Learning About E-business at Your Neighborhood Store

I live around the corner from one of the greatest cheese stores in the world, Murray’s. Every time I go there, whether it’s to buy a hunk of feta or a slice of Stilton, I learn a little bit more about how to build businesses on the Internet.

It might seem strange that a little neighborhood store, without so much as a web site, could teach me so much about the future of e-business.

But building any business is about building relationships with your customers, and Murray’s is extremely successful in doing that. In many ways, little neighborhood stores compete in the same ways as businesses do online tirelessly striving to provide more value, and build better relationships with more and more people.

Anyone involved in building a business online can learn some pretty important lessons from what Murrays does right. Here are some of them:

  • Create an experience: The moment you walk into Murray’s, you are seduced by the intoxicating aroma of milk fat in various stages of decomposition. Admittedly, that sounds less pleasant than it is. Trust me: It’s an experience worth going back to.

    Web businesses need to provide an experience as well, by providing content, community, and service. Great stores offer experiences worth going back to. Web businesses have to meet this challenge.

  • Personalize carefully: Even though I almost always buy bread there, the people at Murray’s don’t assume that I want to buy the same thing every time. They recognize me, but (in classic New York fashion) treat me with a degree of distance and respect.

    In a rush to implement personalization, many web businesses take liberties with the information they gather about their customers. Just because I once bought a book in Spanish for my niece, for example, doesn’t mean that I want to be hit with promotions for novelas every time I come to the site (or be addressed in Spanish). Personalization needs to build slowly, like any good relationship (see my earlier article “Creeping Personalization 101“).

  • Upsell With Expert Service: I always spend more money than I plan to at Murray’s. But I don’t really mind, because the staff is always recommending a new, delicious cheese that I never heard of. When I ask for a recommendation, I am always steered to the premium, rare cheeses that get me most excited, even if they take the biggest bite out of my wallet.

    Most web businesses rely on cross-selling and upselling their customers. If the advice is right, a customer will appreciate you making them aware of available products of value. But random cross-selling is annoying, as would be if the folks at Murray’s pushed products irrespective of my interests (like anchovies, yuk!)

  • Provide multiple points of value: Murray’s offers great service. Unparalleled selection. And it’s convenient. I probably wouldn’t go so often if the store didn’t come through on every one of these points. And since the value Murray’s offers me is so high, I don’t mind that the products I buy there are so pricey.

    Web businesses face even more competition than the average neighborhood store, and they too need to provide value in multiple ways. Sure, good prices are a value proposition. But in order to retain customers and avoid eroding margins, web businesses need to constantly optimize their value on multiple fronts.

There are countless elements that go into building a successful e-business. If you are involved in the planning of one, think about what you like about your favorite bricks and mortar stores. Working to translate these values to an online offering is a big part of what e-business all about.

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