Predictive Retailing

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TEXTING IS STILL NEW TO ME. My wife has been doing it for a year with the kids, who have been addicted to it for four years. Their cell phones (OK, their Blackberries) now predict what they are trying to spell in order to save them time. Your Google window and Microsoft Outlook program predict what you are typing, too, thus saving time. Even TiVo and DVRs become smarter with time by predicting your television watching habits and recording them for you. While shopping on Amazon for Christmas, I was reminded that its Web site is also intuitive and shows me other related items I might like to buy.

Wow! I've taught this "add-on" technique in my sales classes for the last 20 years. Now an electronic website is doing it automatically. You have more competition than you thought.

Internet retail sales this year on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) exceeded $700 million — on a single day. This is a 15 percent increase over last year's Internet purchasing numbers. No parking lots. No lines. No cranky kids or salespeople. The Internet is trusted, and is faster and easier when people already know exactly what they want.

What's changed is that now all the shopping Web sites predict what their customers will want next based on their buying history or habits. Amazon has "If you like this, you might like this too?" only a click away, and eBay does the same thing by linking you to "Related Links" or "Seller's Other Items." They're continually trying to upsell the customer into making another (related) purchase. Never has such integration been available at one time in one place. So is the point of purchase in America changing from your showroom floor to a computer screen at home?

Brick-and-mortar stores still deal with real people, real inventory and real time. Internet businesses deal with Web sites, drop-shipped inventory and delayed time. The big plusses for Internet shopping are convenience, selection and delivery to your home's welcome mat. People now seem willing to give up the drive to a destination store in exchange for delivery two to four days later. How does this shopping trend affect powersports consumers?

Your sales and parts people are no longer the principle sources for technical information. All the information your sales and parts staff used to pass on to customers is easily available online. Google search engines provide any data anyone wants within seconds.

You are already aware that sometimes customers are more informed on products than your staff. This may be why allegiances to local stores are waning. The protocol of providing technical information in exchange for the purchase is history.

Camera stores, for example, have been hit heavily as customers flock to mail-order and Internet dealers. Are you allegiant to your local camera store, or your local sporting goods store? Do you ask their staff for technical info? Cameras, sports equipment, and motorcycle parts and accessories are also reviewed online, so consumers have access to all the info without going to your showroom and appealing to your salespeople.

Luckily you still can't ship a Yamaha Rhino or Harley Sportster through an Internet line, so now your job is to add on as many accessory products as possible to capture open-to-buy dollars early in your store now rather than lose it to an online competitor later. Be predictive, or lose the add-on sale forever.

Does your store do a good job predicting the next purchase your customer will be needing to make? This is a huge question you seriously need to ask about every profit center inside your store. Web sites may be doing better at this than you are because they are automated entities. Your competition is an electronic "add-on" machine, continually matching up the next likely product to buy with the words: "If you like this, then you will like that too."

So why can't you do the same thing inside your store? Print out the text on 70 lb. card stock, then cut and paste brochure pictures. Use a distributor catalog index for an idea list and start matching items in one section of your store with all the other sections. Bikes with custom accessories. Helmets with shields. Jackets with gloves. Boots with socks. Parts with parts. Even oil with filters. Don't be an a la carte menu anymore. Start predicting what your customers will want next, before they even know what hit them.

Longtime columnist Eric Anderson is vice president of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com or via editors@dealernews.com.