Lately I find myself in conversations about online shopping. Do I offer it? Why not? Would I consider it? My response is always the same. No, no and no, never.
When I bought ZuZu Fashion Boutique in 2015, I didn’t have a concrete vision of what it might become. I had a “feeling” but was unable to articulate it in the very early days. The founder had done a remarkable job of building both the business and a loyal customer base. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but was relatively comfortable with the back end of the operation given my many years of business experience.
It was the multi-faceted front end that got my creative juices flowing… buying the right amount of the right inventory to offer unique pieces that customers would enjoy seeing on themselves, but not on everyone else. Embracing textures, detail, and special features that made a jacket, dress, necklace or scarf a real find. Merchandising my space for elegance, interest and self-expression. Welcoming customers new and not so new to an experience that was respectful and professional but not short on warmth, fun, laughter or empathy. And planning many events to introduce new ideas and bring members of the community together for a few hours of camaraderie over a beverage, a nibble and of course, fashion. These were the aspects that intrigued me then and still do to this day.
So when someone once again asks about the online piece of the chain, it “feels” like everything that my shop is not and never will be. Where is the personal service and intimate customer relationship? How does one truly appreciate any features of a garment without touching, feeling, trying on? How do we in the shop engage with virtual customers in any meaningful way? And who is going to listen to a customer story, offer a shoulder or perhaps a suggestion or two?
Don’t get me wrong. Online shopping works very well for many people buying many things. Electronics. Books. Groceries. Skin care products. This is especially true when it’s a reorder or research-based decision and no further learning is required. But I just don’t see it for a shop like ZuZu with limited inventory that changes regularly. I don’t know why I would want to get involved in the shipping aspects. Embarking on a new system to facilitate online transactions and dealing with the inevitable returns (and credit notes) that result when there is no personal interaction with the products
I do agree on one point…maybe two. First, if a customer has seen an item somewhere and tried it on, the risk of the return from an online purchase is significantly reduced. Fair enough. However I am not convinced that there is adequate volume of these occurrences to warrant moving to an online platform. Second, if a customer has come into the shop and found something she would like to receive as a gift, it could provide a more convenient experience for the purchaser. Again, not thinking that would happen too many times.
There is one reality that is mentioned in the Retail Council of Canada/Microsoft paper. Online customers tend to be younger. As my customer demographic shifts, I may open my mind a crack further. For now, my client base is a mature woman and I would venture to say that personal shopping is the preferred method in most instances, especially when it comes to ZuZu. They never know what they will find. What’s new. And it’s not unusual for someone to drop in to say hello, have a chat, take a look and then head back to work or meet up with her friend for lunch. It’s a community stopover in some respects and I love that.
If 100% bricks and mortar proves to be the demise of my little shop, so be it. I will deal when that comes. For now, I have yet to be convinced that there is a solid business case for me to revisit a partial online model. One potential nugget of adoption which was brought to my attention (and which has since been on my mind) is Gift Certificates. That’s as transactional as our interactions get. Stay tuned.
See what this study uncovered about the not-so-dire straights of Retail Shopping in Canada.