ricardo / zone41.net

ricardo / zone41.net

While on vacation, I got to read (and  thoroughly enjoy), What Would Google Do? Author Jeff Jarvis takes a fascinating look at the world through Google glasses.  He looks at many industries and suggests how these companies may do business differently, if they were to think, act, and behave as Google would. Google and web 2.0 have paved the way for doing things differently and treating customers differently too. Create platforms and environments for your customers to add content, collaborate, and engage in an open, transparent and honest manner. As Jeff says ‘your worst customer is your best friend’, if you give them the platform to communicate.

Craigslist, Flickr, Wordpress, Salesforce.com are all great examples of companies that are doing things differently. Craig Newmark has singlehandedly taken a huge chunk out of the national classified ads business, we’re talking billions of dollars. Craig has done this by providing a platform where customers can do this at virtually no cost. Do you think Craig has a successful business model?

To give one quick personal example - after reading this book, I sent out a simple 140-character message on twitter about how I enjoyed reading it. In less than 15 minutes, I got a ‘thank-you’ back from Jeff Jarvis. Now, what do you think my impression of Jeff is? Do you think he cares about his customers/fans? Do you think I will recommend his book to others? Do you think I will be more inclined to buy another book he wrote? Well, Jeff gives numerous and way more powerful examples of such strategies in his book.

But what struck me the most was the the void of retailer examples.

Where are the brick & mortar retailers?

Where is cool & hip Abercrombie & Fitch? Where is Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, The Gap, The Limited and many other mega national retail brands? Most of these companies have not opened their internet door, they do not even have twitter accounts. They do not communicate, engage and collaborate with their customers. There are exceptions that I have come across - Starbucks, American Apparel, Build-a-bear, and Lululemon to name a few, who seem to be moving in this direction, but where are the others?

I have a theory on this. Brick & mortar retailers think that this approach, this way of doing things, is excusively for internet and e-commerce companies - the Amazons, E-Bays, Threadless, and Zappos of the world. These retailers do not even think they have a role to play in this space. While most of these retailers have growing e-commerce businesses, it is still only a small percentage of their overall business, and therefore, they do not see the purpose in spending time, money, and energy in this area. Their mistake is confusing e-commerce with social media. Even if a brick & mortar retailer does not have an e-commerce site, they should still be spending time building their social platforms and engaging their customers. This is what will bring increased brand awareness, increased trust, increased loyalty, and get their customers into the stores where they should be, spending money and telling all their friends.

In the future, I will test out this theory further and take a closer look at a number of leading national retailers and see who is really doing what in these areas. If you are aware of retailers that are doing more in this area, then please share.