Bed Bath & Beyond is struggling. The stock is down over 40 percent in the past 12 months. The company is investing to boost their online presence but the strategy has only produced mixed results. Competition from third party sellers like Amazon has been fierce. What can Bed Bath & Beyond or any company that has an ecommerce site do to stem the tide of lost customers, revenues or reduce profitability? My recommendation: study the failures of Staples.
When I started my business in 1988, Staples was in its infancy. There were many office products companies, but Staples carried large inventories, had good customer service and catered to the small business owner like me. When I walked into my local Staples, it made me feel good. It was like I was in office supply heaven. The selection, the colors, and the prices were spectacular. I would walk out of the store with a full shopping cart. As I loaded the trunk of my car and started my trip home I was eager to unpack. I knew my purchases would make me better organized, efficient and assist in bringing more revenue to my start-up.
Bed Bath & Beyond has always created the same feeling. I would walk into any location with an empty basket, and by the time I circled the store, my cart would be filled with cool stuff at good prices. I’m lucky to live in Manhattan where one of the largest Bed Bath & Beyond locations is just a short walk away. It’s a massive, magnificent structure built in 1896 designed in the Beaux-Arts Style replicating famous buildings in Europe. It originally housed the Siegel-Cooper Department Store. The building exudes warmth and history. What else could a customer ask for?
What can Bed Bath & Beyond learn from Staples? They can learn what not to do. Bed Bath & Beyond, like Staples, has products that lend themselves to be sold online. Household furnishings, small appliances, bedding and electronics, like pens, pencils, and paper don’t need to be tried on to see if they fit. When Staples changed their business model to keep up with the times, that feeling I had when shopping in the store was lost. The human connection was destroyed. So what is the solution? Create an online atmosphere that is not anonymous and antiseptic. Provide customers with a choice to either self-serve or work closely with a personal advisor who has a name with his/her background information, photo and contact data. It is imperative that companies transferring their brick and mortar sales to ecommerce maintain a personal connection. Otherwise, their products become commoditized and an easy prey for the competition, most likely Amazon.
The only way that ecommerce can be a winner for any company is to design the site as a remote store, with all of the advantages and benefits of the personal connection between a customer and an associate. Going online can create the same feeling that I use to experience going into a Staples or Bed Bath & Beyond physical store.
Bottom line: customers will return to your ecommerce site if it designed with relationship at its core. Repeat business is generated by building relationships. The concept is similar to putting the customer at the top of the company’s organization chart. Put building relationships, making human and personal connections at the top of your company’s ecommerce platform. Learn from Staples mistakes.