July 25th, 2011
Sometimes great minds think alike, don’t you think?
As my clients can attest, I have become obsessed with the story of corporate-marketing-executive-turned entrepreneur Susan Nethero.
During her years working at Xerox, Time Inc. and other companies, Nethero grew tired of the fact that a product she absolutely needed – a product that manufacturers knew she needed and would pay (a lot) for – was never available with the characteristics and benefits she wanted. That product was the bra, and Nethero eventually became dependent on European offerings because they came in more sizes.
But then she did the magic trick of turning observation into insight, realizing that millions of other women must be as frustrated as she was. Nethero’s chain of Intimacy stores opened in 1992 and, today, she has 15 stores and $36 million in annual revenue.
Because many women walk around in the wrong size bra (like Nethero had), the key to the entire Intimacy experience
is the professional bra fitting required in all the stores. Why is it not optional? Because the right fit is the brand’s vital differentiator… allowing Nethero, among other things, to charge $90 when the typical department store bra is around $45.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s not. Any woman will tell you that – compared to working out or plastic surgery – it’s a small price to pay to look younger and 10 pounds lighter. “There is no way that a brand can easily compete in the high-end market without something uniquely special,” says Marshal Cohen. “With intimates, comfort and fit are way up high in the chart, and price is a lot less sensitive. In other words, you want to remove price from the equation.” When Nethero went on Oprah – who promptly instructed her fans to get professional bra fittings in 2005 – Intimacy’s business exploded.
So what if a newbie tries to screw up that equation by turning down a fitting? What happens, you ask? What happened was that Nethero took the locks off the dressing room doors.
She took the locks off the doors!
This blew me away. Think about it. Nethero overruled a customer’s express wish, because Nethero knew something that a prospect doesn’t know yet: that a fitter will make her look and feel fantastic.
I guess they don’t call her the “bra whisperer” for nothing.
How many marketers have you known who had such confidence in their brands’ ability to deliver that they would go up against a customer in order to do so? What would our bosses say about that? Isn’t the customer always right??
Not if the marketer has 100% confidence that specific aspects of the brand experience are vital to brand performance and ultimate customer satisfaction.
And just as I was pondering this thought, I discovered two esteemed friends and great marketers doing the same. In “The Customer Isn’t Always Right,” Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, warns that a marketer must listen to the voice of the customer “with discernment” and offers up three instances when “you might want to think twice” about reacting to customer feedback.
The first is the point proven in the Intimacy story: customers can’t know. Henry Ford was a big believer in this one.
Second is a situation in which the customer can’t or won’t say what he wants – as in a B2B sales scenario where a prospect plays coy. And the third is when a customer won’t stop asking. McKee is sure that Target’s management firmly believes in the chain’s slogan, “Expect More. Pay Less” – up to some point before the chain goes out of business.
Similarly, Stephen Denny, author of the new book, Killing Giants, writes in a blog post that “it’s your job to do your job.” In a world where total strangers seek out each other’s opinions online (in reviews that might not even be real), you are still very much responsible for what you do and who you are. Brand managers at Nike, Apple and others are “pretty firm that their brand is their business – they own it, they manage it daily and they know it’s important work.”
In one week, the three of us were studying the same angle on what makes a brand a great brand: knowing that – sometimes – you as a marketer must have the gut-level knowledge that your choices are the right ones. After all, consumers voted for New Coke, and those who saw the Sony Walkman didn’t think it had a future.
Think about the brands you manage and those with which you have a personal connection. Chances are that at least one of them wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people who believed in it, protected it, grew it… and ignored a lot of focus groups along the way.
P.S. CTPB = Contrary to popular belief.
June 6th, 2011
Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… and… and one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and then there’s a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).
I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is simply too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says.
So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile. Check out the ad (see below or HERE):
The “it’s good to have choices” positioning is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a bottle of ketchup – is offensive. And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?
Then there are the choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks like it’s from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best” – in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?
And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will). All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else? Note there are no “and” equations in this ad. It’s all about the ”or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.
or me, though, the most disappointing episode takes place over in the Significant Other section of the store. First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being homosexual is not a choice in this retail establishment. Then comes the best part: a woman standing in front of a man (under glass…), only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.
That’s nasty and cruel. And pits women against one another.
The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object. Take a look if you get the chance.
Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair, I think this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.
This is an encore presentation of a blog post originally published on Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Daily.
March 2nd, 2011
February 17th, 2011
In December 2007, I went to a breakfast about women and financial services and wrote the post you see below as a result.
As I surfed over to Beyond Today, I was optimistic. Unfortunately, I found more of the same.
Why why why must we continue to alienate big blocks of women? 51 million women in the United States are single and I’d wager that a lot of them, like me, don’t cook. To start a blog post about investment allocation with “Pasta, pot roast, peas… ever get in a rut with your menus?” is just old school. Not to mention the shot of the hysterically-delighted older couple (maybe he’s on Viagra) on the home page while 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce, 32 million people live alone, women live considerably longer than men, etc. Or the primary involvement of Jean Chatzky: an expert I like, but one who is frequently seen in other venues (like The Today Show and Oprah).
In other words, there’s no new news here – still Version 1.0. I guess I expect more. Maybe the thrashing is because gender is no longer (or shouldn’t be) a primary segmentation characteristic in the first place.
Women And Financial Services
I attended a breakfast last week entitled “Marketing to the Female Investor.” I was pretty jazzed about this because, in addition to a pretty good expert panel, the core of the event was a review of fresh research on the topic and I was looking forward to getting a sophisticated update on my own experienced-but-possibly rusty notions.
That’s not exactly what the audience got.
The research’s executive summary declares that “single women are on the rise” (is this the 70′s?) and the study confirms that women are living longer, marrying later, get 58% of all undergrad degrees awarded in the US and are opening businesses at 2x the rate of men. Speakers presenting the research still referred to this as the “women’s market” – despite the fact that 52% of all US citizens are female – and declared that members of this group have “special needs.” The research itself, as in years past, said that 71% believe that financial services marketing is targeted to men, and fewer women then men say they understand financial services products well or extremely well (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, IRAs, trusts). A nervous presenter inadvertently plunged me into a moment of despair when she explained that, while the female respondents may not have an equal understanding of said products, “they are still intelligent.”
Good grief. Had nothing changed in 15 years?
When the morning (mourning?) turned to the panel, however, the tone began to change for the better. Most of the panelists’ real-life priorities and programs focused on women’s changing roles in society, and how these role changes are increasingly non-linear: that women, more so than men, may move back and forth between the core roles of provider and caregiver… and may, as a result, be more or less educated about financial services, may be shopping for products at different times, etc.
So is there a primary segmentation scheme more relevant than gender? Is it more valuable to target based on whether a person of either gender is home taking care of a child or aging parent vs. bringing home the bacon? With roles, education levels and life span all changing, is gender becoming a secondary variable, rather than a primary one?
There’s no question that, when observed in as close to real circumstances as possible, men and women tend to have different ways of consuming information, choosing financial advisors and so on. But, right or wrong, “women’s marketing” has frequently been housed in retail bank groups focused on special niche populations – and this has not served to create a breakthrough positioning for, well, anyone.
Maybe we’ve reached a critical mass at which point it’s not whether one is female or male that should drive marketing communications and sales process design, but rather the role a person plays that dictates her – or his – financial needs, habits and buying behaviors.
October 1st, 2010
It’s true that people love certain brands, and it can be awfully expensive to launch new ones. I started thinking about this after seeing some slightly off-kilter commercials: could it be that established brands are trying to extract value by presenting new uses for existing products?
* EGGO ON THE GO-GO. Working three jobs to pay the mortgage? No time to sit down for breakfast? No problem - take Eggo waffles with you! Last I checked, butter and syrup are a real pain on the subway, so this ad shows kids and adults running out the door with waffles in their hands. A kid is just running with – you know, a plain ol’ waffle – and a woman says that she takes hers with just a “smudge” of (what looks like strawberry) cream cheese. A smudge? What’s a smudge? And is that waffle toasted? Because raw would be gross, but cold and toasted and hard would be, well, gross… And then you’ve got the smudge… Eeeee!!
* I LOVE THE SMELL OF ASPIRIN IN THE MORNING. Then there’s Bayer A.M. A television ad features a working dad moving in slo-mo while the voiceover asks whether you’ve ever needed a little get-up-and-go in the morning. He takes Bayer A.M. – “an extra-strength pain reliever with alertness aid specially formulated to fight morning pain and fatigue” – and suddenly he’s racing out the door. Specially formulated! My goodness, what is this magic drug? That would be caffeine – 65 mg of caffeine in each tablet. Less than 1 cup of coffee. So much for pharmacological breakthroughs.
* GOOD DIGESTION FOR DESSERT. Lastly, there’s Yoplait positioning yogurt as dessert. This was new to me, but apparently Yoplait actually sold “dessert yogurt” back in the 80s. I don’t know – it’s hard to ponder “dessert!” when all I can think of is Jamie Lee Curtis and those animations of little microbes floating around in my gut. Maybe it’s just me.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course; one could say they actually represent the creativity of the folks behind these brands. But there are limits: when they start suggesting that we use Stayfree Ultra-Thins as shoe insoles, I’m outta here.
September 16th, 2010
I opine regularly on customer service because for many businesses – particularly service businesses – the phrase is almost a misnomer. Call it what you will: the employees who take calls, live chat with a shopper or interact in person are the brand. No amount of ad dollars or coupons or general cajoling can overcome a bad experience(s) long-term.
For me, it’s almost a transcendental point. Brands are about emotion. They’re about warmth, connection and a true, deep understanding that we must reflect back to the customer in order to create preference and earn loyalty. The sad fact – and opportunity – for businesses today is that it really takes so little. Consumers feel so beaten down by lousy service that the tiniest bit of helpfulness and sincerity has a magnified impact that radiates the brand message back out to the marketplace. But for many companies, it’s not in the DNA: it can be more comfortable to advertise, fool with pricing and open mega-call centers, because that’s what we’re taught. Then you get out into the real world and discover that, essentially, the golden rule is everything.
So let me tell you about two small moments that had a big impact. They are certainly on a different scale, but I think they have something notable in common.
Moment #1: September 21, 2001 – New York City. I am a long-time New Yorker. I don’t think it’s the only place in the universe to live, but it’s my home and I’m proud of it. No matter how long I live here, the New York skyline still gets me every time I return from somewhere else.
On September 11, 2001, I was somewhere else and the flight freeze meant I couldn’t get home. It sounds ridiculous, but I felt as though I should have been there. It’s my city.
I wasn’t there when it got hurt. I wasn’t there when friends died.
When I finally did make it back, I took the 6 train down to the Financial District. I think it was September 21. When I climbed out of the subway, I found a planet I did not recognize. Crowds were everywhere. The sidewalk was thick with people, milling around, shouting to get each other’s attention, taking pictures and generally contributing to the chaos. I took five or six steps out of the subway stairwell and and froze. When I stopped, I noticed some gray particles floating in the air, landing on me. It took me a few seconds to realize what they were.
It was the end of the world, and all I could do was stand there under a big scaffold, staring in the direction of a still-smoking hole in the ground.
I don’t know how long I stayed immobile, with the flakes wafting down on my sweater. It must have been a minute or two because suddenly a cop emerged from the sidewalk mosh pit. He walked over to me, put his hand on my arm and said, “Are you ok, miss? Do you need help?” And then he stood there, waiting for the answer. From me. One little person. He maintained eye contact and just waited, with the kindest look on his face.
Snapped out of my daze, I immediate said I was fine, embarrassed that I’d taken this guy away from the melee.
I have never forgotten that moment, and never will. That cop had everything more important to do, but he took a couple seconds to care. He put a human face on the inhuman. I think he saved me, in a fashion, right there on the sidewalk.
I’m not saying that I having paid attention to reality in the last nine years, but that experience changed my view of the New York City Police Department brand, just a little bit, forever.
Moment #2: September 11, 2010 – a Target store in suburban New Jersey. I might as well tell you that I’m addicted to online Target coupons at the moment, and had a fistful of them when I rolled my cart up to check-out yesterday. Among my treasures were two units of the same product, so I had simply printed two of the same $1-off coupon. I’d been wondering how Target controlled for one person printing the same coupon over and over, but hey: who am I to question a larger life force? Plus, the last time I was in the same store, the clerk let me use both (yes, I’d done this before), so I thought I was in good shape.
Once this new clerk had scanned and bagged my purchases, I gave her the small pile of coupons. I don’t think we’d made eye contact yet. When she got to the two identical coupons, she handed one back to me and said, “Yyeahhh [pause] the story with this is [pause] you can only use [pause] one of these coupons.” Now I wouldn’t say she put her arm up to her face to block a strike, exactly, but she looked… uncomfortable. It was pretty obvious that she’d said these words before with less-than-pleasant results and was bracing for impact.
Busted! Darn it. In a split second I decided whether or not I was going to whine to get the second dollar (“But the last time you took them! Wahhhh!”), but it just seemed so not worth it. She really looked pretty miserable and – as a result – any hissy-fit I might have been working up to just lost steam.
I just looked at her and said “OK.”
She looked back, startled, and thanked me.
Odd. And now she was staring at me.
As I began to wrestle with the bags, the woman said, “Let me see that other coupon.” I figured maybe there was some other deal she was going to give me, or maybe she just wanted to throw it away, or whatever.
She took the second coupon, scanned it to give me the second dollar off and said [quote], “I just love how you handled that.”
After I pushed out a “Huh?” she just repeated herself, smiling and shaking her head, looking visibly relieved. I made an off-hand comment that I’d been working on not sweating the details and she responded, ”Well it’s great. It’s working.”
By taking a breath for just a second and factoring in someone else’s vibe, I not only got better service but some seriously positive karma, as well. The next time I go to that store, that moment is what I’ll be thinking about.
So this post, my friends, is about two things. One, I wanted to tell a story in remembrance of 9/11 and what was lost. Second, both stories (plus the one about the JCrew supervisor several weeks ago) are about tiny actions that made a big difference. Moments in which someone acted human and kept the big picture in sight (when maybe we expected the opposite). These are the interactions - the moments of truth – that are remembered and associated with your brand in the person’s mind.
If you have a business and/or nurture a brand, reinforce for yourself and your organization what you want that association to be and commit yourself to injecting these moments into the experience of your prospects and customers. And as I mentioned earlier, the horrible condition of customer service is good for the rest of us: it means that you can create these experiences, frankly, without jumping all that high.
And away from work, I suspect all of us could use a few more of these moments for ourselves and others, as well. Do something different. The smallest kindness might produce something surprising.
September 1st, 2010
There’s been a bit of a scramble among brands seeking to leverage AMC’s popular series, Mad Men. BMW is one of the largest and most frequent sponsors, prompting an auto site to gush, “BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.”
Maybe so. After all, the series is about an advertising agency and the supposed glamour of the post-War period, all glowy and wistful. It’s an unusual opportunity to create a fresh and fun message… IF it makes sense for the brand.
BMW did two things right. First it aligned itself with the overall je ne sais quoi of the show: the ambience, the characters, their lifestyles, their appearance, their tastes, the physical environment. That provides a very broad base upon which to construct an association. BMW is already an upscale, luxury brand, so this association is more of a positive reinforcement than a flat-out creation.
Second, this attachment is even further strengthened because BMW’s ads run during the episodes themselves. As the show transitions almost seamlessly from content, to commercial, and back again, the company and its cars place themselves directly alongside the target of their (and your) dreams. The viewer sees both in the same sitting; the brain experiences both in the same moment. The connection is made in real time.
London Fog‘s new Mad Men-related ads, on the other hand, miss on both these counts.
Unlike BMW, London Fog’s owner, Iconix, chose to bet all its chips on one single character, Joan Holloway (aka Christina Hendricks). This demands a plausible or at least believable connection between what the product and the individual represent, which is not present here.
Today, London Fog is generally utilitarian, functional, male (androgynous?), classic (tired?) and generally unremarkable, while Hendrick’s Joan is nearly the polar opposite: voluptuous, sexy, powerful, womanly, stimulating. She’s brightly-colored cotton candy in a dress. When you watch the show, her sexual presence makes her nearly every man’s fantasy at one point or another. She’s unattainable, like a rare luxury item.
London Fog is the opposite. By its own admission, the brand has far-flung distribution and high consumer awareness: it holds little mystery, no magic, no unattainability. Mad Men‘s Joan would not wear a London Fog, and no woman (consciously or unconsciously) believes that she will be “more Joan” by wearing the brand. The effect is double-whammy, given that the clothes (which might look fine on “normal” people) appear boring, dull and awkward draped on Hendrick’s frame. The two zeitgeists are just too far apart.
Iconix may have thought that Joan’s essence would rub off on the product. And, prior to Hendricks, Iconix enlisted Eva Longoria and Giselle Bunchen for its ads, presumably with the same objective. The problem is that consumers cannot make brand connections that aren’t there or – worse – pulling in opposite directions.
Forcing an otherwise adequate brand into an environment that makes it appear inadequate is sad and unnecessary: an embarrassing kind of brand dissonance that can do the brand more harm than good.
Lastly, the Joan ads do not have the benefit of being absorbed in the same moment as the story itself. The connection failure is particularly dramatic when experienced in the middle of a fashion magazine, surrounded by circa 2010 fashions, photos and messaging.
Managing a brand – particularly one trying to meld a perhaps very different past with the present – is a fine art. The brand steward must have an unblinking grasp on what the brand is and is not, what it might become, how fast such a change in direction might be made and how to begin. If that direction is wrong, or the speed too fast, the desired messaging won’t find its target and you may needlessely displace the neutral-to-positive feelings most people have about the brand in favor of all the characteristics the brand does not possess. It’s work grounded in an almost DNA-level of understanding of brands, consumer desire and human behavior.
Most brands have positive if not wonderful attributes to emphasize. Show yours in its best light. Avoid whatever might be hot right this second if it just doesn’t fit, and create an environment in which the product can truly shine.
March 30th, 2010
There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening online.
Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word. This is particularly troublesome for companies that have spent decades burnishing brand franchises and consider the associated names and words to be reputational assets of great value.
If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.
Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that - on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark rights.
Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.
Since computers are programmed by humans, I would argue that the first point is debatable, but there it is. It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks. If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.
The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which is a win (or at least a booster shot) for brand owners. And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t, by “using such keywords, arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”
I don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.
LVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time all around the world, and must fight infringement in all possible sales channels. It has sued (and has won), for example against eBay in the past. And LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street in New York City. After this ruling, the company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.
And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member asks what may be the most probative observation yet: ”Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”
As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?
October 3rd, 2009
A recent article made me think back to a post I wrote last summer titled “Stephanie Fierman Likes Plastic Gucci Sunglasses – And Is OK With It.” The post says that experts who say that not-rich consumers are essentially duped into buying luxury goods are missing a large swath of buyers who know exactly what they’re doing: that is, buying fun, knowing full well that they could buy functionality at a far lower price. Hence, Gucci vs. $10 plastic sunglasses I can buy on the street. Plastic is plastic. But that dopey logo represents an indulgence – a reward – for which I am sometimes willing to pay full freight.
BusinessWeek outlines the efforts of Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of the book Predictably Irrational, who has spent the past year trying to figure out the forces that drive people to cheat (paging Bernie Madoff…)
Ariely’s very very boiled down conclusion is that individuals who are not directly faced with evidence or reminders that what they are doing is wrong are more likely to plow ahead and conversely, those who are reminded are less likely to do so. He describes a couple of experiments he used to try to measure “deception’s slippery slope.”
* Subjects who knowingly wore faux designer sunglasses later cheated twice as often on an unrelated task than those wearing authentic goods – take the first step and it’s that much easier to take the second.
* Get an auto insurance applicant to sign his name on the top of the application rather than the bottom, and he will be more honest about his driving habits – put the consequences right in someone’s face and you’re likely to get “better” behavior.
Here’s a TED video of Ariely talking about why people think it’s ok to cheat:
This has extreme ramifications – and potential opportunities – for luxury goods manufacturers like LVMH who spend a lot of money and time drawing attention to the costs of counterfeit goods.
Part of the problem is the arguments these companies use. Does the average woman – out with her friends to have a little fun on a Saturday afternoon without a lot of money – have any sympathy when the luxury companies are described as the chief victims of counterfeit buying? I don’t think so.
But what if these manufactures took a different tack, promoting the fact that buying faux fuels organized crime and following it through with stories of what these same criminals did with the $30 I paid for a fake Chloe bag? It certainly wouldn’t be possible in all venues, but could some of these firms visit places like Canal Street in New York and engage directly with potential buyers about the consequences of buying fakes? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen. I’ve seen local TV and newspaper stories about how a luxury company has done a raid with local law enforcement… but never a company interacting directly with consumers at the street-level point of purchase.
If was looking at a table full of fake Tiffany merchandise and given proof of the spot that my money goes to fund terrorist groups, what would I do? Would I stand there and think of the two friends I lost on American Airlines Flight 11? I believe I would – and I think I’d walk away from the table, and tell my friends about the experience.
The Guccis and Tod’s and Burberrys of the world need to find a way to debunk the idea that buying fakes is a victimless crime, and they need to do it as close to the moment of impact – the moment I’m about to buy that fake Cartier watch as possible.
September 5th, 2009
Pity the poor retailer.
So the last thing the modern proprietor needs is to be compared to a storeeee innnn spaceeee… But Brandweek did just that when it published “Why Can’t Shopping Be More Like Online Shopping?” (or “Why Retailers Should Be Acting More Webby” online*) – a full-page editorial lamenting why oh why “regular” stores can’t be more like online ones. Why bricks and mortar establishments aren’t taking “advantage” of all the stuff that “online competitors have been perfecting” for years.
Hmm. Stores are far from perfect (my grocery store was renovated recently, and now I can’t find a darn thing) but – come on.
Let’s take the points raised in this article one by one and give a quick, incomplete-but-adequate response regarding the practicality/reasonableness of each:
* Product reviews. Where would a retailer put product reviews in a store where everyone would see them? Who would be responsible for keeping them current? Who would be responsible for mending/replacing them if they were damaged or defaced? How could a chain retailer ensure 100% compliance across its network?
* Search. This one’s just mean. Stores have been experimenting with kiosks for years with mixed results. Brands that want to experiment with shelf displays typically need to send their own people in to do it (expensive, time-consuming). The writer refers to a test that Campbell’s tried years ago. It alphabetized its soups in-store. Result? They sold less soup. And store maps? Who can read one of those and where the heck is it?
* Affinity. Since 10 out of 10 shoppers who walk through the door are looking for different items and would be lost if some products where re-grouped with others just because someone thought it should be that way. And if we’re talking about posting suggestions near products, see above for Reviews and Bestsellers.
* Brevity. The writer wishes there was a “convenience aisle” for check-out. There is (15 items or less please). But when a store’s busy, you’re going to wait behind a bunch of people. When was the last time you had to wait behind a bunch of people while checking out online?
And with this last point, I tip my hand: the presence and need for multiple (indeed, masses of) human shoppers and workers to make a store location on dry land work is the reason that my local grocer will never be like FreshDirect. It’s not just money and profits that keep live retailers from taking on characteristics of Web shopping, as the article hypothesizes. Some things, for all intents and purposes, are simply not able to be done well in the real world.
But if we ask why online shopping isn’t more like regular shopping, the good reason is also human interaction: a person that helps you figure out whether that sweater is black or navy. A greeter at the door who says “Hello” and thanks you for coming. A saleswoman who knows just by looking at you what size will work, and will give you an opinion on an outfit if you ask. A butcher who will tell you which cut of meat to buy when two choices look exactly alike. A person who will give you a smile (or more) on a crummy day. Oh, and I can go out and be home in less than an hour with the stuff I need.
Are there cranky and/or incompetent salespeople in stores? You bet. And websites malfunction, are often inscrutable and crash once in awhile. Nobody’s perfect (not even technology).
So there you have it: in real life, it takes a village to sell merchandise that one or two people can sell online - and that’s always going to be messy/ier. Life’s not always pretty. Cut your favorite store some slack. Use channels and experiences for what each is good for and don’t bother wondering why reading online (or on a Kindle) can’t be more like holding a real book – or vice versa. There’s room in the universe for both.
* Dear Brandweek: You gave the article I tore out of my subscription copy an entirely different title on your website, thereby making it easier for me to find in the physical world than the online one. Go figure.