I’ve noticed a distinct change in my experiences at brick-and-mortal retail stores lately, and I think we have Amazon to thank for it.
As recently as 2-3 years ago, it was easy to find stores that weren’t trying very hard to deliver a positive customer experience — long lines, messy stores, no help from associates — it’s a long list. So I started buying almost everything on Amazon, and the love that has developed between us is strong. She has never let me down, but she knows that relationships require work, and she’s constantly finding new ways to spice things up (like Sunday deliveries and free 1-day deliveries). I love her. Now, I think retailers are finally starting to adapt their in-store experiences to try to woo me back.
On Christmas Eve, I learned two things about Best Buy — that BestBuy.com offers an abysmal eCommerce experience, and the Best Buy near me is much nicer than it used to be. I wouldn’t want to compete against Amazon in the eCommerce game, and I don’t think BestBuy.com is even trying. Long story short, I found out from BestBuy.com at noon on Christmas Eve that my wife’s only big gift wasn’t coming. So I sprang into action, jumped in my truck, and headed to the chaos of Christmas Eve shopping in a large suburb. I felt like Jason Bourne — driving towards the fight. But then my in-store experience was fantastic. I was greeted within seconds of entering the store by a helpful associate who knew what I needed him to know about Apple Watches. He clearly described my options, and gave me a recommendation that wasn’t the most expensive watch. Then he checked me out at small desk, and I was done. I was in the store for maybe 8 minutes, which is exactly how long I want to be in a Best Buy.
On the way home I stopped at a spirits store to stock up for the long week ahead. I went to a big store with a huge selection of wine, beer and liquor — and it was busy. To my surprise, there was a sommelier working the floor. I like to bring a bottle of wine to a party, but I don’t drink enough wine to know what I’m doing. Having a wine expert choose a few bottles for me saved me from wandering the aisles and making bad decisions. It seems like an obvious move to have a salesman on hand to help customers buy more wine on the busiest alcohol sales day of the year, but this store hadn’t done it before.
Fast-forward a couple weeks, and I decided to try Walmart Pickup for the first time. It’s great. It might be the first time I’ve ever thought that anything at Walmart was great. (When I go to Walmart, I treat it like a job — get in, get out, and remind myself that I’m there to save money). Walmart Pickup was great, from start to finish. I filled my cart online and chose a pickup time — super easy. When I left my house, I clicked one button in the app to let them know I was coming. When I arrived at the store, my phone immediately notified me that I had arrived, and my order would be out in a couple minutes. I entered the number of the spot where I was parked, and in less than 5 minutes a really, really helpful associate brought me my groceries. We reviewed a couple substitutions they had made (Ex. bigger pack of bottled water for the price of the smaller pack I ordered), I accepted all the subs, and he loaded my truck. When I tried to tip him, he refused the tip and asked me to give him a positive review online, which I did (similar to rating an Uber driver).
In the world of in-store experiences, Nordstrom’s customer service is legendary, but providing a great customer experience was always their niche. It’s worth repeating: great customer service was (maybe still is) a niche offering. But, based on my recent shopping trips, more brick and mortar retailers are stepping up their customer service in terms of both style and substance to better compete with our online options and their real world peers. And they’re killing it.
I’m not saying things are over between me and Amazon, but I’m a little more interested in playing the field again now. Competition forces companies to adapt and improve and, ultimately, consumers are the winners. Thanks, Jeff.