Quit Bitching

For the last fifteen years, I’ve heard nothing but complaints from retailers, large and small, about how the internet is taking away their business. And, as an author, I’ve suffered as well from the internet’s “success” in destroying literally thousands of bookstores and retail outlets carrying books.

But part of the problem isn’t the internet; it’s the retailers. What was the response of Borders and Barnes and Noble to Amazon? Both of them cut their inventories and back stock, and tried to diversify. Borders always did have a poor ordering and inventory system, and carrying less stock made matters worse quickly. Then, when margins got tight, B&N started listening to the cost-cutting accountants. That’s almost always the kiss of death, and in B&N’s case, it almost was, because as they cut inventory and stock they sold fewer books, and the other merchandise didn’t make up the difference. B&N just got bought by a private fund that recently acquired the British bookstore chain of Waterstones, which, interestingly enough, has been making a comeback by, surprise of surprises, opening more and smaller bookstores closer to people. And I know a few bookstores who are still around because they address customer needs.

A retailer is in business to sell things. But if they aren’t where the customers are, or they don’t stock what the customer wants or needs, they can’t sell it. If you reduce the number of items you sell, you’re going to sell fewer goods, and your revenues will go down.

The other day I went to both of the only two big box stores in town. Both carry patio furniture, but this year neither carries the furniture covers I used to buy there. Neither does the single hardware store nor the furniture store. I still needed the furniture covers. So I had to buy them online.

It’s not just furniture covers. It’s everything from buffered aspirin [not a single grocery store or drug store in town carries it any more] to boots and shoes, from books to office supplies and printers. Even though Cedar City is now four times the size it was 20 years ago, we actually have to buy more and more goods that we used to purchase in town from the internet. There are small stores here in town – and elsewhere – that are surviving and sometimes even thriving, and it appears that they’re successful because they make the extra effort.

So… retailers…maybe you ought to focus more on what people need and where and when they need it instead of just cost margins.

1 thought on “Quit Bitching”

  1. John Prigent says:

    There’s a very old saying about this kind of thing. Shopkeeper says ‘You’re the tenth person I’ve told today: we don’t stock that because no-one wants to buy it.’

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