In the shadow of Amazon exceeding 100 million Prime Plus members, I recently hopped on a flight to Australia as a guest of the Digital + Technology Collective, to keynote at a day long event entitled Remaking Retail.

Amazon has only just arrived to the country, and everyone is panicking about what this might mean for them – retailers and agencies alike. The organization thought it would be valuable to hear from someone from North America who has likely felt the inevitable pain of Amazon, and as a Managing Director at one of the only audience engagement agencies I know of who has moved beyond language and semantics to practice what we preach, I got the nod to come and speak.

I had a simple message for them, and it was not what they were expecting.

Stop worrying about the web in general, or Amazon in specific, as the most critical threats to your retail business. Start worrying more about your customers. They are the ones you are failing, by ignoring their needs in favor of your own. They are the swarms of potential fans and followers who, in the absence of feeling love from brands, are happy to buy what they want from low cost providers like Amazon and others. They are the people who desperately crave a better customer experience, but can only find a better customer transaction. If you put your customers at the centre of your organization, and embrace the traits that build cult-like followings, your customer relationships become your competitive advantage.

A great example of this is a Canadian retail success story – The Running Room, an excellent example of what it means for a brand to Be Involved. This is not just a shoe and active apparel company, it’s a community centre for people who have a desire to be active. What started as a one room small store in Edmonton Alberta is now North America’s largest chain of specialty running stores. Entrepreneur John Stanton started The Running Room with a simple thought – to open a store for runners by runners, with team members who are runners too, whose philosophy is that if you’re out there running on the same roads as your customers, you can better relate to them. The stores offer training programs in Walking and Learning to Run, as well as 5K, 10K, Marathon and Half Marathon training. They also organize free Run Club meet ups twice weekly where runners of all levels run in a social, supportive group. This social component builds a true sense of community in each location, and attracts people to their stores almost weekly, as opposed to two or three times when people typically buy new shoes and apparel. This brand understands that involvement at the grassroots level, in every local community where they operate, is a vital ingredient for a great customer experience.

Involvement at the grassroots level, in every local community where you operate, is a vital ingredient for a great customer experience.

Behavioral research studies preach that 95% of purchase decisions are made subconsciously with emotion, and rationalized after the fact. This drives my worldview of how brands need to build customer relationships to win, even when a brand like Amazon shows such promise to upset the apple cart.

The minute retail brands stop racing to the lowest cost provider position, buying consumer’s short-term loyalty and trying to one-up or out-shout the competition, and instead start pursuing the hearts and minds of customer engagement, they will regain trust and rebuild success stories. Catering to a consumer’s desire for a better experience will help those customers rediscover the excitement of flesh-and-blood visits to a physical retail store. And blunt the impact that Amazon will have in the long run.