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OPINIONTechnology/Services

If You Can't Beat Them, Profit From Them

E-commerce is an opportunity, not a threat

CHICAGO — There’s a lot of fearmongering out there when it comes to the relationship between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar.

One recent CNBC article claimed that “retailers should increasingly be scared of Amazon dominating e-commerce.” The article went on to say that 74% of consumers go to Amazon when they are ready to buy a specific product. The finding was based on a study of 2,000 customers in the U.S. who have bought something on Amazon in the past two years.

In other words, CNBC is saying that retailers should already fear Amazon. Then, once that fear is established, they should become more afraid of Amazon because people who already make e-commerce purchases prefer Amazon.

Give me a break. The fact that e-commerce customers prefer Amazon has extremely little to do with brick-and-mortar retail.

However, plenty of retailers are legitimately wary of Amazon. Reading prophecies of doom like this reminds me of a conversation I had with a CEO of a midsize convenience-store chain last year. We were discussing Amazon, naturally. He made it clear he did not trust the Seattle-based behemoth.

He told me he had once considered testing Amazon Lockers in his stores but ultimately decided against adding them. Amazon Lockers allow the website’s customers to pick up their packages from a secure storage space in a physical store—such as a convenience store or drugstore—instead of their doorstep. The retailer said he didn’t want Amazon using his stores to gather more data on his customers.

The problem is that Amazon already knows everything it needs about its customers from their online behavior. The only extra information Amazon collects from its lockers is where and how its customers collect their packages. Meanwhile, Amazon Lockers increase foot traffic in c-stores. It’s still unclear if they increase in-store sales, but attracting more people certainly can’t hurt if implemented correctly.

Amazon has even expanded the ways brick-and-mortar retailers can get in on the online action. The company is seeking c-store partners for its new Amazon Counter service. Counter is a staffed pickup station where customers can pick up packages they ordered online with the help of an actual human being behind the counter.

Implementing one of these services might seem like consorting with the enemy, but retail is changing too quickly to limit the c-store experience to strictly brick-and-mortar commerce. There are also plenty of c-store-specific tools available to ease open the door to e-commerce in convenience retail. Vroom Delivery works with c-stores to help them launch and manage their own in-house delivery system. Pinnacle’s Affiniti app is a white-label tool that can enable mobile ordering for c-stores.

To be clear, I’m not making the case that c-stores should immediately expand into some form of e-commerce. Every store faces different challenges that require different solutions. What works for a 7-Eleven in downtown Chicago probably won’t work for a Casey’s in Des Moines, Iowa.

But we should not let the fear of e-commerce disruptors dictate our actions, either. The reality of retail is changing faster than ever. Amazon already has a certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing Amazon Prime Air to operate drones for package deliveries. The online retailer claims it will deploy flying drones to complete 30-minute deliveries “within months,” according to a blog post.

Those drones can travel only 15 miles on one charge, according to the blog post. Their delivery radius will be limited. They will have to stop to restock and recharge somewhere regularly. C-stores could be the drone delivery distribution centers of the future. After all, this industry is made up of the closest retail operations to homes and businesses around the country. Why not take advantage of our valuable real estate with a 21st-century twist?

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