Black Friday

flashback friday: the world’s still shrinking

[This was originally posted on February 14, 2012 and seemed like a fitting flashback for Black Friday.]

More and more we are playing on a global scale. Even when buying from the shop on the corner, there’s nothing to prevent that corner from being in a different state, country, or hemisphere.

With a smart phone in hand consumers can quickly and easily compare prices while in the store. Love the product, but hesitant on the price? A quick picture of the barcode will turn up the best prices available. I’ve recently been seeing concern that people will use local stores to find the perfect item, size, etc. and then order from elsewhere. This has always happened, it’s just easier than ever now.

I recently upgraded the brakes on my mountain bike. I purchased an American brand of brakes (buy American!) made in Taiwan (buy American?) from a store in the UK (wait a minute…). This was the first time I’d purchased from a store outside the country, but I believe we’ll be seeing more and more of it. There were no currency issues  –  their website showed prices in US Dollars based on the current exchange rate and the credit card works everywhere. Unlike the big box store that made it seem like a major hassle to order an out of stock laptop they were running a special on, this store made it as easy as possible to purchase. Finally, on top of a great price, they shipped for free and it only took a week to get it once it shipped.

Yes, there are downsides. It would be a pain if I had to return anything, it took a little longer to get than if I’d ordered from somewhere in the States (in fairness, the holidays probably slowed things down a bit), and I’m not supporting a local business (but then, I still wouldn’t be if I’d ordered from an internet retailer in the US).

Would I purchase from them again? Probably. I enjoy variety and having access to quality brands that are uncommon in the US. I’m amused by the idea of shopping in a foreign store. More important, they are getting it right. Even five years ago it would have been a real pain to order internationally. Today it’s as easy as any internet purchase. Where other businesses would shy away from international business – dealing with currency, taxes, shipping, and customs on top of long-distance customer service – this business decided to become the largest internet bicycle retailer. They have the volume to offer better pricing and invested in the effort to sort the customer service side of things.

This isn’t about bicycle parts, foreign stores, or my desire to be a little quirky. This is where the world is heading. Competing on price is difficult because there is always someone cheaper somewhere. For most businesses, especially local ones, the differentiator is really understanding the customers’ needs, service, follow-up, convenience, a cool vibe or good feeling, great people, extensive knowledge, problem solving focus, etc.

Your business is now competing with every other business on the planet. You probably won’t win on price (though you do need to be in the ballpark), but what makes your business stand out is simply: 1) how easy and pleasant is it to shop and purchase from you; and 2) how good are your people at solving the customer’s problems? It all comes down to processes and people. What is your business investing in?