There are basic differences in the types of relationships with consumers that small retailers and large retailers build and maintain with the consumers.  Small retailers build a personal and collaborative relationship with their customers while large retailers focus on a transactional relationship that is based on the sale.  This change in relationship with the consumer seems to be based on the size of the retailer and this size relationship also develops a culture that is impersonal and based on the transaction or the sale. 

The growth of a business, and this is any business in any marketspace, seems to naturally generate a greater focus on the sales and profits while reducing the focus on the personal relationship.  I don’t believe that these businesses purposely reduce the focus on the personal relationship, I think that is simply is not a priority and step by step is just eliminated from the culture.  There are some areas that may not require a personal relationship such as receiving product, however all businesses large and small require a personal relationship with their customers.  Small businesses have this as a key focus area and large businesses lose this focus as they grow and believe that they must focus on the impersonal objectives in order to grow.

Someone told me a long time ago that all business is personal and over the years, over and over, this has been proven true.  Why is it then than businesses lose this with their end customers as they grow?  I think one reason for this is the distance that grows from the senior management of a company with the end customer as the business grows, the senior levels of management lose any personal interaction with their end customers and focus more and more on the impersonal objectives.  On the other hand, the small business owner starts on the front line with the end customer day in and day out. They develop a relationship with their customers and this relationship retains their customers and the resulting sales.  Small businesses understand that this relationship is key to their success and they nurture this.  This means that they order specific products at their customers’ request and by the same token, the customers are willing to pay a little more for these services.

The $64,000 question is how can large retailers maintain the relationships with their end customers and be successful and profitable?  The simple answer is that they must maintain the focus on the personal relationship with the consumer and show, from the top, that this is important.  This needs to be a critical factor in hiring practices and it also must be front and center in the reporting and business strategy development.  This all needs to come from the top in order to change the culture and this means that the senior leadership must show in both words and actions that they have embraced this change.  One important thing to remember is that personal means people and not electronic surveys or electronic measurement of sales.  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumers’ experience?  Improving the consumers experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?