- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

If you operate a brick-and-mortar establishment and have been keeping up with the digital trend, you're worried. You know that traffic on the Web is up. You know that use of the Web by people shopping for what you sell is also climbing, with predictions of stratospheric hourly sales totals that equal your annual sales.
You know you cannot compete in price with the dot-com stores that provide exactly the same products gathering dust on your shelves. You know that your doors don't swing anywhere near as many times as the clicks sound, and you especially know your cash register total comes nowhere near the cyber-merchant's total. So what to do?
Hang in there. There are two trends that seem to offer help clustering and personalization. Let's examine both.
Clustering is what customers don't get when they go to the mall. Today's modern mall is purposely designed to send shoppers scurrying from one end to the other, making sure they detour into each wing, when all they wanted to do was look for the perfect shirt or pair of shoes.
After trudging from mall store to mall store looking for the one thing I need right now, I, for one, tend to complain: "Why don't they put all the shoe stores together in one place?" Or better yet, "Why don't they put the furniture stores in one wing, the clothing stores in another, and tools where I can get to them easily?"
Of course, there is reasoning behind these seemingly helter-skelter store arrangements. The mall owners want the ability to tell space renters that their mall has been designed to force shoppers to go past every space, so any location is a good location. The problem is, those space allocation decisions are now coming back to bite the hand that designed them. Today's shoppers don't want to spend hours trudging halls, they want to go to one place and be able to quickly compare similar products, then buy.
So my question to merchants is: Which would you rather have, shoppers of other goods and services passing your window or shoppers looking for exactly what you provide even though it might mean less profit per sale because of intense cluster competition? If your mall hasn't made the change or isn't even considering changing, ask its managers what their own industry gurus are telling them.
Personalization is when the owner of a shoe store calls a customer and says, "Hey, remember when you were asking about a particular brand of shoe? Well, we just got a new shipment, and you might want to come down and take a look." Or when the clerk says, "Hi Mrs. Jones. Great day, isn't it?"
Of course, this means clerks have to learn to talk real talk with your customers, but customers would rather shop at a store that recognizes them as human beings rather than numbers on a card. Such care creates loyalty and return business. Industry gurus are aware of these trends.
Neither of these trends, clustering or personalization, will make a difference if merchants don't make changes in how and where customers do business. But I'm sure that knowing what's going on in cyberspace can directly help to combat the Web. Take what you've learned or are learning from cyberspace and apply it to your present situation, then act.

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