You’re a brave person to be the only representative of a titanic eTailer in a room full of established and independent retailers. This was my thought last week at the PCR Bootcamp where I was lucky enough to evangelise on the subject of Smart Home to the brightest and best in the British ICT channel. Time and time again the name of a certain rainforest popped up when the subject of tough competition was mentioned. Having scanned the attendance register earlier that day, I knew that one of the Amazon team was probably in the audience, but if they were they had decided to wisely remain reticent and keep their head down.
In fairness, the presence of Amazon in UK retail is nothing short of terrifying. Amazon is now the first port of call for many consumers for just about everything from laptops to t-shirts suggesting that the 40th President of the USA was an undead monster. Indeed, in the last CONTEXT consumer survey on Smart Home, 80% of respondents in the UK said they would look to buy Smart Home products from Amazon, followed by Maplin with 60%. There is a lot to be wary of when in competition with Amazon, however that’s not to say that traditional retailers do not have a play in the current retail environment – even the mighty Achilles had a dodgy ankle.
Towards the end of the panel discussion, Rich Marsden (MD VIP) made the comment that in today’s world it’s “…get big, get specialised, or get out”. This resonated with everything I had tried to admonish during my own speech. The owner of a very successful Smart Home eTailer recently confided to me that a significant portion of his customers were those who had bought from Amazon but ended up returning the products because the post-sales support was not sufficient to help them set up their purchase. This particular eTailer has a fantastic technical support service and pride themselves on their very low return rate. Smart Home products won’t sell themselves and are not your average plug-and-play devices.
Consumers need to be educated, if possible in store and in person. Moreover, some products cry out for home installation and partnerships with trusted service providers. Many consumers struggle with resetting their fuse box, let alone fitting a new thermostat. As Rich went on to say “…there will always be a market for people who want to walk into a shop to make their purchase.” With emerging product categories such as Smart Home (and soon, VR), the experiential is far more important than convenience of purchase. It’s time for retail to bring back a little theatre and hands-on salesmanship, something an online transaction cannot currently capture.