I know, I know. You already know the answer. But my reaction to Amazon’s Prime Pantry introduction — which allows its Prime members to have up to 45 pounds of home goods shipped directly to their doorstep within four days for a $6 fee — has more to do with the industry at large. As someone who resides in a rural location, being able to shop online is a huge boon. Pets.com and eBay were but infants in the online universe, and it was already obvious that the holy grail of online shipping would be the day that your groceries arrived to your doorstep, precisely as ordered, without anything being spoiled.
We aren’t there yet on a grand scale, but we’re getting tantalizingly close.
Just as the advent of the Internet has crushed USPS profits as customers opt for e-cards and Facebook wall posts over tried-and-true paper stock, we’re seeing the shipping industry as a whole get its second wind. In the face of what seemed like a dire situation, shippers should take heart; they’re swapping out legal documents and handwritten letters for boxes of foodstuffs.
As with pretty much anything, there will be winners and losers to what Prime Pantry represents, but those assumed to be on the wrong side of that equation don’t have to be.
For as excellent as Pantry seems, it’s still not useful for most… yet. You can’t get freshly sliced meat from your local butcher, and that gluten-free whatchamacallit that your corner shop carries probably isn’t available online.
But this is day one, and eventually, anything the heart desires will be stocked for packing into some huge corrugated box.
It’s worth noting that others could, and should, follow suit. There’s precisely nothing holding every other big box retailer and grocer from building their own home delivery model. Heck, there’s nothing stopping your corner store from accepting online orders for same-day delivery.
If anything, the Internet is forcing retailers to stop being passive and start being active.
For decades, these shops have sat idly and waited for prospective customers to come to them. Now, they’re still looking to come — they’re just hoping to enter through a door that begins with ‘www.’
I don’t view this as the end of retail. For starters, same-day necessities are strong enough to support a basic brick-and-mortar presence. Plus, the vast distribution networks required to ship specific products to specific doors will only come from those who either already have a tremendous physical presence, or that exist to serve very specific local markets.
What it does mark, however, is the beginning of the end for passive retailing.
Physical footprints may shrink, but the staff required to handle the online shift will be no less enormous. Retail has always had location at the forefront of its mind — that’s why today’s most notable brands pay top dollar to have storefronts in well trafficked areas. Now, location simply means more.
What kind of placement do you have on mobile? Is 100 percent of your stock available for purchase through a tablet’s web browser? Do you care about the downward spiral of foot traffic, or are you focused on reaching people wherever they’re at?
The Internet has been transforming the way we procure things for years, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s about to step up the intensity.
Full disclosure: The author is employed by Weber Shandwick, of which Amazon is a client. His thoughts are entirely his own.