The New Age of Mom and Pops

Mom and Pop Shops
Mom and Pop Shops

An editorial in today’s local newspaper, coupled with a news story, has gotten me to thinking about the old-fashioned “Mom and Pop” shops.  If you look around, you might think that those type stores, small specialty outlets run by a single family, famous for knowing their customers and offering great service, were going the way of the dinosaur (and gas guzzling monster trucks).

In reality, if you look around you might recognize that those “Mom and Pop shops” have morphed into something bigger and better.  They’ve become the new age of Internet shopping.

In the local news Monday was a story about the last of a locally owned grocery store, dubbed a “Mom and Pop” closing after being owned by the same family and in business for 133 years.  As reported, from its start in 1875 it had grown to three locations in the local area.

The news article included several quotes by former patrons about the great service and great quality meats offered.  A follow-up editorial in today’s newspaper lamented the demise of these stores, and blamed the demise on corporations and chains.

I think the demise of Mom and Pop shops is greatly exaggerated. I happen to think Mom and Pops are morphing into the new on-line economy where they are enjoying a vibrant and remarkable existence. They’ve been helped along by such well-known websites as EBay, Amazon.com, Yahoo! Shopping; and lesser known sites such as Abe Books.  These websites have built their business models based on allowing individuals the exposure and affordable services to run small business operations.  In the process, the big-name sites have grown, and small businesses have flourished.

One of the greatest innovations of these sites was the rating system, which I believe was pioneered by E-Bay.  Under the rating system, buyers and sellers can rate each other upon conclusion of a transaction.  These ratings are aggregated into a numerical score publicly visible during every auction.

The beauty of the rating system is that it keeps honest people honest.  As a personal opinion, I’ve bought and sold on E-Bay a number of times over the years.  Whether I’m a buyer or a seller, knowing that my transaction will be rated and my rating score publicly visible helps me remember to ship out the sold item or make payment on a purchase as quickly as possible.  I’ve never had a dispute leveled against me as seller, but have had a couple of disputes with sellers.  In every case, the dispute was settled quickly and fairly.

One personal incident that just occurred yesterday is a great example.  I purchased a pair of specialty items for my boat remodeling project through Amazon.com Z-shops, Hilltop RV, that was delivered a few days ago.  Last night, I opened the packages and checked them out only to discover one of the items was defective.  Once I got past my annoyance I sent an E-mail to the vendor through Amazon.com’s “customer service” webpage explaining the problem and requesting information on getting the item replaced.  Along with the narrative, I included my phone number.

This morning, I received a call from the vendor.  The lady was most apologetic; explaining that since it was such a small item and non-repairable there was no need for me to return it.  She explained they would be shipping a replacement item tomorrow, and expressed concern that I would not be inconvenienced by not having the item for the 4th of July weekend.

I was impressed.  I can also say this is typical of the customer service I’ve received by nearly every small Internet vendor I’ve done business with these past couple of years.  I consider this service notable because it is in such contrast to the “service” I get from local big box stores.

While I have not attempted to make any significant income through E-Bay, I did earn a decent income early on through Amazon.com.  I built and operated a commercial website (RCM TravelSite) from about 1998 to 2002.  My business model was based on an affiliate program pioneered by Amazon.com.  Under this concept, I could build web links to their products, and earned a commission on every item someone purchased by clicking through my website.  In the last full year my website was in operation, I actually turned a profit without any inventory or shipping to deal with.

I happen to believe we’re seeing the beginnings of an entirely new business model for retail shopping.  The model will be based on a business developing a comprehensive specialty product niche, using a well-promoted Internet front to gain visibility, and building their business by offering intense customer service.

Kind of like the old “bricks and mortar” Mom and Pop shops used to do, only using a small town center instead of the Internet.

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