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Sacredness of Retailer and Buyer Relationships

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The pundits have come out in full force to assess and analyze the results of this most recently completed holiday season.  Comparisons to last year’s results are dotting the internet and financial/trade publications.  One analyst (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-12-26/last-second-selling-scramble-summary-retailers-after-christmas-deals) compared the forecasted uptick to be approximately 4% over last year to the actual results of -3.5% versus last year.  His analysis referred to these two numbers as “hope” and “reality.”

Clear Trend

One of the trends that is clearly established is the buyer’s willingness, and in many instances, preference to shop online to purchase gifts.  Rather than fight the traffic, jockey for parking spots, endure long lines to checkout, have to do their shopping within the hours of operations for the stores, etc., many shoppers are spending their money at online outlets (Amazon, third-party resellers, and the online sites connected to brick and mortar stores).

However, there are understandings or agreements that the shoppers or buyers expect to have honored:

  1. Protect my information provided online
  2. Deliver products when promised.

This Holiday’s Failures

Unfortunately, this past holiday season saw retailers fail to uphold both of these expectations.  Protecting financial information from hackers is non-negotiable for shoppers deciding to make purchases online.  The use of credit cards to make purchases demonstrates a level of trust the buyer has with and for the retailer to ensure that the information will not be lifted by criminals and create significant problems.  However, a number of retailers (Target, Neiman Marcus, and others) suffered from having their databases compromised with sensitive data and personal information on shoppers.

Retailers need to protect shopper information.

Retailers need to protect shopper information.

Worse, the retailers involved were not seen as being transparent, open, and honest about the issues and doing what they could to “get out in front of it.”  Trying to minimize the issue or “sweep it under the rug” just compounded the problem and made it worse.  Buyers will choose to shop where they can feel valued and trusted and secure that they are not incurring dangers by shopping with one store or another.

The other failure was delivery-related.  The expectation and promise that products purchased by a certain date would be available in time for Christmas was violated.  Now, to be sure, the weather across the country impeded the ability to fulfill that commitment on one level.  As well, there was higher than anticipated or forecasted purchasing online that overwhelmed the carriers tasked with delivering the gifts pre-Christmas (UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc.).  However, the shopper will only recall that the delivery was not made on time and blame the retailer (even though the retailer contracts for that service and is not directly responsible for the delivery of products – the shopper expects the retailer to be responsible for the contracted service and for honoring the delivery commitment).

Sacred or Not?

One retail tracking industry site http://www.retailwire.com, recently posted an article that included the phrase:  ”…the covenant between seller and buyer is sacred” in a recent edition.  I actually think that is incorrect.  I commented on the website:

I was struck by the use of the phrase about the relationship being sacred between buyers and sellers. I actually think the issue is exactly the OPPOSITE.

I went to Wikipedia and captured the following descriptor of sacred:

(considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspiring awe or reverence among believers in a given set of spiritual ideas)

I think because the relationship is NOT holy and can be “easily” fractured because the reverence is tenuous at best – it is essential that the retailer do nothing to lose the current positive feelings a purchaser/buyer may have. Once that bond has been broken, attempts need to be made to repair it. Precisely because it is NOT sacred and cannot be expected to overcome temporary challenges. The buyer will choose to “pray in a different pew” to remain consistent with the analogy, far too easily.

David Zahn

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