business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are really two things that should worry traditional retail when it comes to competition with electronic commerce: the things you can see and all those you can’t.

Let me explain.

Obviously there is a lot of attention focused here at MNB and elsewhere on the looming power of Amazon and other e-commerce specialists. E-commerce offers an entirely new shopping experience, including unimagined simplicity, endless variety and an absurd level of convenience. Shopping in your pajamas may not interest everyone, but it will interest many.

That's just the obvious. There's also the invisible threat that comes when shoppers increasingly move specific trips or just certain items to automatic replenishment services.

This isn’t new. Through the years of competition we’ve seen major categories almost entirely disappear from one channel or another. It’s impacted products like laundry soaps, pet foods or even Halloween candies thanks to competition from clubs, mass merchants and category killers.

E-commerce can do that too and maybe more subtly and painfully.

As it happens, our next-door neighbor’s daughter is getting married in a few weeks and, as is customary, the bride has a registry. However, hers is unlike any I’ve seen before.

It’s on Amazon.

Now think of what that means. First the convenience is amazing. I can easily scan the list to see the price and remaining availability of each item. (As with all bridal registries, Amazon’s tells me how many of a product the couple needs and whether any or all of them have been purchased.)

Better yet, my wife could dispatch me to do this knowing full well that for once I cannot mess it up. If the bride wants a specific skillet or set of towels or whatever, I just point and click. The purchase is made and it will always be correct.

And as the bride-to-be told me, it gives her an added benefit. She can easily get a record of who supplied each gift, which means no more anxiety after the wedding or shower when no one can remember who exactly bought a specific item.

Consider the issue this poses to, for example, Macy’s, which has a pretty robust bridal registry site of its own. At Macy’s, a couple can put a really wide range of items on a registry with great ease.

This is Macy’s sweet spot and suddenly it’s gone.

My neighbor’s daughter, like many of her generation, grew up shopping on Amazon, not at Macy’s, so their inclination is to register with the retailer they know. Plus at Amazon, there is no limit to the items. Want towels and cookware, it’s done; want a backyard fire pit, add it; heck, if you even want "The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies," or "Business Rules! 52 Ways To Achieve Business Success," you could (and should) add them.

Worst of all, Macy’s and other department stores have no easy clue this is happening unless wedding guests like me are writing blogs. Invisibly, the business can just start eroding and maybe disappearing. Forever.

Generationally, we may already have passed the point of no return.

The threats are constant and inevitable. Vigilance must be exactly the same.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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