Next Practices vs. Best Practices – Winning in Retail

We talk a lot about “best practices”. Everyone in digital does. Digital retail is no different. Am I the only one who feels that best practices doesn’t really apply to digital-anything very well?

When I sit and really think about this idea of best practice, it just doesn’t compute. How can we have best practices in an industry that, for the most part, changes every few months? And if the rate of change is as fast as we all continually talk about, then aren’t we really talking about next practices instead of best practices?

Nevermind What Works for Others, What Works for You?

I’ve recently been framing a lot of my own thinking this way. To stop thinking about what works for others and start thinking about what works for us and our clients. It’s far too easy to just copy the perceived best. How often do you hear someone reference Amazon when telling you how something should work? For me, it’s painfully too frequent.

But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I can already see some of our more forward thinking clients talking about doing what Amazon can’t.

They are thinking about next practices, not best practices.
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They aren’t running out and buying technology based on what everyone else is doing, they are buying based on what they want to do. How do you determine strategy? Do you look at the path walked by others, or do you consider walking a new one? You really can’t blame anybody for thinking this way. It’s quite human of us. We seek out conformity, not differentiation. True entrepreneurs are constantly looking to create value, usually by doing something different than the rest in their space. This isn’t different in retail, digital or bricks & mortar.

If I was a retailer today – 2014/15 at time of writing – I’d be desperately trying to separate myself from the pack. All of the best success stories in retail today are companies that are breaking the mould, not trying to fit their business into it. Great merchants are focused on creating far more value than they ask for in return (money). They make amazing products and create even better customer experiences both pre and post purchase.

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I recently had a meeting with a brand manufacturer (apparel) who, in the middle of our meeting, decided he wanted to raise prices on many of his products. His reasoning? Their products are better than what they are charging for them. Way better. Not once did he utter the word profit. He spoke about quality, brand, and value. He wanted to charge fairly for it and he felt he wasn’t.

For those reading this post that work with merchants, when was the last time you heard them talk about raising prices to compete? It’s rare…very rare. Most just default to competing on price.

Forget Content – Educate!

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You want the hard reality of business in 2015? You’re a media company. You just don’t know it yet. This doesn’t mean you should run out and create content. There’s too much content. Yes, the best practice is to have a “content marketing” strategy, but unless you are going to create something of great quality…stop.

I subscribe to the school of thought that education is the key to business success. Educating yourself, your team, and your community will create more, higher quality connections. Everyone loves talking to the expert. (hint: they also like buying from the expert!)

Related: The Top eCommerce Conferences to Attend

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For those that don’t know, I live in Canada. One of our landmark retailers is a company called Canadian Tire. Growing up I used to love going into their stores with my dad. What kid doesn’t like tools and “manly stuff”? We used to be able to go into any Canadian Tire and ask the staff about a particular project or problem and they would be incredibly helpful. They knew where things were, which tool or item you needed and provided tips on doing the job.

What the hell happened!? I went into Canadian Tire last week and asked 5 seperate people where I could find Deep Cycle Marine Batteries (pretty common) and they all just stared at me blankly. These stores used to be full of great customer experiences. They were rooted in education, teaching the customer and therefor helping the customer make the proper purchase.

Somewhere along the lines business forgot about delivering value to customers first (for free) and then asking for something in return, the purchase.

Consumers have changed; Quality products and lifestyle are important.

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Customers are showing the world that crappy things aren’t important anymore. It used to be that cheap and cheerful was path to profits. The future of all retail is rooted in great products that contribute to a persons lifestyle choices.

If you look at any of the successful retail brands in 2014 they all share this characteristic in common. They have created the perception of quality in their products, whether they are quality or not, and have mapped the product directly to a lifestyle or persona.

Still not convinced? Just look at Patagonia, Frank & Oak, Everlane, Bonobos, Beats and on and on…so many great businesses built on this core concept.

Related: 2015 eCommerce Trends

Ask Yourself

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When you were last wowed by a product? What was the last thing you truly coveted? Most people can name at least one thing and it’s usually because that one thing fits the above criteria.

Having the best technology at your fingertips is not the key to success. Talk to any technology provider or agency and they will all preach best practices.

My question to you, is what are your next practices?
Related: Evolution and Adaptation in eCommerce