But Access To The Haystack Is Gonna Cost Ya.

Another thought to file under the “you get what you pay for” column.

A retailer recently complained to me about an occasional but increasing incidence of customers looking for small parts in a category he sells (and used to sell much more of).  Yet as more consumers go online for discounts on major purchases, their choice of merchant does not negate their eventual need for product support.

So when some small part breaks or gets lost while the major unit is otherwise sound & serviceable, these consumers go seeking for a quick fix.  The need for a spot solution is typically more time-sensitive than making the original purchase was, so rather than go back to the online discounter, they look for a local seller to get faster support.

Pre-2000, virtually all these purchases were made locally.  Plenty of consumers did not keep their original receipts and owner manuals, or do not remember where they were “filed”, but these local retailers always had their backs.  Good merchants kept consumer records and/or could rely on their memory and relationship with their customers to help the customer identify needed replacement parts.

Flash forward to today, and while receipts continue to get buried or deleted (now in email) and manuals tossed, consumers who have stopped supporting the local retailer now have no relationship and no customer account records in such stores to fall back on.

TACG2103Yet, consumers walk into the local store, explain that something is damaged or missing, and proceed to ask for help.  A quality local merchant who did not get to make the original sale will still want to help, and perhaps get to sell the part.  If only he or she knew what part to offer.  When the customer is asked and does not know (no records, does not even know the model/style/etc.), then what can the merchant accomplish?

But my client remarked that the interaction did not end with a promise by the customer to bring back the unit or original documentation so that the merchant can care for the need.  In fact, he said that the customer often expresses dissatisfaction because he did not have a full array of all the possible parts for customer view, access, and selection along with guides to permit customer self-help.

The merchant is passively-aggressively made to feel like he failed in a situation where he had no opportunity to succeed.

Most manufacturers do not produce and provide customer self-help POP displays, nor can local merchants afford the cost and floor space if they did.  In addition, it is financially inappropriate for a local merchant, whose brands are allowing him to be out-competed online, to stock dozens-to-hundreds of parts for models when they have no idea whether anyone local to them has purchased, or owned, or would ever come in to ask for parts for those models.  It is unreasonable to expect a merchant to throw this inventory investment away in addition to already lost revenue from not getting to sell the original units.

Yet, a consumer’s mind cannot process this in the moment of need.  All consumers know is the need is real, the time is now, and why should their expectations for support options be in any way diminished by buying online?

Until wizardry training is offered to merchants, something needs to be done by industry trade associations in an inoffensive way to educate consumers about getting what they pay for.  If brands are going to let their wares hang out and be discounted online, inviting consumers to trade support away for a cheaper price, they should not leave small local retailers stuck holding this bag of rocks and made out by the consumer to be bad merchants.  Of course, an even better solution is not to let their stuff be hung out by discount web-sellers, but rather support their local dealers so they can be the full-service, caring providers for their local customers that they went into business to be.

This all can and should be ignored by brands who sell online direct-to-consumer or distribute through discount channels as their primary sales proposition.  Their customers are just SOL and probably used to it.

Jeff Koenig

 

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