I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.
As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.
I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.
One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.
I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.
The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.
In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.
Retail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.
At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)
People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.
The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?
You can add Value in several ways. You can:
- Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
- Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
- Align your business with a social cause
- Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
- Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.
Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”
Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)
What Value are you adding to the equation?
PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.
PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.
PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.