Retailers suddenly need more Amazon and less individualism

By Rob Grimshaw, Vice President for Office Advertising, CareerBuilder My first job out of college was as a local sales representative with an accounting firm called PriceWaterhouse Coopers. It was my first job in…

By Rob Grimshaw, Vice President for Office Advertising, CareerBuilder

My first job out of college was as a local sales representative with an accounting firm called PriceWaterhouse Coopers. It was my first job in a big corporation, and I was 20 years old. It was a culture shock. The entire company had trained myself and others to go to expensive stores and malls that were not only out of our budget, but out of our way, to buy for what we needed. I started to really resent that. I wanted to spend my money on the home I wanted for myself, not the house I worked for. The reason why I went to those stores and malls was, I needed what I wanted, and had confidence that if I did the research and was confident enough to buy, I could go to those stores and find it.

Although I knew I couldn’t have it, the more I kept comparing prices, the more it began to become an addiction. I spent more money than my parents earned when I was 18, eating out more often than I should have and not using credit cards when I should have. But even with these shortcomings, I was not ready to give it up.

Being a young professional in DC is hard, especially in a fast-paced environment where good jobs are being snatched up by people my age faster than anyone could grasp it. I was lucky enough to grow up in a region where working retail sales at Wal-Mart was not in the cards. But now, that’s all that I know. In the last five years, I’ve worked at more than 100 malls across the country. I’ve heard a lot of marketing and sales people complaining about being squeezed by big box retailers. Their voice is now getting much louder, but in very vocal ways. This summer I was in Atlanta where retailers such as Foot Locker and Foot Locker Europe would be holding trade shows on the mall floor. I was looking for retailers whose customers had already defined themselves by their T-shirts and uniforms, but were willing to spend money to add customization.

Amazon, of course, changes everything. The site was launched in 1995 as a secure bookseller, and didn’t hit its stride until years later when it introduced music, movies and books. Amazon’s transformation into a private label, retailer’s choice online platform, is unquestionable. People are seeking out their decisions online, and traditional retailers have to do something to compete.

For years, retailers have been trying to work with other retailers. Lots of retailers have worked with each other’s marketplaces. Now, it seems the pendulum has swung in the other direction. (Hint: Business does not work that way.) Rather than having a simple, fair marketplace, big box retailers like Target and Nordstrom are screaming for some “grace,” in the form of online and physical stores that focus on partnerships with Amazon, so they can offer price transparency.

I think retail is in the best position it’s been in in generations. When retail picks up, it’s because of three things: the consumers desire for transparency of price and quality, the retailers’ ability to live up to their brand values and then, the fact that the retailers are growing. Small businesses have been doing really well because of the cloud, virtualization and cloud infrastructure being used at these small businesses. Mainline and online stores are having the success they’ve always had in e-commerce. The growth of brick-and-mortar retail is a result of these businesses innovating and being able to offer services online that might require a brick-and-mortar store.

The real question for retailers is: Who can really innovate online the way we have had our friends and family at the Christmas dinner table telling us what to buy us? It’s no surprise that emerging brands are thriving and in-demand because they are able to adapt to the open-sourced Internet with a personalized experience.

As the reasons for our online shopping boom still hold strong, Walmart is the Walmart of the 21st century. But to me, it’s definitely bested by Amazon. We now have all the tools we need to shop anywhere, anytime. We must focus on what’s important to us — our smartphones and our relationships — and deliver it to us in the time we need it.

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