Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Last week, my husband gleefully showed me an article on the WSJ‘s MarketWatch: Target has promised to match Amazon’s prices. To combat practice of “showrooming,” in which a customer uses a store for window-shopping and does their buying online, the retailer has guaranteed that if a customer finds a better price for the same item online, Target will match that price.
(Mind you, I was kind of surprised that my husband would show me such an article. His and my perceptions of Target trips are radically divergent. Where I waltz from aisle to aisle, trying on the most ridiculous high heels, smelling every candle, and perusing cat toys, he treats these [to me] pleasure-filled excursions like some kind of military mission. He creates extensive lists, sorted by items’ relative locations in the store, and will dispatch me to get the kitty litter while he selects soap and laundry detergent. Get in, get out, complain about the price of generic puffed rice cereal on the way home. But I digress.)
The article pits Target and other retailers against Amazon:
If a customer buys a qualifying item at Target and then finds an identical item for less in the following week’s Target circular or within seven days on either Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com and Toysrus.com, Target will match the price. “Price-match guarantees are the only way for big-box retailers to survive the Amazon onslaught,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of financial website WalletHub.com.
Cue the sound of vinyl records screeching in my head. If big-box retailers are struggling to survive, where does that leave the little-box stores? When did Target and Walmart become the underdogs?
My mental music has resumed, and it’s “Strange Days” by the Doors.
Of course, we’ve already seen this in the tragic tale of Borders, and in B&N’s tortured throes. But it seems too strange that Walmart, that paragon of all that was evil in retail, is now shaking its fist at Amazon as it fights to stay afloat. What happened?
The article points out that, according to a survey by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, many customers who engage in showrooming didn’t set out to buy online. The Kellogg Shopper Index found that
59 percent of participating shoppers said they received poor or average service in the stores where they’d recently shopped. Among shoppers who said they engaged in showrooming, 40 percent reported that they actually never intended to buy online, but they were driven there after experiencing poor customer service and support in stores.
Well, yeah. As Appazoogle‘s own Keira Bunn reported just over a year ago, customer service makes a huge difference in a shopper’s experience of a store. Isn’t it kind of funny, though, that people turned off by poor human interaction then turn to a shopping experience that involves no real people at all? That “customer service” now seems to be equated with a good search experience and fast, free shipping?
I’m intrigued by all this—heck, I’m a cheapskate, and if Target wants to keep my business by offering me lower prices, I’m all in. It’s just a little sad that Amazon’s price-setting is now becoming the standard that all stores must match in order to stay alive. The Kellogg survey indicates that price isn’t everything, and that customer service is a driving factor in our shopping experiences, but if that were really true, then our local corner bricks-and-mortars should be head and shoulders above their impersonal online counterparts.
I’m also curious to see what the experience of trying to get that matched price would be like. If customer service is the name of the game, how easy will it be for a customer to be reimbursed for her purchase? Tune in soon to find out…