There is an old adage that says, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The current problem, expressed over and over again by brick-and-mortar hot tub retailers, is how hard it is to compete with the internet for sales.
The truth is that bemoaning how the internet is killing traditional retail outlets without having a willingness to adapt business practices and mindsets is an even bigger threat to physical retailers than e-commerce. Those who complain without acting are part of the problem.
Now, if you want to be part of the solution to the internet problem, read on.
Forget Pricing (or at least put it further down the list)
It’s time to face the fact that brick-and-mortar retailers simply are not going to be able to price match with their internet competition, not if they want to stay in business. Fortunately, cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better. As Aqua Magazine points out, “If you think you have to be the least expensive to compete on prices, then you have not shown the customer the true value of your…product.” Before you resort to slashing prices, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What makes your store different from internet competitors?
- Why should customers buy from you instead of an internet retailer?
- How is your product/services/support better suited for customers than that of your internet competition?
It isn’t the price of the spa itself, it’s what your store can offer in addition to the spa that adds value to in-store purchases. Here are just a few things that your store can offer customers that the internet likely cannot:
- Personal interaction with knowledgeable salespeople
- The ability to see, touch, and try merchandise
- Low to no shipping/delivery costs
- Onsite installation, future service, and ongoing maintenance programs
- Access to real people to answer questions and solve problems
- One-Stop shopping
- Water testing
- Financing, warranties and returns
After researching on the internet, customers who visit physical stores sometimes experience sticker shock. But this shock is easy to treat by explaining all the extras available with a purchase in your store compared to a purchase online. According to Goodall Pools and Spas president, Bob Goodall, “…you have to do it differently than you did before. It’s not about price.”
Know Your Products and Theirs
Brick-and-mortar retailers have to know their products, their competition’s products and what makes their products better than those of the competition. Hot tub retailers must invest in knowledgeable, courteous, professional employees and salespeople to ensure a positive customer experience.
...bemoaning how the internet is killing traditional retail outlets without having a willingness to adapt business practices and mindsets is an even bigger threat to physical retailers than e-commerce
CNBC.com reports that reasons customers were reluctant to make online purchases included “preferring to see the goods in person, the simplicity of making in-store returns, and the ability to ask a sales associate any questions.” Wait, what was that last one again, “the ability to ask a sales associate any questions”?
A well-trained staff is essential to effectively answering customer questions. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals offers a list of questions consumers should ask when shopping for a spa, so it makes sense that your salespeople know the answers. Here are a few examples:
- What is included in the overall price? (Jet packages, filters, chemicals, cover, steps, delivery and setup, etc.)
- Is it energy efficient? What is the average monthly operating cost?
- Does it come with a warranty? What does the warranty cover and how long is it in effect?
- Do you offer pre-site inspections? Is it free? What kind of surface do I need to put it on?
- Do you offer maintenance and repair services? How about water treatment & supplies?
And then there’s the mother of all questions, “You know I can get a spa cheaper online, right?”
Of course you know this. The key is to not be phased by this question. Instead of sighing and agreeing with them, have them pull out their smartphone and show you the unit you know they’ve already found online. Compare that unit to the one in your store and point out why buying in-store from you is a better value in the long run. Emphasize that you’re a certified dealer, selling a reputable brand, with certified, trained technicians and installers; these are things that may not apply to online sellers.
Cultivate a deeper knowledge of the products and services your store offers as well as a knowledge of which internet retailers are providing lower prices. Learn what aspects of your product to emphasize to encourage customers to buy your product instead. In short, do your market research.
Use the Internet to Your Advantage
Forbes said it best, “Your brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have to conquer the e-business world to keep customers happy, but you do have to show up online.” If brick-and-mortar retailers truly want to compete with the internet, they have to have an internet presence (sound familiar?).
- Create a Well-Designed Responsive Website: Responsive means that it works equally well on full-size computer screens and mobile device screens (I-pads, tablets, smart phones).
- Invest in Local Search Marketing: Make sure that when a potential customer does a search for “hot tubs”, your store listings and your web ads appear near the top of the search results. Do your own web search for Search Engine Optimization to find someone who can help you make the most of local search opportunities.
- Connect with Prospects: Use email, Twitter, Facebook and text alerts to keep potential buyers in the know about sales, new products, events and anything else related to your store. These digital media are not going away. Use them to get your name out there!
When customers come to your store, and they will, arm your sales staff with the latest technology to help improve their knowledge base and keep them abreast of sales trends. Tablets and other forms of mobile technology are great tools for pointing out the differences between an online product and your product and for helping explain why buying from your store will give customers a better product for the money. Bill Renter of Best Hot Tubs in New York says that, “the internet, as harmful as it is to retail, it’s beneficial toward marketing.” Make the internet and related technology work FOR you instead of against you!
Target an Untapped Demographic
We all know that millennials are all about cyber shopping, and when they do come to your showroom, there’s a better than average chance it’s to see a product usually before they order it online. Don’t ignore them, but don’t sink all your capital into attracting them either. It turns out, there’s another demographic that actually prefers in-store shopping; a demographic that the National Retail Federation has dubbed the Silver Spender and consists of baby boomers aged 60-75.
We work hard and we work smart. That in any industry gets you market share. - Jim Van Fleet
According to Pam Danziger, President of Unity Marketing, the increased use of shopping technology, such as iPads and “checkout on the floor” can be intimidating to some boomers, as can online shopping. These consumers prefer an in-store experience that includes well-trained, helpful staff.
The best news is that this demographic appears to prefer spending in “big-ticket, home-related categories.” This preference and the fact that they tend to be homeowners makes them an ideal market for hot tub retailers.
Here’s Your Wake-Up Call
The simple truth is that the way retailers do businesses is changing, and hot tub retailers must be willing to change with it if they expect their stores to succeed. Jim Van Fleet of Mainely Tubs says, “We work hard and we work smart. That in any industry gets you market share.” Today, working smart means knowing yourself and your competition, using the technological tools available and taking advantage of untapped markets.
So, are you going to keep complaining about losing business to the internet or are you going to do something about it? Will you be part of the problem or part of the solution?