by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times this morning asks a good question … the answer to which offers a pretty good metaphor for how bricks-and-mortar retailers can thrive in an e-commerce environment.

“In an age when so many travel tasks can be done with an app,” the Times asks, “is the hotel concierge - that font of local wisdom with the connections to land a hot last-minute reservation - about to be superseded?”

The answer seems to be “no.” The reason is that while the internet can provide endless amounts of information and data, a really good concierge offers context and intelligence. They don’t just know where all the local vineyards are, for example, but also know which ones are most appropriate for a visit based on proximity, timing, interests, and all the other priorities that one might have during a visit. In the end, a concierge can personalize and customize what essentially is a business relationship, making it both more relevant and resonant. The really good ones don’t just respond to needs, but anticipate them.

And while a concierge can be a luxury, the story makes the point that a good concierge can save the customer money, while turning a hotel into a resource that attracts return visitors, and return visitors mean increased revenues and profits.

I don’t think the metaphor is hard to find here. Different stores of different formats that appeal to different people will take different approaches, but in the end the best way to compete with online behemoths is to personalize and customize the relationship with the customer, making it both more relevant and resonant.

This doesn’t mean that online resources aren’t valuable; in fact, we know that Amazon is pretty good at customizing the online shopping experience. (“Pretty good” is the understatement of the year.)

But that’s what traditional retailers have to do - find ways to forge new and sustainable and transcendent relationships with the shopper that can withstand the assault of competition.

It is a metaphor, I think, that should be an Eye-Opener.