Merchants Need to Keep Calm and Carry On

keep-calm-carry-on-300It’s always something.

Just when direct-to-customer merchants think they have a handle on their profit margins, something comes along to throw it into frenzy.

The government shutdown ended hours before the federal government’s borrowing authority was set to expire, but it’s just another can Congress kicked down the road. The agreement only funds the federal government through Jan. 15. That doesn’t do much to help with consumer confidence at the start of the holiday shopping season.

The cash-strapped United States Postal Service announced an exigent price increase in September: One that could see catalog mailers spend up to 6.1% more to get their books in the mail. But if Congress works to enact postal reform, that exigent price increase may not be needed.

And the House Judiciary Committee released its principles for the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. Will Congress look to rewrite what the Senate approved in May, or rip it up and start over again.

These three instances have one thing in common, besides causing headaches for merchants as they get ready for the holiday season. They are out of your control. You cannot flip a switch to stop the turmoil in the Capitol. You cannot push a button and make catalog mailing prices stay the same. And who knows when Congress will resume talking about the Marketplace Fairness Act?

You, as a merchant, need to push these distractions aside and take care of what’s in your control, and what your customers and prospects care about. Sure, your customer is paying attention to economic indicators as the holiday season begins, but they don’t care if you have to charge you sales tax, or have to pay more to mail them a catalog.

Merchants, you need to keep calm and carry on.

While attending the eTail East, NEMOA DirectXchange, and Fashion Digital NY shows over the past few months, I heard several attendees gripe about the above doom-and-gloom topics, and how the shutdown, catalog pricing and sales tax laws are going to kill direct-to-customer commerce.

But I also heard several merchants talk about what they are doing to create excellent customer experiences, which, in turn, have led to increased customer loyalty.

Put your customer first. Ask yourself if you’re doing any of the things these merchants are doing to control their businesses:

Are you using mobile to create an omnichannel experience? CVS/Caremark has determined its customers are not using the smartphone for transactional purposes. But its customers are using smartphones in its stores, and designed its mobile app to enhance the in-store experience.

Are you creating a community? understands it’s not just about traffic sales and conversions, but also engagement and lifetime value. Sure, they have shoppers who want to get in and out quickly, but they also have customers who want to engage with other pet owners.

Are you reaching out to your customers when you need to? employees are empowered to pick up the phone and call the customer if they think her order has an error.  And they also call about 150 customers a week, just to thank her for her order.

These are things you can control, and things that your customer cares about. If you can commit to doing these, your business will thrive beyond holiday 2013.

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