The Fall Showrooming Season

There is no better place to witness the fall color season than Michigan. In my back yard I am extremely fortunate to have a number of large maples of different varieties that change into a cornucopia of colors during a six week period. The view is simply spectacular. That said, I am also very unfortunate to have a number of large maples in my back yard.
As the first leaves begin to change, I can already feel the blisters forming on my hands in anticipation of the hours, days and weeks of raking ahead. This year, however, will be different. I will be outsourcing the work to a specialist who uses automation to accomplish the job more thoroughly, faster and more affordably than I could do it myself.
There has always been much discussion in our house about the most effective/efficient way to get the leaves up, as well as the hourly pay rate. (If you have teenagers, you are no doubt aware of how their preference is to spend a lot more time talking about how to do the work that actually doing the work.) Over the years we have bought an arsenal of “improved” rakes, added labor, worked in teams, etc but all these efforts have yielded only minor incremental improvements. The upshot is that there are simply too many leaves to be raked given the limited resources of time and labor.
Last year our neighbor hired a contractor to gather up the leaves. The contractor brought in a “modified” mower that functioned as a leaf vacuum. The neighbor’s yard was leaf free in less than 30 minutes, and his cost: $25. We spend that much time getting out rakes, tarps, bags, and discussing strategy.
While watching the Leaf-Vac at work, I saw a strange parallel to raking leaves and retailer strategies. I spend a lot of time talking to retailers about how they determine if the products they are offering in-store can be found for lower prices on-line. Invariably, the task is not at the top of anyone’s list, and is in fact, quite the opposite. Most people try to avoid it like the plague. In the absence of automation, the research is completed one SKU at a time, copied into spreadsheets, sorted, filtered, and eventually reported on. By the time reports are generated, the data is out-of-date, and essentially useless. What an incredible waste of resources. This process is the metaphorical equivalent of picking up leaves one at a time. No wonder nobody is volunteering to put this task at the top of their list.
Monitoring on-line pricing is not the core competency of any brick and mortar retailer. Their competency is retailing. There is no question, that understanding competitive pricing is a very valuable asset to any retailer. However, this work can be much better accomplished by specialists who can deliver much more thorough results in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost of trying to perform this task in-house. Retailers would be best served by re-directing the time and talents of the people currently assigned these tasks to projects that help grow the business.

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