Nov. 30, 2009 – Snake bit by the Internet? Here’s the antidote

True story: My first retail job in high school was working at an area pet store, known for stocking a variety of animals, including one preposterous-sized snake.
The snake, a python, was so big that even in its 7-foot cage, you could rarely figure out where it started and where it ended.
As I filled out my job application, I either conveniently forgot my snake phobia or just dismissed it. Even though to write the application I had to walk to the back of the store, which required several side-steps around the python’s lengthy cage.
On the first hour of my first day of work, the pet store owner walks up to me and says, “We just sold the python. We’ll need some help with it.”
At that particular moment, unemployment never looked so good.
That memorable retail moment came back to me on my flight from the Holiday Showcase, Parts Unlimited’s recent aftermarket show. At the event, I had an interesting conversation with a dealer who recounted his own frustrating retail moment.
His went something like this: Local, repeat customer walks in and asks about a particular motorcycle part, so he can get educated on it. Dealer does as you would expect and provides a thorough response. Customer later walks out and upon his next trip to the store, the dealer happens to catch a look at the guy’s bike.
“Heh, you got a new exhaust?” the dealer asks.
“Yeah, got a great deal online,” the guy responds. At this point, you can imagine the dealer’s response, or at least his defeated body posture. Probably resembled mine after hearing the immortal words, “Just sold the python …”
In Reno, the dealer expressed his frustrations at his predicament, which isn’t exactly a one-time occurrence.
And really, it shouldn’t be. Everything we see, including the federal government’s quarterly report of online sales, shows the Internet is becoming more and more the cash register and not just the display window. Our fear of credit card number piracy, if we ever had it, has languished. The threat of shipping fees doesn’t really quell our retail desire. And if we weren’t aware that we aren’t paying taxes online, then you can sure as heck bet the spouse or best friend reminds us the moment it arrives on the doorstep. “And you didn’t have to pay taxes!”
This consumer behavior is a quantum shift. In a year of recession, you’ll hear that expression “quantum shift” thrown around quite often. Maybe it’s we’re saving more as a society. Or, we’re less impulsive as consumers.
The online buyer, on the other hand, is about the safest bet you can lay down right now. All economic charts involving Internet sales trends show a gradual climbing. But if you really think about the demographic just entering the marketplace and their utter reliance and acceptance of the online world, it’s a dead-set certainty that we’re going to see much, much more of it.
That’s why if you’re a dealer who is snake bit by online sales, then you have to rethink your business strategy.
This is the quantum shift in business strategy that has to happen: The question from the dealer’s perspective shouldn’t be whether the consumer will come in and talk to me and then buy online. That has to be a given. Oh sure, that’s still the minority of the consumers, but that percentage is increasing. And for those of you who rely so thoroughly on the older demographic, you’re certainly not out of this equation.
The real business strategy question to ponder is this: When the consumer goes online to buy something, will it be at their area dealer’s Web site? If not, why not?
Why is the consumer walking into a dealer’s physical store, but not the online one?
The obvious answer: There’s a disconnect. The consumer’s mind is somehow separating one (the physical) from the other (virtual).
We have to fix that!
But it’s the shift in thinking that has to come first. The thinking can’t be why are they doing that? Why are they buying online when I’m spending time with them at the shop? Certainly there may be some sales training that could help convert a higher percentage of those shoppers into buyers, but at the same time the issue has to be advanced. It can’t remain at the frustration level.
You can’t work at a pet store without knowing that at some point you’ll be handling snakes. Similarly, you can’t work in retail — any retail — without accepting that some of your consumers will buy online. The only question will be where.
For those of you questioning the wisdom of somebody who worked at a pet store with a snake phobia, well, consider this. When that massive python finally came out of its cage, you-know-who was holding the tail end of it.

A note to readers
PG&A and F&I?managers please take notice:?We’ve added two “Industry Insiders”?to our blog that will speak directly to your issues and your concerns. See below for more information.

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