The latest, greatest fear for many of you is the threat from websites selling directly to the end consumer. Will it be the end of your business at least as you know it? I don’t think so. Brick and mortar stores have been battling online competition for much, much longer than you. They are still in existence. They may have had to change the way they do business in order to compete, but they’re still there.
Interestingly, there’s been a swing in the other direction. From the NY Times,
“After years of criticizing physical stores as relics, even e-commerce zealots are acknowledging there is something to a bricks-and-mortar location. EBay and Etsy are testing temporary stores, while Piperlime, the Gap Inc. unit that was online-only for six years, opened a SoHo store this fall. Bonobos plans to keep opening stores, and Warby Parker, the eyeglass brand, will soon open a physical location.
The companies say they are catering to customers who want to see what they are buying in person, and who see shopping as a social event. As they build the locations, though, the retailers are reimagining some long-established rules — carrying less inventory, having fewer staff members and embracing small and out-of-the-way locations. In the process, they are creating what could be a model for efficient in-store operations: the store as a showroom.”
Price, Quality, Quantity
Will every company that began in cyberspace add a brick and mortar presence? Who knows? But one thing that all successful businesses understand is who their customer is. Zappos is a great example. They cater to people who value quantity and quality. The old adage, “Price, quality, quantity, pick two” should always be considered. Zappos chose the latter two.
Bargains are not to be found at Zappos, but if you need a boys football cleat in a wide width and you aren’t sure of the size, you can order a 3W, 3.5W, 4W in 6 different styles. I’m a VIP customer so they ship overnight. I have 365 days to return all of them or none of them and I don’t pay the shipping. I don’t have the time or the inclination to drag my son all over town looking for shoes that fit or a price I can live with. I’m busy and I’m willing to pay the price for quantity and quality.
Who is your customer and what do they want?
The hearing aid experience is very much a show and tell experience. Patient’s want to “see” what it’s going to be like. They want to “test-drive” what they’re about to buy. If you don’t want to be viewed by the consumer as no different than an online store, then act differently right from the start. The patient doesn’t understand the service side of the hearing aid industry.
They don’t realize they may need adjustments for fit or modifications to improve the listening experience…but they do understand “try it before you buy it”. And that is a distinct advantage that you have over the online companies. You already do it; you already provide a quality experience, enhance it and then promote it.
If you want them to come and see you, then make it a wonderful experience worth their time and money. If you don’t in their minds provide quality, then they are left with quantity and price. Quantity is pretty much a fixed variable that leaves them with price. And battling a larger online company in a price war is a recipe for disaster.