As customers’ buying behavior rapidly changes, businesses are constantly encountering new competitors.  It used to be that brick and mortar stores predominately competed with other brick and mortar retailers, but online retailers are increasingly competing for customers’ attention and dollars (and vice versa) as the lines between the two categories blur.  So what can companies in either category do to differentiate themselves?  Provide better service.

Take Walmart’s recent efforts to recapture market share: they did so by focusing on providing better customer service.  Despite being a major retailer that straddled the line between brick and mortar and online shopping (and entered the third category of in-store pick up for online orders), Walmart’s sales figures and profitability had been sliding.  But by increasing the number of employees available to help customers and focusing on making each customer’s experience easier and more pleasant, Walmart brought customers back to its stores and increased its quarterly earnings handsomely.

This access to service is not a solution solely available to brick and mortar stores; it also applies to online retailers.  A crucial example of the difference adequate service staffing can make for an online company is illustrated by Venmo.  Despite being owned by a large parent company, Venmo did not adequately staff or train it’s customer service department as it rapidly grew.  This resulted in customer dissatisfaction due to lack of communication and mixed messages regarding company policies.  However, Venmo hired a new head of customer service in 2015 who immediately expanded the customer service department, hammered out policies, and implemented live service chats.  In order to carve out a space for itself in banking/financial services, Venmo had to put customer service at the forefront of its offering rather than leaving it as an afterthought.

In the world of parenting, customers have increasingly moved their business to online retailers.  Seeing this shift, Magic Beans, a family-operated baby store, decided to join their ranks.  Magic Beans had existed happily as a brick and mortar store and built its reputation and loyal customer following on cheerful service and extensive product knowledge.  When they expanded into the online market space, Magic Beans did not change their approach to business: they bring thorough product information, reviews, blogs, and expert staff recommendations and buying guides to their online customers.  They also facilitate direct contact with customer service or the owners themselves via phone or email.  By personalizing, simplifying, and facilitating the customer’s experience either in store or online, it’s easy to see why this company has continued to be successful in a changing marketplace.

What has your company done to stay competitive in the changing landscape of online and brick and mortar retailers?