small items. However, I would never buy a big ticket item like a sofa or bed online unless I had seen the item in person.

Amazon recognizes the tactile and visual needs for a segment of the consumer population. They “get”  this and thus their foray into retail with brick and mortar stores. Will Amazon’s self-service high tech stores drive a final nail in the coffin of independent retail? Only time will tell, but my opinion is that specialty retailers can survive and thrive. In this context “specialty” connotes unique offerings not sold on Amazon for less and superior customer service in-home and in-stores. There are plenty of consumers to go around. Retailers can amp up their own virtual stores in combination with their brick and mortar operations which is also a powerful combination that benefits their existing customers and helps them find new prospects.

No doubt, Amazon stores are likely to be digitally wired for optimal self-service and quick shipment of one’s dream furniture and accessories. Shopping in “real time” will be fun and convenient for many and especially “digital natives” who still like to “touch and feel” products prior to purchase.

Candidly, some of this Amazon chatter is sheer speculation because they have yet to announce their actual retail store plans. So, it all remains to be seen.

My guess is that, as usual, consumers get to decide what all of this means.

Yes, Amazon is a formidable player with huge pockets financed by all of us as we consume, consume and consume Amazon morning, noon and night. Face it, there are very few people on Planet Earth who do not now have a mobile phone and who cannot access Amazon even in third world countries. Certainly, these people located in the mountains of Tibet or Serengeti plains of Africa who may literally live in a mud hut are not shopping local retail stores. They do, however, have access to an internet cafe and a physical place to receive mail…..and naturally orders from Amazon. As amazing as this sounds, it is the truth and showcases the powerful intersection of Amazon and the internet.

On another note, does Amazon have any need to take a “moral high ground” in their business model such that they do not allow solo sellers on their site to hijack suppliers’ product images without their knowledge and sell them for a lower price? (Disclaimer; Such has been reported to me by a few suppliers but I have not verified the accuracy of these claims with Amazon).

Here are some very important considerations for manufacturers, retailers and consumers of home furnishings:

Manufacturers: If you are selling retail stores and intend to continue with this particular “off-line” sales channel,  please recognize the need to monitor their online “manufacturer approved pricing” online. This is important to your retailers whether you choose to become an Amazon partner or not.

Also, it is likely that many retailers have their own “on-line” store and do not wish to be “bested” by the “worst-est”  e-tailers online (Imagine folks sitting in their  underwear in front of a computer screen or mobile phone on the beach with an Amazon account as they feature the products your best customers purchased…now on sale  for less than MAP pricing.

The fact that these online sellers are “successful” in selling but largely have no brick and mortar rent, no real estate mortgages, no home furnishings inventory, no showroom, no sales employees, no payroll taxes, no town or county taxes,  but can outsell your loyal retailers on discounted volume needs to be addressed. Many even have chat bots or virtual assistants residing off shore. Pulllease….look at your sales channels and manage them appropriately.

Even better, consider hiring a “Channel Manager” and determine the right “rules of engagement” for each channel, albeit “online or offline”. This way, all participants understand the rules of engagement and are forearmed in their purchasing with full disclosure in advance of purchasing.

Retailers need to purchase products from manufacturers and have confidence that they are not getting killed by legitimate online e-tailers or  hucksters who are hijacking their product images and selling them at almost wholesale pricing. No excuses!

Retailers: You need to know where you stand relative to purchasing. If a supplier is going to allow “all over the board” pricing online, are you content to work with them, knowing that consumers can shop your store and then order off Amazon without you involved or making a dime. Exactly what is your purview on this matter?

You get to decide! Below are some considerations for you to digest:

  1. How are you going to continue to distinguish your business so that you can compete?
  2. Are you currently using digital tools at your disposal to attract, engage, sell and service to your customers?
  3. How convenient is it for existing customers  to shop with you and prospects to find you from the street?
  4. Have you considered creating a customized mobile application for your company where you own the information and host the app on your secure server?
  5. Alternatively, are you participating in a shared app with other retail merchants in your town so passer-byers and even “Looky-Loos” can receive push notifications about your store and offers.
  6. How are you going to participate in your community so that you can engender loyalty from consumers?
  7. Moreover, in your historic retail journey, have you observed that your community support and participation has proven to be helpful in building in-store shopping loyalty?
  8. What conversations are you planning to have with your suppliers in a proactive versus reactive manner?
  9. Can you elucidate your value to suppliers with metrics that demonstrate and validate your store’s significance to the growth of their business?
  10. Are you prepared with alternative “category”  suppliers  should your current suppliers allow non-manufacturer approved pricing to proliferate Amazon and reduce your ability to make a profit on the exact same products you have purchased?

Again….you get to decide.

Consumers: Do you think that home furnishings purchases are simply a commodity and price is the only factor that counts? If so, you have much to learn about quality, texture, size, color, materials and construction of furniture and home accessories. How do you plan to figure this out? Obviously, the options with Amazon are numerous in terms of vendors from whom to choose. Their retail stores, however, will be located  in metropolitan areas. As of now, I have not heard of Amazon retail coming to rural small towns and villages….but hold on……”Amazon-small town” might be on the horizon. Who knows?

In any event, please ask yourself if there is a moral imperative to support your own independent retailers in your community? How will your online purchases vs offline purchases be charted? Might you consider whether you wish to support retailers who provide your community year long service and who also help to prevent main street from looking like a blighted retail graveyard.Is it relevant to even look into your local retailer’s online presence before you start shopping? Mmm…more food for thought.

Truthfully, at present, chances are slim that you will  be running into Amazon folks at your local hardware store,  Parent Teacher Association meetings or when you are selling girl scout cookies in your small town USA community unless you live in and around Seattle. It is also not likely that you will be calling Amazon up in Seattle to solicit a donation to make your community better, although we know full well that Amazon’s Ceo, Jeff Bezos can afford to do so, yes?  Your local town government office will not be assessing property taxes on Amazon for stores that do not exist and whose tax dollars go to support local infrastructure, beautification projects, community facilities that support childen and seniors, etc.

Perhaps it is now time to really think about the amount of your business you wish to donate to “Amazon anonymous” versus someone whom you actually know.

Summarily, as the world of purchasing changes, and even online business transactions morph from current interface to “virtual reality”, (where consumers can walk through a virtual showroom and touch products, map them into their home environs, etc.,) how are we all called to our sense of community and helping one another.

Will we spend more time sequestered in our “smart homes” and living in our customize sanctuaries with “DIY alternative reality” or will we seek more opportunities to escape  and coalesce with other humans?

In truth, most of us will do all of the above. Therefore, “conscious consumerism” is, in fact, important and decisions  made with your discretionary purchasing dollars are much more important than perhaps you even imagined.

Feel free to chime in on this matter to your local merchants and Amazon (if you are a current Amazon customer). Let them know your opinions and feel free to share with friends.

The Home Furnishings Advisor

Greetings Home Furnishings Business Owners!

A Tip for You Prior to the 2017 International Home Furnishings Market in High Point.

Take a few risks in buying this year. Yes…step out of your conventional buying box.  Then head home and start to work on your targeted advertising so that you can find the consumers you are seeking for what you bought. The way to do this is to use programmatic “real time” advertising as it is more effective in targeting the right people at the right time. Conventional Print Advertising Media such as magazines, billboards and newspapers circulate your message but to a lot of consumers who may or may not be interested in what you are offering. As a result, it is far less effective.

Using programmatic advertising involves medial buying in real time at auction and will benefit you in identifying those who are actually seeking what you have to offer!

 

The Home Furnishings Advisor