The Brick and Click Disconnect: A Story

For many retail stores across North America... this past weekend was one of the most important of the entire year. The combination of Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday is one of the highest grossing periods of the year for any retailer. For many years, I haven’t really done much during this time, just looked around at a few deals here and there but never really taken advantage of anything out there. This year was different. I’d like to tell you about my experience with a certain retailer, who shall remain nameless. I will first tell you my story, then share some lessons I learned from it.

Source: Google ImagesMy story: I needed a new winter coat. Considering I live in Canada, this article of clothing is probably one of the most essential. I had been searching online since September for a good deal on a nice winter coat and finally on Thursday I came across a deal I couldn’t refuse. A certain retailer was offering 25% off an entire online order plus free shipping! 25% off an order seemed like a pretty nice deal to me, the only problem... I didn’t know what size I needed. Luckily for me, this retailer happened to have a physical store nearby to where I live. The online sale was a one-day only sale, so I decided to head over to the physical store to see if they had the coat (and to figure out my size).

I figured - before even entering the store - that if I found the coat I wanted, in the size I wanted... I would just pick it up in the store, because if the online store offered 25% off then obviously the physical store would do it too right? ... Wrong. I walked into the store... found my coat... and took a look at the price. It was literally twice the price that the online store was offering (mind you the online store had this one-day discount going). Now... who in their right mind would ever buy the coat (or anything else for that matter) from the physical store if they can get a much better deal online? In fact, I hung around the store for a while and observed that a lot of people were trying clothes on and simply walking out afterward.

Interestingly enough, I met a friend who happened to be working at the physical store. I asked her if she knew anything about what was going on and asked whether she noticed that a few more people than normal were trying things on and leaving. She said this was the case but she had no idea why. When I informed her about the online deal... the customer behavior seemed obvious. She told me she would’ve done the exact same thing. So I tried on my coat for size, went home and ordered it online. The online experience was flawless, but the overall disconnect between brick and click left me a little dumbfounded.

Two key lessons:

  1. Customers aren’t fools: It would be naive of any company to think that customers do not search for their products online. Even if the company is seemingly selling a ‘commodity,’ there will still be a customer who searches online for this product. The process of online search may not necessarily be to purchase, it may only be for information gathering; however, it still happens. This being the case, any company that creates a disparity between an in-store price and online price is merely making the choice simpler for the smart customer. This causes a problem for companies: something has to suffer, in order for the other to succeed. In my case, it was the salespeople. 
  2. Your salespeople are some of your greatest assets, treat them that way: Imagine this: the day before the massive sale, every salesperson gets notified and told of this amazing deal online and told to encourage customers to try on clothes and then make the purchase online. Or better yet, the deal applied to the physical store as well! This way, salespeople would have been motivated to sell more and become even stronger advocates of the brand, and if a customer didn’t find the right size, the salesperson would have simply directed him or her to the amazing deal online where the customer would have surely found his or her size. Instead, the disconnect between brick and click, demoralized sales staff and if they got paid on commission... it would have even caused them to lose money. 

Final thoughts: Online shopping is a disruptive reality that is facing many physical retailers today. It is absurd for retailers to create a disparity between online and physical because customers today aren’t fools, but worst of all salespeople may get neglected in the strategy. If you’re a retailer selling something in both worlds, ask yourself - how can I delight my customer, while at the same time keep my sales staff happy? You may find that answering the latter, will answer the former.