Go Starbucks or Go Home

In order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores need to deliver in ways e-commerce can’t.



Starbucks announced it would no longer sell its products on its own website. You can still buy the company’s products online through other retailers, just not on its website.

In the announcement, Starbucks said it wants its customers to have the “Starbucks experience.” This means that, in addition to purchasing something to eat and drink, the company wants its customers to have a personal interaction when purchasing Starbucks-branded products. The company has enough faith in its employees and how they interact with customers that it wants to make sure that each consumer gets to have a first-hand experience that can’t be replicated with a website.

How many of us think the experience in our business and the interaction with our staff is so awesome that we want to be sure a new or existing customer has that same type of interaction?

It’s not just our employees that make a difference. What about the overall experience a person has, starting from when they first see our business? Research shows that over 50 percent of the impression a customer has of your business comes from seeing your building, sign or parking lot.

When the customer comes in, what do they see, hear, smell, taste and touch? In addition to wonderful sales people, can we provide an experience that will overload their senses on “awesome?”

If we can, we have something the Internet cannot duplicate. Even the founder of the largest online retailer knows it. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, said, “We can never duplicate that experience you can have by walking in a bookstore, sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee and enjoying the feel and smell of a new book.”

The National Retail Federation reports that 15 to 30 percent of all online purchases are returned by the consumer. That speaks to the idea that customers do not have enough product knowledge to make an intelligent decision about what they’re buying. Is your store providing that product knowledge? Do you have an ongoing staff education program, or do your employees just learn as they go along?

Think about the bookstores, coffee shops and other local businesses you have experienced. Are any of them like the bookstore Bezos is talking about? Are any of them providing an experience for which they are so confident, they do not sell online?

If our brick-and-mortar businesses are going to beat the online giants, we have to do the things the Internet retailers cannot or will not do. It’s not about beating Amazon and other Internet retailers at their own game—it’s about playing the game the way the customer wants to play. 

Tom Shay is a fourth-generation small business owner. His teachings provide the “nuts and bolts” necessary to improve the operation and profitability of the business. Tom has authored thirteen books on small business management and a college textbook on small business accounting and business planning. Having written over 400 columns in 75 trade publications, he has been nominated three times for the Jesse H. Neal Award for editorial excellence in business media. He has earned the Certified Speaking Professional distinction, which has been attained by 8% percent of speakers worldwide.


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