I just got a great deal on a premium piece of luggage – from a local retailer. You remember local retailers, right? There are hundreds of thousands of them in strip malls, stand alone stores, and shopping center locations all around the country – flipping their “Sorry, we’re closed” signs over to “Come In! We’re Open!” day in and day out.

These days, it’s easy to look past them as we bump around the suburbs and urban neighborhoods in our vehicles, being guided by our assorted GPS navigation systems. Local business owners have always been a hearty lot. They bet on themselves each day with money, time, effort and imagination, to see if they can make it all work. As if the work wasn’t challenging enough, the internet and smartphones have made consumers that much more informed, and as a result more powerful in the purchase decision. Consumers often come to the purchase (note, I didn’t say “come to the store”), armed with competitive prices, consumer reviews, and the increasing ease of click and overnight delivery from the Amazons, eBays, et al.

Which begs the question: can this person-to-person retail ecosystem survive the growing tidal wave of online buying? I suggest it can. I believe it hinges on the fundamental principal of any successful relationship: it takes two.

I had never actually seen the luggage item in person, so like most of you, I went online, checked a number of sites for availability, color, delivery charges, etc. I zeroed in, but, before I hit “add to cart”, I visited the manufacturer’s site and entered my zip code to find a local retailer. I’m in a large market, and was fortunate to have several choices. Upon calling the one closest to me, I asked if they had the product, and they assured me they did. Then I asked THE QUESTION….how much? Instead of a price, they assured me “come in, we’re having a sale that we are not allowed to share on the phone”. I told them the price I was seeing online, and yet they maintained that if I come I won’t be disappointed. Sounds fishy right?

But here was the reality – every online resource listed the same “retail” price. Every one. So, even though the visit to the store required a bit of effort, I felt that potential of savings would be worth it. Of course, I was running the risk of showing up and getting nothing more than the retail price – which would have sent me out the door, angry on top of frustrated, but still felt like the phone conversation had promise. When I got to the store, and mentioned that I had called, I was ushered back to where the product was and a sales rep (very well informed sales rep by the way) began to take me through a demonstration and pros/cons of the item vs. others by the same company and by other competitors.

The demo only reinforced to me that it was indeed the item I wanted, and then came the moment: “I called and was told I wouldn’t be disappointed”.  The rep went “in the back” to investigate, and came out with the news that he could take 25% off the retail price. Boom. Sold. I took the item home and gave 20% of the savings to a charity on the way.

Moral? Retailers: you must make a commitment to your customers to give them incentive to visit your store. Admittedly 25% off may not be possible but there a many other ways you can make it worth people’s effort to bypass the internet and come into your store. A discount on service/repairs, discount on next purchase, discount on higher volume, a discount for referring a friend – –  heck…a “bring in a bona fide offer from the internet and we’ll match / beat it”. Something to strengthen the person-to-person foundation of your business.

Customers – you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Ask your retailer to make it worth coming in. If you’ve seen consistent pricing on the internet, it’s a lock you’ll never change the pricing posted from an online retailer. That’s not the case with a real, live local business owner. Give them a chance to earn your business.

It takes two. Do your part.