I bought something from a brand. I bought it on their Amazon store. Amazon shipped it to me. I decided not to keep it. I returned it to a Kohl’s. I don’t remember who actually delivered it.
When I returned it, I didn’t buy anything at Kohl’s. But I had to walk through the store and down the aisles and through various products to get to the Amazon return counter. I’m sure nobody set it up like that on purpose.
The return receipt I got from Kohl’s offered me a 25% discount on anything I bought at the store. Kohl’s hopes that I’ll become a customer because I’m in the store doing an Amazon return.
What happened to the product I returned? Discarded? Reconditioned? Sold by Kohl’s? Return to Amazon or the brand? Who is responsible for deciding what to do with it? I wonder who pays money to whom and for what services exactly as it goes through the return process. On a couple of occasions, I bought something small from Amazon and initiated the return process. They gave me a credit and said I could keep the product. Maybe I’ll try that with a 75 inch TV. We all know returns cost a lot of money.
As sellers justifiably try and optimize the process of getting product to and from the consumer, both for customer service and for cash flow reasons, what are they doing to their relationship with that consumer?
If you look at my favorites on my browser, you’ll see a folder for utilities. In there, you’ll find the link to Amazon. Maybe I’ll add Kohl’s. Alphabetically I guess it would come after the people who pick up my trash but after the electric company. Probably not how Kohl’s wants me to think about them.
Yes, that’s right. It made sense to me to put Amazon with utilities rather than in a folder with other retailers. I wonder if that would bother Jeff Bezos.
I’m going to go with no. Why would Amazon want to compete with other retailers if they can be thought of as a utility that you must do business with and have to pay every month? Not including your once a year prime membership.
If I go to a Kohl’s store- or REI, Zumiez, Vans, Tilly’s, The Buckle, Dicks, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.-it’s partly motivated by some perception of the brand/market position of the store and what I’ll find when I get there. If it isn’t, they have a really big problem. They aren’t utilities. I’ve got lots of choices.
These efforts to differentiate yourself from a world of other retailers/brandy carrying similar to identical products require careful analysis, time, money, and good management. Some luck wouldn’t be bad. Mostly, retailers don’t have a distinctive competitive advantage in doing any of this. They just try and do the same stuff all retailers have to do but do it better. The one real advantage seems to be size.
Kohl’s doesn’t want me to think of them as the place I drop off my Amazon returns. The UPS Store, where I also drop off some Amazon returns, doesn’t care because what they do is ship stuff; It’s consistent with the market image they want.
If Amazon is a utility, and I’m really starting to like that characterization, they don’t have to compete in branding with other retailers. They’re just there. I use it when I need it. They perform a service I expect and have to have. OK, not have to have exactly but you know what I mean.
So, whose customer am I anyway?
I was kind of fuzzy on who sold me the product and who provided the customer service by the time I’d selected the product, it got to me and then made it back to wherever it goes. Maybe I should care.
I’m not sure I do. I’m not Amazon’s customer in the sense that I have any attachment (except practical) to them. They’re just a utility I use. I’m not Kohls’. Never bought anything there. It was only the need to return that got me inside and I would rather have had the return counter close to the front door. Don’t even think of myself as a committed customer of the brand I bought the product from in the 1st place, whoever that brand was. To be fair it was something I’ve never bought before. And it wasn’t an active outdoor product. So perhaps I’m stretching this comparison to places it shouldn’t go. But maybe not.
If you are a specialty retailer – even a big one with hundreds of stores- you need a relationship with people who buy your products as part of differentiating yourself from the other places they could buy the same product. The same is true of a brand. The pandemic and the related closures and reluctance of people to shop are establishing new behaviors that may or may not stick (no vaccine pun intended) once the crisis is over.
Right now, the common knowledge is that you retain your customers and differentiate your brand by providing “experiences.” “Experience” has always sounded expensive to me. It’s especially expensive if it’s more or less the same thing your competitors are doing because, like you, their products are generally similar to everybody else’s. In other words, it’s another thing in our industry that doesn’t generate, at least in the long term, a competitive advantage. It’s simply something you have to do to compete.
I think I like the term “small surprises” better than “experiences.” Sounds less expensive and more repeatable more often.
Ironically one of the experiences we’ve created for customers, because they demand it, is to make the buy/deliver/return process as easy and fast as possible. Focusing on ease of process means customer relationships can become unclear to the customer. If restaurant takeout is delivered by Grub Hub and it’s not hot, who fault is it? Whoever’s fault it is, both brands suffer.
It’s not clear to me that the intricate web of logistic interrelationships we’ve created among entities that are primarily competitors (and are still working to improve) is good for your relationship with the consumer- even though it’s what the consumer wants.
If your customer chooses not to buy your product because it will take an extra day to get to them- if your return policy is an important purchase decision- do they really value your product? What kind of relationship do you really have with them? Aren’t you just a utility?
You must not be a utility.