Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Scott Thorne takes a look at the best practices brick and mortar stores should adopt to compete with Amazon.

As a brick and mortar store owner, I am always searching for more ways to compete against Amazon and ran across what George Cook, emeritus professor of Marketing at the University of Rochester, has to say on the subject.  Most importantly, he points out that, despite the growth of online sales, which are projected to reach  just under 14% of all retail by 2021, online retailers still view brick and mortar as a viable option as indicated by major online stores such as Amazon, Bonobos, Zappos, and Warby Parker opening brick and mortar shops to complement their websites, indicating that they see a significant demand among their customers for the ability to touch and feel the merchandise as well as instant gratification.  With the exception of digital media, online stores are not yet able to deliver the permanent ownership that the physical product confers.  With the exceptions of Amazon and eBay, online retailers in the gaming and comic industry are generally required by their distributors to have a brick and mortar storefront as well, meaning almost all retailers in our industry have to deal with similar concerns.

Anyhow, moving on with Professor Cook’s comments on brick and mortar stores competing with online retailers, he offers six recommendations for practices that B&M retailers should adopt in order to enhance the instore experience.  Not surprisingly, these best practices mirror many of the practices adopted by booksellers to compete against Amazon as shown in Ryan Rafaelli’s research.

  1.  Knowledgeable, professional and courteous employees who will do everything they can to ensure customer satisfaction.  This, in my opinion, is the most important thing a store can offer its customers and why I don’t necessarily want to hire people who know a lot about comics, boardgames, Warhammer 40K, Magic, etc.  I find it much more important to hire people with a good attitude who like working with people.  I can teach you about comics, boardgames, Warhammer 40K, Magic, etc.  It is much harder to teach someone to be professional and courteous.
  2.  Conduct continuous customer research to find out what items your customer wants.  Ideally, you should know about the hot items before they do and know what people in your market want.
  3.  A pleasant store environment and ambiance or what I view as appealing atmospherics.  If you play music or videos in the store, they should reflect what appeals to your customers, not to you.
  4.  Warranties and guarantees that reduce the perceived risk to the customer.  I know of stores that have fairly generous return policies and stores that do not accept returns at all.  Given the generous return policies of many online retailers, having one in place helps compete against them (and yes, I have heard horror stories of customer who bought a game, play it and want to return it when their cheaper online purchase arrives).
  5.  Creative in-store displays.  B&M stores have 3 dimensions with which to work when displaying merchandise, online retailers only have 2.
  6.  Up to date online marketing utilizing social media, websites, email and ecommerce, giving your customers the best of both the online and offline marketing world.

Will adopting these practices protect a store against competition from online retailers?  Of course not, but they do take advantage of the characteristics of the brick and mortar operation and help to level the playing field just a bit.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of