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06 October 2010

How Does It Feel, Part III

I talked with someone involved in Fantasy Diamond/Hampden Corp's e-commerce who is not only young and tech-savvy, but not originally from Chicago.  He says he has no loyalty to local businesses, because he doesn't know them.  He doesn't know the ones from his childhood in Florida, either, if they still exist today, because they were not on his consciousness while growing up.  It is much easier to shop on the web, especially if it's 11:30pm and if he is just researching, not buying, because he believes he could find the answers to his questions online and does not want the pressure from a live salesperson. 

And, when it comes to buying, he still is much more apt to buy the product online, because he does not perceive the value that a bricks-and-mortar retailer may add after he has done the research.  Even a large-box electronics one has the added hassle of driving there, waiting to be served and paying sales tax, if he could get it at the same or better discount online with free shipping and return.  (He does concede the value of paying sales tax, which he says he contributes in other ways.)  He doesn't exactly have loyalty to online retailers, but he knows which ones he can trust and which ones have always delivered what he expected for his time and money.

Smaller indies may be able to survive if they can provide answers to unasked questions, who can add value to off-line research, including touching and feeling the product before one buys.

Buying online sight unseen could be an opportunity especially with a major purchase, like an engagement ring.  Fantasy Diamond's beautiful new line Endless Embrace is sold online.  With a credit card, one can request CZ (cubic zirconia) and metal alloy samples (the credit card charge serves as a deposit, returnable when samples are returned).  Does the fact that they are sold online or the fact that they offer samples threaten small, local independently-owned jewelry stores like Trein's or Venier's in Dixon?  My response, after some thought, is no, because, besides the loyalty factor, there are still people who need to talk with a person face-to-face.  Fantasy Diamond received a call from a jeweler with just such a situation.  She wanted the Endless Embrace product, which she found online, but she wanted to buy it from her local independent jeweler.  If, even getting samples online is a hassle, the answer is our independent jeweler customers having our Live Catalog display, chock full of the best-selling pieces made with CZs and metal alloy.

We brick-and-mortar guys want and need access.  We want to be a choice and to be on the website as a "where to buy" if someone is uncomfortable with PayPal or with giving his credit card number on the site, or need to see before buying. 

We should be part of the deal if a reader receives an electronic book device as a gift, but still wants to give some financial recognition to a bricks-and-mortar especially if he had come into the store to browse or skim through a printed bound hardcopy before committing to buying a download.  (This not a delusion -- booksellers have talked of browsing shoppers whipping out their devices while in the store and then, walking out without a purchase from the bricks-and-mortar).  Perhaps the relationship between booksellers and publishers must change to something closer to the magazine stand model, where for various reasons some people buy the single issue and end up with a subscription when they really like it, or don't buy it, but certainly got a feel for the publication while flipping through and maybe even reading a page or two.  Meanwhile, the seller gets credit for those left unsold after a period of time, or some other compensation for being a showroom or sample shop.  This combined with Lightning Print digital printing might help small guys survive in situations where a big guy is just too big.

BUT, indies have to be open to being accessible. I just looked online to www.endlessembrace.com and see neither independently-owned local Dixon jeweler as a Fantasy Diamond customer.  That could be a lost sale, neighbors.  Check it out!

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