For many years I have had discussions, lively debates, emails and even faxes from dealers concerning their frustration with discounting. Ironically, many of the conversations were with retailers that discount but are angered that other businesses and web sites discount more. Some of the established retailers hold onto the position that they must maintain a full price structure because with their overhead they cannot afford to discount or for all the work they do, they want to get paid for it.

Considering there is no inventory to replenish, how does an invitation retailer measure profit when it can take the same amount of time to sell a $500 invitation as a $2000 dollar invitation? So if a retailer cannot afford to discount a $2000 invitation to win a sale, then they can’t afford to sell a $500 invitation at full price because certainly a $2000 invitation discounted 25% is still twice as profitable as $500 invitation at full price. I am not trying to sound smug, I am just trying to make you think.

With the web here to stay and even some of the premium brands enhancing their web presence, I feel retailers need to take a stand on assessing what is in the best interest of the profitability and sustenance of their business under the current financial climate. While, the convenience of the web is becoming a mainstay with the younger generation, when customizing an invitation, a web site can in no way replace the experience of dealing with a retailer. Most people understand that this is an important purchase and that is why stores are being used as a library before selling out to a better price online. If not people would just buy online and retailers would experience less frustration in not wasting time with online conscious customers, but at the same time they would see less and less customers and no chance to convert them to buy in the store. One of the problems is that many retailers are not putting up enough of a fight, they are just succumbing to being undercut.

Lets take some info from my book, “The Invitation Business Report”, available here, on educating the consumer of the potential pitfalls of buying online from a web site that is faceless and offers no off-line customer service.

When a retailer loses a client to the web, what often manifests is paranoia, skepticism of the customer who may be writing down item numbers and have an attitude towards customers that is negatively inspired by a determination to not be burnt again. This mindset works against the sales process when feeling compelled to prevent this repeat experience and there is often a defensiveness that is radiated, less of a willingness to give information to the customer, and this makes the customer self conscious and uncomfortable as they are watched with suspicion.

In my opinion, the opposite has to take place. Be positive, enthusiastic; get into your customer’s heads and their hearts. Incubate and manifest a sense of obligation that is potentially inherent in most people when they are really treated right. Have an intention to close the sale and stick a dagger into that mindset of shopping around by making them feel at home in your business so that is feels right to do business with you. Most people buy on feeling and then back it up reason. When a customer is shopping online, that emotional aspect is dormant, so all they have is reason. Why not have a flyer made “Even thinking about buying on the web?” and explain why they shouldn’t.

You may lose a sale sometimes but there will continue to be the sales opportunity. The creditability and tangibility of your retail business needs to be emphasized and used to your advantage.

    There are legitimate reasons the bride may choose to buy retail.

  1. Receiving guidance to word the invitation and place the order correctly.
  2. Not having to worry about receiving a delivered package when no one may be there to accept it.
  3. Having the retailer check the order when it arrives for accuracy and not have to deal with any mistakes. Most often the retailer will correct the mistake and call the customer only everything is perfect. This way the customer will not have to experience the anguish of seeing a mistake that she would have seen had she purchased mail order.

You must command a respect of your time. You may be thinking how can you compete with the web. You have to define for your business a way to communicate the benefits of doing business with you, unique selling propositions (which are what distinguishes you from your competitors) that create the mindset of how can the web possibly compete with you. You can generate emotion. The web cannot. You can create impulse in the customer to make a buying decision. The web cannot.

This strategy takes time to compile and it has to been done in a quiet and creative environment.

Set up appointments when possible. This creates more of a sense of obligation and implies a commitment. It will result in it being less likely to be that you will be used as a library where someone walks in, hoping to be unattended, so they can write down item numbers for purchase elsewhere.

While it may not be practical or constructive to give undivided attention, being attentive, building rapport and showing that you really care about them is tantamount to the sales process and a breeder of subconscious obligation to the time you spent with them.

Owners that have the opportunity to do so, should be involved with as many personalized customers as possible either in the direct selling process or just introducing themselves making it known that they are the owner. A customer that has any conscience is less likely to take advantage of the owner when they know this is their livelihood than an employee who makes their hourly wage regardless.

Develop the reputation for being an invitation designer, using different types of enhancements that cannot be duplicated on the web. Offer value added services like stuffing and mailing, response tracking, local hand delivery.

There are some reputable, professional, outstanding invitation web sites that provide a positive online experience to the consumer and back it up with customer service. I respect them, feel they are an important component of our changing industry. In some cases they create business for retailers because people searching online find images that they bring into local stores where they would be more comfortable buying the product. Unfortunately for the retail environment there are thousands of web sites that are discount driven, offer do-it-yourself options and offer a level of service that is a breeding ground for mistakes and offering products that are lowering the bar for quality.

To me there are many ways that the web cannot compete with the invitation and stationery retailer and collectively retail businesses have more power and money. It just takes a collective effort to seize back the spotlight, to educate the consumer why invitations should be purchased in the store and this should start before she starts shopping for invitations.

Perhaps it is having a formula in place that you can try for a trial period. With time being the most precious commodity, I would not even consider discounting an invitation under $400 or $500 or brands that have a no discounting policy. You have to have a minimum profit potential on an order or it is not worth it. So let’s say the minimum profit that it pays to take an invitation order for is $100 per hour of time spent. So here is a formula that I came up:

With Invitation Brands That Offer 50% off the Retail Price:
2 hours and under consultation

$400 and under – full price
$400 – $800  – multiply by .6  and add $200 to the price ( a discount of up to 15%)
$800 or more – 20% off total price

2 hours or more consultation

$600 and under – full price
$600 – $1200 multiply by .6 and add $300 to the price ( a discount of up to 15%)
$1200 or more – 20% off total price

With this formula you are standardizing a formula for profitability that increases as the sale increases as well as the savings increase for the customer, but guarantees the minimum profit per hour if you make the sale. You can adjust the formula if you want to increase the profit per hour.

The retail environment is at war. Your goal is to take prisoners. That means to capture retail customers so they can tell others that they bought at your store instead of online.