[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ix years ago, when I was at the Taiwan Lighting Fair, I met an exhibitor who proudly told me he was “the number one light bulb provider in the U.S.” Since I was unfamiliar with the company name, I asked where his products were distributed. “Amazon,” he answered. Ahhh. The sales number he cited was staggering, and it included commercial customers as well as consumers. Regardless of whether the man’s claim was true, what was most impactful was the viability of the direct-to-consumer market and just how many people would purchase light bulbs from an overseas factory they never heard of and with no recognizable track record of service. In this case, it was the low cost of the bulbs and Amazon’s easy return policy that made the risk worth it.
The challenges brick-and-mortar retailers face from online shopping – with free shipping, easy returns, speedy delivery, and competitive pricing – are daunting enough. Now there is a growing movement among manufacturers to go direct to consumer.
Instead of shopping for Nike at traditional sporting goods or department stores, the brand launched its own retail shops a few years ago and has ramped up its website for direct-to-consumer selling. Furthermore, it taps into the current consumer desire for customization by offering its “Nike by You” option, a portal for customizing shoes (“you design it, we make it, delivered in 3-5 weeks”).
Granted the Nike brand has spent billions on brand recognition since it was founded in 1964, and it has successfully become a household name and logo recognizable all over the world.
With few exceptions (most notably Stiffel) lighting manufacturers haven’t experienced brand recognition to a great extent from the public. Showrooms know the distinctions of each brand, but consumers do not. Lighting manufacturers have been trying to change that by establishing a social media presence, joining Pinterest and Houzz and other consumer-oriented digital platforms, and some have advertised in shelter magazines.
Last month, renowned home accessories manufacturer Global Views announced the creation of an online retail store – William D Scott – that will sell a select grouping of products direct to consumers. Homeowners may or may not recognize the brand, but perhaps that’s not the point.
It’s going to be harder for brick-and-mortar retailers to compete for consumer dollars under these circumstances. It’s going to come down to the service and expertise given during the customers’ selection process that will win loyalty. Unlike tableware and even casual furniture, lighting is complicated. Determining how many lumens will provide enough illumination, deciding on color temperature, and explaining the nuances between direct versus indirect lighting are the intangible parts of “customer service” that a lighting professional can offer. Emphasizing that aspect of your business will be key when it comes to succeeding in this new retail landscape.