Large corporations keep growing ever larger, yet small retailers seem to find ways to compete with them somehow. One trend we see is that small businesses are simply getting savvier at providing a great shopping experience and unparalled customer service.
The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg (subscription required) offering an example of this in one industry, bookselling. The article profiles a core group of independent booksellers that are competing successfully against the big chain booksellers. Many of their stores offer full-service restaurants and sell items other than just books and digital media.
James Surowiecki over at the Marginal Revolution blog adds his insights on why these bookstores are successful:
What the really successful independent stores do is combine consumer friendliness in terms of design, space, and amenities with the kind of knowledgeable and dedicated staff that’s traditionally thought of as characteristic of independents. I think there’s a plausible argument that independent stores underestimated initially how important the experience of shopping was to customers.
These stores are also taking advantage of a genuine market opportunity by being active intermediaries between their customers and book publishers. (Amazon does it via collaborative filtering, while brick-and-mortar rely on staff members.) The real challenge for readers today is figuring out which of the tens of thousands (or more) of books published every year is worth their time.
I think these points are right on. In the United States today shopping can be overwhelming and lead to sensory overload. As consumers we want choice, but we also get overwhelmed by too many choices. Retailers who take some of the stress out of shopping, and who help us choose among an overwhelming array of choices, add real value to our lives.
And let’s face it. We Americans are a consumer culture. Shopping is less about need than about want. We look for shopping to make us feel good and even provide entertainment for us.
Savvy small retailers have always understood the value of great customer service and some have even understood the value of creating a fun, enjoyable shopping experience. In this era of chain stores on every corner and endless options for price shoppping, we see a trend toward these two factors — superior customer service and a great shopping experience — as increasingly necessary for success. Without them, small retailers could find it difficult to compete with the big guys.