Watching the recent bleating and crying foul of the National Retailer’s Association when it comes to the lack of consumer spending locally and how they think lowering the GST threshold on online sales from overseas retailers is the way to go reminds me of the classic tale, “Acres of Diamonds”.
For those of you not familiar with the tale, it’s about an ancient Persian by the name of Ali Hafed, who lived not far from the River Indus.
Here’s an edited extract from the book – I’ve included it as it sets the scene beautifully.
… Ali Hafed owned a very large farm; he had orchards, grain-fields, and gardens; he had money at interest and was a wealthy and contented man. One day there visited that old Persian farmer one of those ancient Buddhist priests, one of the wise men of the East. He sat down by the fire and told the old farmer how diamonds were formed.
The old priest told Ali Hafed that if he had one diamond the size of his thumb he could purchase the county, and if he had a mine of diamonds he could place his children upon thrones through the influence of their great wealth.
Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds, how much they were worth, and went to his bed that night a poor man. He had not lost anything, but he was poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he feared he was poor. He said, “I want a mine of diamonds,” and he lay awake all night. Early in the morning he sought out the priest.
“Will you tell me where I find diamonds?”
“Diamonds! What do you want with diamonds?”
“Why, I wish to be immensely rich.”
“Well, then, go along and find them. That is all you have to do; go and find them, and then you have them.”
Said Ali Hafed, “I will go.”
So he sold his farm, collected his money, left his family in charge of a neighbour, and away he went in search of diamonds. Years later, when his money was all spent and he was in rags, wretchedness, and poverty, he stood on the shore of that bay at Barcelona, in Spain, when a great tidal wave came rolling in between the pillars of Hercules, and the poor, afflicted, suffering, dying man could not resist the awful temptation to cast himself into that incoming tide, and he sank beneath its foaming crest, never to rise in this life again.
… The man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm one day led his camel into the garden to drink, and as that camel put its nose into the shallow water of that garden brook, Ali Hafed’s successor noticed a curious flash of light from the white sands of the stream. He pulled out a black stone having an eye of light reflecting all the hues of the rainbow. He took the pebble into the house and put it on the mantel which covers the central fires, and forgot all about it.
A few days later this same old priest came in to visit Ali Hafed’s successor, and the moment he opened that drawing-room door he saw that flash of light on the mantel, and he rushed up to it, and shouted:
“Here is a diamond! Has Ali Hafed returned?”
“Oh no, Ali Hafed has not returned, and that is not a diamond. That is nothing but a stone we found right out here in our own garden.”
“But,” said the priest, “I tell you I know a diamond when I see it. I know positively that is a diamond.”
Then together they rushed out into that old garden and stirred up the white sands with their fingers, and lo! There came up other more beautiful and valuable gems then the first. “Thus,” said the guide to me, “was discovered the diamond-mine of Golconda, the most magnificent diamond-mine in all the history of mankind, excelling the Kimberly itself. The Kohinoor, and the Orloff of the crown jewels of England and Russia, the largest on earth, came from that mine.
Back to the whingers in the local retail space…
Yes, more and more people are buying stuff on-line. And yes, a significant portion of purchases are made from international retailers and shipped to Australia.
And frankly, if the prices are significantly cheaper, and you’re happy to wait for delivery, why wouldn’t you?
But what the local retailers, just like Ali Hafed miss, are the local diamonds beneath their feet.
If local retailers provided better on-line service, competitive pricing, faster, cheaper delivery and great refund guarantees, consumers would flock to them over their overseas competitors.
And yes, it is happening with some of the smaller, nimble on-line stores.
Here are a few examples of companies that absolutely get it right. Organisations we’ve bought from and will continue to do so because of their phenomenally good customer service.
oo.com.au sells a huge range of products online. Our microwave oven gave up the ghost just before Christmas and I saw oo.com.au sold them. The price/value equation was excellent – so $104 later, we had a brand spanking new oven delivered in 2 days! The same oven in a major department store would have set us back over $350. (And delivery was free).
Interestingly, oo.com.au now allows you to visit their warehouse in Sydney to actually see the products and pick them up personally if you want to. Just an added level of service.
We’ve bought lots of other products from them and their service has always been exemplary, especially if something went wrong with the product and it needed to be fixed.
In another case, Barbara bought a mobile phone case from an online shop. Barbara made a mistake and chose the wrong size. “No problem, send it back and we’ll give you a refund.”
I contrast this with lots of smaller stores I’ve walked into where they prominently display their “returns and refunds policy” and tell you they don’t have to take anything back if you change your mind.
Given the choice, where would you rather shop?
I think the major retailers (who are mainly represented by the association bleating), have a lot to learn about service.
Consumer behaviour is changing and if they don’t keep up, they’ll completely miss the diamonds beneath their feet.
Whatever business you’re in you could run the same risk so make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
In 2013 we’re re-launching a new suite of business coaching programs which will make sure you stay on the cutting edge and harvest your own acres of diamonds.
We’ll let you know as they’re released.
All the best for 2013 and may it be a great year.
Rashid & Barbara.