Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Customers Buying Habits Are Changing. Are You Keeping Up?

Every day I get an email from RetailWire.com, a daily publication that is read by thousands of people in the retail industry. It’s the number one forum for discussions about hundreds of important issues in the industry. Now, before we go further, even though RetailWire.com focuses on the retail industry, what I’m about to share is relevant to every business in every industry.

A recent article in RetailWire posed a question about virtual reality and if it will make brick-and-mortar stores less relevant. By the way, if you haven’t experienced virtual reality, you must. It’s incredible. You put on what looks like goggles and you see the most amazing three dimensional images and videos. Okay, back to answering the question. My response was that virtual reality and augmented reality are just enhanced ways of viewing and experiencing products online. Yes, it will change the way people shop online, but it’s still “virtual.” It’s not real! You can’t touch the material to determine the quality of the suit or dress you’re looking at through a virtual reality headset. You can’t try it on either. So, how could this technology make physical stores less relevant?

The discussion of physical stores becoming irrelevant has been a topic of conversation for years. The first online purchase was made in 1994. According to a video produced by Shopify, an online shopping software program, the first online transaction was on August 11, 1994 through Dan Kohn’s online startup company when a friend bought a Sting CD over the internet. People said this kind of business would never work. People would never buy online. Well, never say never. Shortly after that Amazon came into the picture. And, here we are today.

Adobe’s research claimed last year’s Black Friday’s online sales were over $3 billion. And Cyber Monday’s sales, just three days later were also over $3 billion. Forrester predicts that by the year 2020, just three years from now, online sales will exceed $523 billion!

So, should retailers be scared? Maybe… because some retailers aren’t willing to change. And there are companies in virtually any industry that aren’t willing to change either. So, here is the lesson:

Business – in all industries – is changing. The old saying is true: The only thing that is consistent is change. So, get used to it.

Will online stores kill physical stores?

Did ATM’s eliminate bank tellers?

Did “Video Kill the Radio Star” when MTV went live back in 1981?

The answers are no, no and no!

Maybe the consumer is migrating to do more shopping online. It may make a physical store a little less “relevant” – but it doesn’t make the retailer less relevant! A retailer, as anyone or any company in business, must adjust and change. What makes a retailer less relevant won’t be because sales are moving from in-store to online. It will be because the retailer doesn’t adapt to the way their customers want to buy. And, it’s the same for any business. Your customers buying habits are changing. Adapt or watch your business die a slow and painful death. You must be willing to change as your customer’s change.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)

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  1. Yes! I agree. Business owners and leaders; you need to start really listening to your customers and what they want, not what you want them to want because you think it suits you. For example; Customers today want to shop at our own pace and for me that means go in, get what I wanted and get out. I don’t want to be trapped in the maze you created to keep customers from leaving before you can convince me to buy more stuff we don’t need on our long trail through the store. Trust instead in the fact that by giving your customers the customer experience we deserve that we will become loyal customers and choose your store the next time we need something, instead of buying online for a less irritating experience 😉

    • Agree. The “new” way of doing business is to really listen to your customers – individually – and give them a personalized experience. The one they want. Not the one the business wants them to have.

  2. Shep, great article! I think you can apply this concept to the conversation on AI and automation eliminating customer service jobs. In the same way as buying habits, the way we serve our customers will continue to evolve but there will always be a need for that human connection.

    • Exactly, Jeremy! The old saying that “the only thing that is constant is change” applies here. On another note, heading to Social Media Marketing World to speak about Social Customer Care. I remember meeting you while I was there last year. Hard to believe it’s been a year!

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