Death of a Salesmen: The Future of E-commerce

Coffee is For Closers

I'm still waiting for Xfinity to add "coffee is for closers" to the voice search capabilities of the X1 system. It's the quintessential line from Glengarry Glenn Ross and is the perfect summation of the high-pressure sales environment that fuels the top-line for a lot of companies. If you've ever been in sales, you're probably aware that there are a lot more things that are only for closers, like, bonuses, job security, and respect. We used to live in a world that was driven by sales interactions and relationship management, but now it's all about clicks and two-day delivery.

It wasn't too long after launched that I came across an article from TechCrunch stating, that in just one month, it had become the 4th largest online marketplace, and that was a pretty scary thought for me. If I'm to believe everything I've been told about how important face-to-face contact and relationship building is to the sales process, please explain to me why Amazon is looking a lot like the 72' Miami Dolphins. How can a company with no salespeople and a miniscule brick and mortar presence be the most feared company in retail?
By Amazon INC [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Amazon has been blamed for the downfall of almost every major retailer under the sun, and if I operated a brick and mortar location, I would be a more than a little concerned about the latest industry assessments. The number of distressed retailers with a credit rating of CCC continues to increase, and this holiday season could be make-or-break for one of your favorite retailers. Every time it seems like we've been at DefCon 1 regarding the state of retail, a “new” strategy emerges to prevent further erosion of profit margins. Will this time be different, or will e-commerce finally deliver the fatal blow to big-box retailers?

Fear of Better Options (FOBO)

Often overlooked in the emergence of e-commerce are the psychological aspects of being a customer in modern America. There's a reason manufacturers always want to break into the American retail marketplace; it's all about volume. America has more retail space per square/foot of land than any other country in the world, and not many other countries have retail chains that have scaled to the same quantities as our biggest and baddest retailers. At their peak, Radioshack operated more 7000 stores across four countries, Best Buy was operating over 1500 big boxes, and Sears Holdings was operating near that same level with 1300 locations. At one point, getting picked up by any of these retailers meant you had graduated to the big leagues, and you could sit back and watch the money roll in.

With a variety of retailers and locations to choose from, customers eventually began to wonder if they were getting the best deal possible. There was a psychological shift that promoted fear of better options at all times. I remember when customers first started printing online ads and bringing them into the retail location where I was working. I also remember store managers doing everything possible to keep us from having to honor those prices. I admit I've told more than a few customers that "online products didn't come with a manufacturer's warranty (at the behest of my managers)" just to keep from having to price-match.

Ultimately, those customers never intended to buy those products online, they simply wanted us to match the price. At the time, customers still wanted the full retail experience; qualifying, demonstrations, and closing were the only way to get a lot of those high-priced ticket items out of the door. Buying a big-screen TV online was unheard of, the trust in online retailers simply wasn't there yet, but as products became commoditized, more customers took a chance on e-commerce and were pleasantly surprised by the results. A secondary effect of product categories becoming commodities was that shopping was becoming more price point driven, and less reliant on services. The idea of a "closer" would eventually lose out to a button that reads "Add to Cart." So what is the future of retail sales?"

If You Can't Beat Em...

It seems like there is always a new retail strategy to combat the growth of e-commerce giants like Amazon and, but in hindsight, have any of them been that effective? Based on recent strategies, I feel comfortable stating the answer to that question is "no." Retailers have slowly, but surely, transitioned from fighting the growing e-commerce trend to making sure they aren't left behind. Since 2015, retailers had been beefing up their online presence and using their stores as more of online pickup locations, than a place where consumers are meant to shop.

I used to think that retailers would figure out they need to differentiate the in-store experience from online, but now that I've seen some of their budgets, I realize that those options aren't a real possibility for a lot of them. Most retailers are so strapped for cash right now, getting them to invest in anything that doesn't directly increase their sales is out of the question, so associate training and development is pretty much a non-starter. In lieu of my previous strategy to help use my company's cutting-edge, digital training capabilities to elevate the in-store experience, I've come to the conclusion that it might be time to take the "closer" online.

If retailers are slowly abandoning the in-store experience, who am I, as a third-party service provider, to tell them they're wrong? One of the golden rules of sales is to take the path of least resistance, so instead of focusing our technologies on in-store sales, we went all digital (hence the name RTR Digital). The solution we've been developing is an application that serves as online sales companion, we're calling it the Virtual SalesPerson, or VSP for short. The idea is to provide an e-commerce closer that always asks the right amount of qualifying questions, adds accessories, and always asks for the sale. You see, virtual salespeople have no fear of rejections, never get tired, and never get irritated, making them potentially as effective online, as they've been in stores.

Think about it...and if you want to see the demo, click here.