Retail is Changing (Not Dying)


Working in e-commerce is being a part of two worlds. The retail world & the online marketing world.

In the online marketing world every few months you see an article about how SEO is dying or already dead. After a few years of this you realize it's not dying it's just changing.

In the retail world we have the exact same thing. Every few months you see a big brand close some stores and everyone screams that retail is dead. And just like with online marketing – it isn't actually dead it's just changing.

Experiences Over Stuff

One of the biggest factors is how millennials spend their money. Millennials by and large prefer experiences over stuff. They're far more likely to spend their money on travel, good food, and unique experiences:

* Air travel has increased every year in the past decade (except 2009)

* US consumers spend $144 per month on food prepared outside the home. Millennials spend $202.

* US & Canadian Millenials spend 62 billion on media

As our demographics change our retail industry should change to reflect that. And it's a hard change for stores. They have to throw away everything that worked for the previous generations and start experimenting all over again.

And our current retail industry is all about stuff. Most brands can't offer an experience so millennials spend their money elsewhere. We buy stuff on Amazon. Sell us something different or unique in a store.

Retail Can Be Advantageous

You don't know the advantages of retail until you work in e-commerce. Retail let's you chat with your customers. You can learn about customers & more importantly solve any problem they have instantly. They don't have to spend 30 minutes searching for the right product (what's the name again???) they can ask someone in store and they'll direct them to the right place.

It's also a richer medium. Online stores have live chat at best. A face to face chat gives you 90% more information just from reading body language, tone, and facial expressions. We inherently trust those conversations more than a text chat.

If you want an example of who is doing it right look no further than Apple. Apple makes a killing in their retail stores (more than $5,000+ per square foot). And they do this by employing people who actually use & love the products they sell. Any question you have they likely had the same question and they can help you find that solution because they're genuine fans of the product.

You can also go in for minor troubleshooting at any point and they'll usually help you for free. Anecdotally – I went in with a charging issue and they cleaned the lint out of my charging port and sent me on my way in about 5 minutes. That builds a lot of trust for them.

And lastly, many Apple products are an experience. I went into an Apple store just to look at the Apple Watches when they came out. It was fun to look at them even if I don't want to spend the money on them right now.

Why Retail Is Struggling

Toys R Us announced they're closing their stores and while it's sad this really isn't surprising to me.

They're a store that sells stuff. And you get get that stuff on Amazon or eBay for the same price if not cheaper.

You don't get any special care when you go into the store. The employees are minimum wage workers just trying to get a paycheck so they rarely know anything about the products. And if something breaks you probably just order a new product online you don't take it back to the store.

They didn't offer any compelling reason to go to the store instead of buying the toy online. So people did just that. They stopped going to the store and they started ordering online.

Have Experiences

My friend Joe Casabona said something interesting about Toys R Us:

If they evolved from a place to buy toys to a place to play with toys. They already had a video games section. Why not make a mini arcade where kids could pick a game and console, play it, and then buy it?

And this is something that could have moved the needle. Be a place where parents could bring their kids to play. And everything the kids play with can also be purchased to take home. This could be done with video games or even regular toys.

I'd charge $4 per kid. And that entry fee can be used as a deposit towards a toy at the end of the day. So you'd make money whether the kids just played or if they used that downpayment to buy a toy.

This is something Amazon or any other online retailer can't compete with. They might beat you on price. But you provide an experience parents & children love and a unique advantage in that kids can play with the toy before they buy it.

We've Invested Too Much In Stores

I want to bring up one last point. More retailers will close. Don't be afraid by it. It's what happens when you over invest. Which is precisely what the US did.

The U.S. has 7.3 square feet of retail space per capita, versus 1.7 square feet per capita in Japan and France.

We've spent so much money on stores and all of that retail space takes money to operate. Unless we spend 3-4X as much as Japan & France there's no way we can maintain that square footage. We'll either have to up our spending or more likely let stores fail and recalibrate after that.

In the meantime if you're in retail make sure you offer value. If you just sell stuff and it's not the cheapest price you're probably not going to last long.

Building My Own Product

Jenga Board Game

I've been thinking a lot about how we learn. And more and more I find value in experiential knowledge (things you learn by doing) over academic knowledge (things you learn by reading). For example…

  • I learned how to skydive from someone who has skydived thousands of times.
  • I've talked with parents about their experience raising their kids – rather than reading a book about raising kids.
  • While preparing for a marathon I read a ton of blog posts about running and the advice I really appreciated was from people who actually ran marathons.
  • I want to learn computer science from someone who has participated in computer science projects. Not someone who just repeats what their professor told them.
  • I practice acro yoga and when I want to learn a new pose I do so with people who have done those poses before – not with people who just read about them.
  • When I moved to Denver I decided to move and live in the city for a year and see how it went. Worst case scenario I would move back to Wisconsin. I looked up all of the stats before moving (crime rate, weather, cost of living, etc.) but ultimately I just couldn't understand that information until I actually experienced it.

You can consume a thousand articles, blog posts, books, videos, and conversations with people about a topic. But some topics are so big that you really can't understand it until you live it – like moving to Denver. I could pull up every metric about Denver (and I did make a spreadsheet), but I could never imagine what it's like living downtown in a big city versus living in Green Bay, Wisconsin (a much smaller city with very different values).


Denver is surrounded by gorgeous mountains

This isn't to say academic knowledge is useless. It's incredibly useful. Using academic knowledge I realized the Denver has way more sunny days than Portland & Seattle which is why Denver made it to the top of the list. Now, I can't fully imagine what it's like living in Denver surrounded by mountains but I was at least able to narrow down the list of cities based on some really useful data. And from there I had to experience Denver to know if it was the right choice for me.

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When & How to Offer Black Friday Deals

Black Friday Customers in Line

I saw a lot of craziness this past Black Friday. Roomba's at 50% off, Xbox's 50% off, and Timbuk2 bags 50% off. 50% is a lot of margin And it makes me question how well store owners actually do.

Black Friday is the day where you're make so many sales your store goes from in the red (owing money) to in the black (making money). To do that you need to make a lot of profit. The keyword there is profit not revenue. If you aren't making enough profit on each sale you could still be losing money.

Getting people in the door is easier said than done. To draw the crowds you have to offer discounts and those discounts start eating away at your profit. So it's a balancing act to offer the right discount to draw people in and still make enough profit.

The good news is that you don't have to run a Black Friday promotion like everyone else. You can give tiny discounts, freebies, or you don't have to run a promotion at all if you don't want.

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Schedule a USPS Pickup At Your House or Business

Learn how to schedule a USPS pickup at your house or business.

When I'm talking about WooCommerce, Shopify, or some other eCommerce platform one of the most challenging aspects is fulfillment. Store owners always want to know how you can efficiently and affordably ship products.

USPS is one of cheaper options, and with both WooCommerce & Shopify you can get live shipping rates during checkout. And you can print out the shipping labels on your home printer. This automates a lot of the boring work.

The last step is scheduling USPS to come by to your house (or business) to pickup the packages. And the best news is that it's easy, free, & you don't even have to get out of your PJs.

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WooCommerce Security

Airport Security

I talk about the features about eCommerce platforms all the time. But I don't often talk about related but important concepts. Every store owner has thought about security and how to keep their store safe both for their customers and so they don't get sued. When it comes to security there are two things you need to worry about.

  1. The security of your site
  2. The security of payment information

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What I Learned Organizing Three Events This Year

Female Speaker in Front of Crowd

Now that the wrap up post for WooConf is out the door I can finally relax. WooConf was the latest event I worked on this year and by far the most intense. Working on three different events – all at different levels of complexity – taught me a few things about running events.

I'm going to share some lessons but first let me give a little context:

1. Lift Off Summit – I designed this summit to help people develop a marketing strategy for their online store. It's a virtual summit so you can tune in and watch ~20 hours of content for free and you can pay to watch the sessions whenever you want.

Event cost: free to stream / $97 for recordings

2. WordCamp Denver – I've always loved helping my local WordPress scene. I've helped organize several meetups and WordCamps in the past. This is my third year organizing this particular conference and it was one of the best we've done.

Event cost: $40

3. WooConf – I've been heavily involved with WooCommerce for years as a customer, developer, product manager, and now educator. So when they asked me to help them plan the content I couldn't say no.

Event cost: $500 early bird / $700 regular

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Value of Making Mistakes

Dark Profile Shot

In 2011 Netflix made an announcement that they’d be splitting into two companies:

  1. Netflix would focus on streaming &
  2. Qwikster (the new company) would focus on DVD rentals.

Netflix claimed they wanted to make it easier for customers and doing this gives both companies the best chance for success. The feedback was instantaneous & almost uniformly bad.

There were numerous reasons this separation didn’t work (it didn’t add any value for customers, costed more, required more work, was rushed, terrible name, etc. They made a mistake and that mistake cost them nearly 800,000 customers.

The most important part of the story is that two months later they reversed their position. They could have continued down the path of “I know best” but they didn't. They stopped all plans for Qwikster and haven't looked back. They started earning back the trust of their customers and they went on to dominate online streaming.

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