Showing posts with label Consumer Behaviour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Consumer Behaviour. Show all posts

Monday, April 4, 2016

Replacement Guaranteed!

The recent spate of messaging by the online Retail majors hinges on reassuring the shopper that it is very easy to return or replace what has been purchased.

This is a core shopper expectation which is catered to very efficiently by the stand-alone, neighborhood store.  Interestingly modern retail formats including eTailers  are still struggling to establish trust on this front.  This is a very critical shopper behavior aspect and some of my earlier posts on this topic can be viewed by Clicking HERE

v rajesh, retail expert, shopper behaviour, marketing, customer service

I had a flashback to the late 90s, when the RPG Foodworld chain of supermarkets was trying to redefine the grocery and food shopping behavior. This involved addressing several key mind blocks and shopper resistance aspects; hassle free replacement being one of the most important amongst them.

“Replacement Guarantee” was an initiative to address this important issue and it involved a holistic approach which included messaging, internal processes as well as staff education and training. This had a very positive impact which was reflected in the sales increase as also the basket penetration of several core categories of products.

Coming to the present times the two recent advertisements by Amazon and Flipkart are focusing on the ease of return and replacement. These two advertisements drive home the message effectively.

It is interesting to note some subtle and sublimal messaging in both these advertisements and they do raise two important questions in my mind as a retailer.
  1. Both the advertisements show an elderly person expressing concern about return and replacement. They are both reassured by someone who is much younger. Is easy return/ replacement a concern only for Gen X / older shoppers? The counter point could be that this a concern for the Gen Y and Gen Z but the advertisement is trying to drive home a message that their Gen Y and Gen Z customers do not face this problem. In that context are reference groups such a large influence for these shoppers?
  2. Retail brand building is built on trust which can happen only during the transactional experience.  Even today, the return/ replacement in most modern formats and eTailers are definitely not up to the mark. In that context will messaging alone work? What process changes have these eTailers instituted to ensure that the real experience lives up to the expectations created through the advertisements?

Monday, September 28, 2015

The way men and women shop

There are countless jibes that are directed at women about shopping and their fondness for the same. However, it is a reality which is not well known that there are validated reasons for the differences in shopping behavior between men and women.

This cartoon of Calvin & Hobbes is an interesting depiction of how men get confounded by choice which would not be the case if a woman were shopping.

There are two fundamental differences between men and women which defines their orientation towards shopping and why they differ from each other.

Women are supposedly much better at multi tasking and anyone who has taken a ride with their mother would know that it would be a fun ride where the woman would not mind having loud music being played while she chats and also drives. This would be a direct contrast to a ride with a male who would prefer minimal distractions when driving and absolute quiet might be a de-facto requirement when navigating heavy traffic.

Women are supposed to have a wider peripheral vision. This essentially means that women can take in more visual stimuli as compared to men. Men have a stronger straight-on vision supposedly a hangover from the hunter-gatherer days. This means that men prefer a single target to zoom into and complete the task.

This obviously has significant implications for any retailer. The store and all the various elements inside in terms of design, display, etc has to be different, depending on whether the focus of that store is on women shoppers or men.

As the cartoon shows, men shoppers should ideally be presented with a simple design, easy to choose display and a quick shopping experience. The direct opposite is required if a retailer is targeting women shoppers.

That is not all, even the service and interaction levels would have to be tailored and structured differently for men and women as women are more socially inclined and actually welcome interactions. On the other hand, men are far more functional and their expectations are for functional service.

Cartoon courtesy - The Hindu Metroplus

Monday, July 13, 2015

Formats and Shopper Expectations

It was perfectly acceptable to see names like Bharat Departmental stores or even Bharat Mall even for stores which were only 400 – 500 square foot on average and be crammed with products with the shop owner serving the customers from across the counter. However, this was ironical because Bharat Departmental stores would neither be large, nor presented in well defined departments and most definitely not lifestyle led as the name would lead one to believe. 

It is no wonder that this small temporary stall decided that a pun on the world’s largest retailer was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

This was mainly because of the shopper frequenting a store mainly because of their personal relationship and trust. As such the name of the store actually made no difference to the shopper and it ended up being a reflection of the shop owner’s aspiration.

Fast forward to 2015 and the shoppers are changing. This change in shopper’s orientation was driven home when I saw an advertisement for a regional retailer who has largely been known for apparel till now, announcing the launch of a 'Hyper" store. 

CLICK here to read my ET Retail article about these changes in shopper expectation and behavior which has led to format definitions to become important and accurate.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who is the face of your eTailer?

The staff in any physical store plays the role of being the face of any Retailer.  Shoppers can interact with them and address all their queries, concerns, etc., to a “person”. It is an area of focus that the quality of such staff is often not up to the mark and there is tremendous scope for improvement in that front.

In contrast a shopper sees only the person who delivers their products and invariably they are not empowered or trained to be the face of the eTailer. Any issue needs to be raised through an email or a call which has to go through the inevitable IVR (Interactive Voice Response system). The bigger issue is that the same customer call centre person does not attend to the call every time and in many cases the shopper ends up repeating all the details. 

Imagine a situation if one walked into a store and wanted some assistance. They call out to a store staff and an imaginary conversation would go like this.
  • Shopper – Excuse me, where can I find this product?
  • Store Staff – Thank you for shopping with us and we value your patronage. Please select the following from the options. Say 1 - for product information, 2 - for other service, 3 – for any complaints, 4 – for any suggestions and say 9 - if you wish to speak to a customer service person.
  • Shopper – I just want to locate this product
  • Store Staff – Sorry, we have not received any input. Please press 5 to repeat the main menu.
  • Shopper – Okay (With an angry sigh) 5
  • Store Staff – Thank you for shopping with us and we value your patronage. Please select the following from the options. Say 1 - for product information, 2 - for other service, 3 – for any complaints, 4 – for any suggestions and say 9 - if you wish to speak to a customer service person.
  • Shopper – Shouts out “1” and is obviously getting irritated.
  • Store Staff – Thank you. Please Say 1 for Food products or 2 for Non Food products. 
I am sure that most shoppers would walk out at this stage. 

While I hope that this might never happen in a physical store, this is exactly what happens most of the time when a shopper calls up the customer service number. 

Therefore, it is important to re-look at the role of the delivery person because he/ she will always be the ONLY face of the eTailer that the customer gets to see and interact with.

How this be done has been detailed in my article in ET Retail. Click here to read the article.

This video about an initiative to motivate such delivery persons. This is a good start but definitely not enough. There has to be a paradigm shift in the way front end logistics is perceived and executed. The article talks about what needs to be done and how that can become a game changer.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Joining the bandwagon

A few days ago I was quite surprised to see this advertisements for a fairly well known silk saree shop which has several outlets in the city. End Of Season Sale (EOSS) is by now a familiar sight in the Indian Retailscape with lifestyle stores screaming offers of up to 50% or even 70% Off.

This seems to be actually a new trend and is worth watching out for – Start Of Season Sale (SOSS) or is it a sign of desperation and this actually means Save Our Store Sales (SOSS)!

Retail Promotion, Lifestyle Retail, Sale, Offer, Apparel, Sarees

Some key elements which are worth debating about;
  • The festival season kicks off with Navratri/ Dushera and extends all the way till Diwali. This is the time for large spikes in sales, especially in the apparel segment and silk sarees would definitely qualify. Why should the Retailer have such aggressive Buy One Get One Free offers along with some very steep discounts also.
  • If the intent is to clear stocks, then their pitch of updated collection is misleading and is actually bound to create a negative impact in the shopper’s mind set if that is not true. This category is very high on the impact of word of mouth and such misleading information will soon spread the negative message.
  • If the range is indeed updated and has new designs for the festive season, why this aggressive offer? This segment sells based more on design, colour, quality and service. In that context, why is the Retailer making it into a mass merchandise?
Too often nowadays I find Retailers who opt for the easy way out of “Buying Sales”. This means that they have offers and promotions which have no long term or even medium strategy and usually the only objective is to increase sales with no perspective about the cost of getting such sales. Which is why I have used the terms “Save Our Store Sales” (SOSS). Such offers invariably lead to conditioning the customers to start waiting out the Retailer till they offer such promotions and very soon the Retailer is forced to make this into a regular occurrence.

On the other hand, this might be a very canny Retailer who is starting off a new trend of Start of Season Sales and will try to capture a larger share of the customers festival spends in this category. However, even in such a situation the long term impact is not very positive and it is bound to become a compulsive habit not only for that Retailer but for that segment as a whole.

Apart from the EOSS trend there are two examples to validate the fact that these trends can very soon lead to a repetitive habit forming pattern. The first is the year end sale in the CDIT stores which was started by a Chennai based Retailer to beat the low sales during that period and is now a annual occurrence across this segment. The other is the “Aadi Sale” which has a similar background and now has become a default annual affair. Although these occasions are now used to clear old models and excess stocks, am not sure whether this pattern of having some sort of sales for almost half the year is a healthy trend.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Online 3D printing store... What next!!

Several months ago, when exploring future trends about Retail and shopper behavior, a convergence of technologies like 3D printing and Google glass presented a huge opportunity which might redefine the way shopping was done. In a post I had talked about how this might redefine shopping and Retail as we know it today.

It is heartening to see that this prediction seems to be coming true. launches an online 3D printing store. Next step I look forward to is the integration of technology like Google glass to this trend. Click here to check out this new 3D store.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Retail Idea - Managing your shopper’s waiting state

A recent idea implemented by PepsiCo at a London bus stop got me thinking about the similarity with regard to a person’s waiting state between the situation at a bus stop and in a store; namely the waiting at checkout counters.

Shoppers and Retailers alike do not like the billing counters. Shoppers hate to wait for the check out and Retailers dread all the potential issues that arise out of a long checkout line. Most shoppers have reconciled themselves to this pain even if they crib and complain about it. Sure, there are some who leave their baskets and trolleys behind when faced with a long line and that is a loss of sales to the store. Retailers are constantly investing in technology to overcome this pain point with self check out, mobile check out, etc. Yet, this remains one of the biggest areas of shopper distress especially in physical, mass merchandise stores.

This is a classic example of a shopper’s waiting state. However, there are many other instances where a shopper is made to wait and in several cases the Retailer might not even be aware of the resultant resentment building up inside the shopper and/or those accompanying the shopper.

Identifying, understanding and addressing any such waiting state of the shopper is a crucial building block in delivering overall customer satisfaction. 

Let me discuss about the biggest pain of them all, the checkout line in this article and will move on to other instances of the shopper’s waiting state, in subsequent posts.

As mentioned earlier retailers have introduced self scanning, self checkout, mobile billing, etc., to try and reduce the waiting time at the billing counter. However, this is not a problem that can be completely resolved because of a simple logistics issue. The cost of manpower and technology required to handle the peak crowd of shoppers would be idle for a majority of time because shoppers tend to follow the 80:20 principle. 80 percent of them would end up shopping in the evenings and at weekends which creates an obvious load on the infrastructure and leads to bottle necks.

Self check outs are gaining ground although the shoppers are equally divided between hailing it as the best thing as compared to deriding it as a bigger problem than manned checkout stations. Therefore, let us leave this topic and address the core issue with regard to the shopper’s waiting state at the checkout.

At a very basic level, when any person is waiting they can be distracted from the monotony of waiting or their waiting can be reduced or removed. Solutions like the self check out, etc., address the elimination or reduction of this waiting state. However, as I mentioned, there is a logistic constraint in being able to eliminate this completely.

So, the other solution is to distract the shopper from their waiting. Many retailers have tried installing televisions near the billing counters to try and distract the shoppers from waiting but I do not think that this has worked very well. One key constraint is with regard to content which might not be interesting enough and the other is the presence of advertising as Retailers tend to see this as a revenue generating source more than a solution to manage the shopper’s waiting state.

When I saw this video about what PepsiCo had done at a London bus stop, it struck me as a potentially WOW solution to distract shoppers and hence manage their waiting state.

This is an interesting use of augmented reality and the display helps to completely engage the viewer as you can see in the video. Now imagine such screens placed near the checkout counters of your supermarkets and other crowded stores. The chances that you will be distracted sufficiently enough to be oblivious of the waiting state are quite high.

However, this is subject to the content and if that is not engaging, for how many repeat visits would this solution last?

That is where the Retailer should engage in a triangular Win-Win-Win arrangement which would help manage their shoppers as also deliver value to everyone concerned. One such potential agreement could be with the brand as also a major movie house.

The brand installs these screens in the stores which include some interesting and engaging augmented reality displays. The movie house can release augmented reality clips and trailers of their forthcoming movies. Imagine standing in a line to get your purchases billed and you see Shahrukh Khan or Leonardo DiCaprio walking down the line and mouthing a few dialogues or doing some stunts. While a few shoppers might still not be distracted the majority would and that means that their waiting state has been handled positively.

An idea worth bringing into reality!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Are you Buying Sales?

The SALE season is upon us!

Every Retailer, especially those in the lifestyle space routinely announce and execute the “End Of Season Sale” (EOSS). Advertisements, posters, etc., scream varying percentages with the word “Upto” mentioned in small print - for example “Upto 70% Off”.

Although the intent of these EOSS offers is to clear stocks and shelf space for the new products, lines and styles, this is becoming counterproductive in many cases. Shoppers have started expecting such offers and their timing has become a well known fact. As such, the customers tend to often wait for EOSS to make their purchases. Ironically Retailers have realized that and are beginning to feed this habit by planning for special EOSS stocks which defeats the very purpose of this activity.

The reality in Indian Retail is that most promotions by and large are run without much thought and no clearly defined specific objective. Most promotions are being planned to increase sales and then every category jumps on to the band wagon to leverage the increased customer walk ins. EOSS is also going down that road and this is definitely not a good trend.

For starters this trend is clearly conditioning the shopper against the regular pricing being offered at any store and skews the sales trends heavily. In the case of mass merchandisers, the skewed sales trends do affect the inventory levels, forecasting, etc. Even after normalizing the sales for promotion impact, the data cannot be completely trusted because there are similar promotions on the same brand being offered by other stores and this also skews the data.

This brings me to the ago old debate of Hi-Lo promotion led pricing Vs EDLP or discounted pricing. Although EDLP offers consistency and its resultant benefits, promotions bring in excitement which has its own set of benefits for any Retailer.

Am I proposing that Retailers do away with promotions and only follow a discounting model?

Not at all. My view is that promotions are not only tactical but also a part of the Retailer’s strategy. As such promotion planning needs to be done in a structured and well planned manner. Let me elaborate on one aspect of structured promotion planning which is setting objectives.

When asked why that particular promotion is being run on that SKU or category, the inevitable answer is either about increasing sales or because competition is doing the same. In other words a well defined and specific objective is missing.

I say so because sales is not an absolute and insulated phenomenon in Retail. It is actually composed of three elements –
  • Walk ins or Footfall
  • Number of Bills
  • Average Bill Value or Ticket Size

Any promotion must be structured to deliver a result which will clearly impact one or more of these three elements. This is important because different categories and varying promotions impact each of these three elements in a different manner. For example impulse or low involvement categories are great to increase footfalls but would require a very strong offer.

Execution is the next important factor to ensure that the promotions deliver the desired results. Whether it is with regard to having adequate stocks or having the proper signage and promotion communication, every execution element plays a vital role and cannot be ignored.

Last but definitely not the least is the store staff briefing which can in some cases make or break a promotion.

Let me share an example. An apparel store was offering a gift voucher linked to particular slabs of bill value. When the cashier was billing my purchase I noticed that I had become eligible for one such gift voucher and wanted to use the value of that voucher against the remaining purchases. Therefore reduce the total amount I was paying.

When I mentioned this to the cashier, as expected, he became flustered and called the supervisor. I was surprised to find that the supervisor was well briefed and he checked my purchases and briefed the cashier to bill the products as I had requested as also capture the gift voucher number against the second bill.

There are two take aways from this incident.
  1. From a shopper’s perspective the majority of cashiers and supervisors would be flustered in such situations and take the easy way out by saying that it is not allowed. Briefing the staff helps the customer get a clear communication which build loyalty instead of making them frustrated.
  2. However, from a Retailer’s perspective this seems like a waste of promotional budget. Neither is it bringing me back to increase their footfall nor did it make me buy more and therefore increase the average bill value. Why did that Retailer throw away that margin?

Very clearly promotions are not easy to plan and manage. To be able to achieve the right balance between positive business impact as also happy shoppers, the Retailer should have planned the promotion with a lot of thought, data and a clear objective.

In the absence of adequate thought and planning for any promotion, the Retailer is only buying sales!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Changing Indian Shopper

Indian Retail is going through a evolution at jet speed and the Indian shopper is changing at an even faster pace. With information at their finger tips (literally and figuratively) they are not stopping for anyone or anything.

Retailers need to keep abreast of these changes and some thoughts about the changing Indian shopper has been captured in this article and those who create a customer centric value proposition keeping in mind these changes might emerge as the winner.

Click Here to read the article. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Indian Retail trend – Technology impact on Shoppers and Shopping

The obvious topic related to technology impact on shopping is about E-Tailing and I am not going to talk about that since this is not anything new.
At several forums, I have been talking about two specific technological developments which would completely change the paradigm of shopping as we know it today. Retailers better be aware of this and stay ahead of the shopper learning curve. Otherwise, they are going to be left behind. This is especially relevant for Indian shoppers as we tend to have a high learning and adoption curve when it comes to new technology.
The first is about 3D printing or 3 Dimensional printing. My attention was drawn to this emerging technology when a few months ago, there was a news item about someone in the US using 3D printing  to make a gun at home and even firing a bullet from it. Since then I have been reading about some amazing stuff that 3D printing is enabling.  Another person has downloaded the entire blue print to print an Aston Martin car, which is the vehicle favored by James Bond. Check out this video about how this is being done.
My view about 3D printing having a high impact on retail was validated when I read about sweaters you can print or rather knit at home. Appalatch is a woolen and cotton cloth manufacturer. They are now spearheading a campaign to encourage customers to purchase a Stoll knitting machine which is being positioned as a 3D printer of knitted apparel.  While the cost of this machine is prohibitive as of now, it is bound to come down and become affordable soon. If other apparel manufacturers join the bandwagon of enabling you to print or make your own apparel at home, the cost is bound to reduce soon. Click here to read a detailed article about this development. 
The second related technology is about Google Glass. It is essentially a computing device plus a camera which is internet enabled and mounted on a pair of spectacles. The wearer can do a multitude of things with this device and the technology. You can look up details, take pictures, post online, etc. See this video about Google Glass to know more about it.
Google glass offers tremendous opportunity areas for Retailers to engage shoppers and even offer some differential services and experiences. However, the interesting development that I foresee is when a shopper pairs the above mentioned two technologies.
Supposing I am outside and see something I like, the picture can be taken using Google glass, online search for 3D printing can happen with options for customization and personalization, checking of price, etc. Finally I can even complete the transaction and trigger a print to my 3D printer at home.

So, I arrive home to find the product ready for my use. What all can I purchase like this is limited today but has no limit in the years to come. When edible pizzas and burgers have been printed, can other products be far behind!
Retailers can no longer just be providing merchandise for sale. If they do not add value to the shopper in several other dimensions, the stores might end up being exhibition halls where shoppers come to check out the products and use the technologies mentioned above to make the actual transaction from elsewhere.
If store staff did not like smart phones because it enables immediate price benchmarking, God help them when the scenario I have mentioned becomes a reality!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Events can become a game changer in Retail

A few days ago I had shared a post on my Facebook Page about shopper events and how they have a significant impact on customers. This thought and memories of some of the powerful events planned and executed by the teams I have worked with was triggered by a video about an airline which decided to convert a park bench into a memorable experience for those who sat there. Watch this video and remember to notice the range of positive emotions that plays across the faces of those who are experiencing this event.
In that context I would also like to share another video of a restaurant which had conducted an interesting event where they said that “beautiful women need not pay”, The best part of this story is that the event was so successful that their sales increased by 35% for that day.
On the topic of events I happened to read a note how Indian Retail is increasingly experiencing the positive sales impact of events and most of the chain stores have indicated increases in the range of 12% or so during events.
But, that is only the tip of the ice berg. The bigger story is about the everlasting emotional impact that good events create in a customer’s mind which results in positive memories and also great word of mouth or rather in today’s world great word of mouse.
My conviction about the emotional impact of events is validated by the memories of those who have experienced the many events conducted by my team. One of my most personal favorite “Cadbury Love Bites” which was conducted in the late 90’s would have even become an internet sensation if only digital camera and YouTube had been present then.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Indian Retail – Point & Counterpoint: Potential of Shop-in-Shop

During one of my regular forays to the various Retail outlets I came across this very well presented Shop-in-Shop (SiS) for a coffee brand. The whole presentation was very impressive, the promoter manning the SiS was helpful and the coffee aroma that was wafting around that place had its own impact.
The fundamental idea was quite simple. The customer chooses the preferred roasted coffee beans, which is weighed and then put into the small machine which grinds it into the powder ready for making filter coffee. The customer whom I saw was so involved in the process that the anticipation of going home and drinking the coffee was clearly etched on his face. Definitely, this was one of the best moments of customer engagement seen by me.
Such SiS seems to be a good option for brands that are keen to engage customers at a retail level as also have a high level of brand visibility. One can see similar examples for color cosmetics in the counters maintained by leading brands in health and beauty as also department stores. However, the key difference was the degree of customer engagement. While the cosmetic counters definitely are very good for brand visibility, it is yet another purchase point for a shopper. Some initiative to engage the customer might increase the impact of such counters.
Lastly, is the all important factor of cost Vs benefit. I think that such SiS score high on this count also as brands are always in a tug of war with regard to visibility with the chain stores. A minimum guarantee for the space being occupied with revenue share would work out well for all concerned. The minimum guarantee can be considered as a marketing expense as it does deliver high brand visibility.
All in all a Win-Win-Win opportunity for the brand, retailer and more importantly the customer.
Click here to join the discussion and share your views.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Indian Retail - Point & Counterpoint: Great ideas are a waste of time without execution focus

A few days ago I woke up to see a half page advertisement of a national Retail chain which was trying something new and interesting. They had affixed a scratch card to the advertisement and I am guessing that they were hoping that this would trigger curiosity and drive walk ins.

Sadly, the scratch card had been already scratched out and the offer was visible which completely defeated the very purpose of a scratch card. The other evident lack of execution focus was that the scratch card had been affixed upside down as you can see in the picture. (Retailer’s name has been masked)

A good idea and this is in line with the basic Retail focus of generating customer footfalls and then focusing on conversion inside the store.

However this good idea did not factor in some basic ground realities. Namely, that a scratch card which has already been defaced will have absolutely no impact on any potential customer. The other reality is that anyone will be tempted to scratch and see what is in such a card, very similar to the universal fixation of breaking the bubbles of a bubble wrap sheet.

So, another great idea which sounded fabulous when being presented seems to have fallen by the way side.

How could this great idea become very effective?

Very simple, factor in the reality that news paper agents will have access to these and if they can insert pamphlets in a paper, they can definitely scratch and see what is hidden.

Just print a random number sequence on a card which is stuck on the advertisement. This card can be shown while billing and the offer pertaining to that random number can be accessed from a data table which is uploaded in the billing software. The curiosity value is retained and the idea becomes effective.

Lastly, there could be one more perspective. In Tamil Nadu there is a ban on lottery or what is called as game of chance. This is one reason why coupons always have a slogan and then gets defined as a game of skill and not chance. (A leading ice cream brand had to withdraw a national promotion only in TN, a few years ago due to this reason). Maybe, the scratch cards were defaced deliberately. In which case why spend so much of money in making these cards and getting them fixed onto the news paper advertisement.

A distinct lack of execution focus seems to be coming through and that is a big NO, NO in Retail.

CLICK HERE to join the discussion about “Execution Focus” on my page and share your perspectives and examples.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Making your VM Visuals more effective

We had been for the mandatory festival shopping of clothes recently to one of the apparel chain stores. The often quoted fact of how visual merchandising influences a shopper by as much as 60% of the time was very nicely validated. Here is what happened and some insights from the experience for Retailers.
After having browsed through the various racks of Kurtis and other informal dresses, we had selected a few dresses and it was being tried out in the trial room. Somehow none of the shortlisted dresses were WOW and triggering the final buying decision. When I was walking around waiting to pay the bill (!!) I happened to see a mannequin which seemed to be sporting a very nice and well coordinated dress. It also helped that the mannequin was the right height and size to represent the shopper and gave a very good idea about how that dress would look on a similar person. I asked the customer service staff for the same dress combination, it was tried out and bingo, the sale was through. Great VM work by the Retailer.
Now comes the other side of the story. While waiting near the trial room we noticed several large visuals of models in very nice dresses. The sensible part of these visuals was the inclusion of a short description and mention of the price. Instead of just being a feel good factor these VM visuals had become extremely powerful POP and sales promotion aids. We then asked the store staff for one of the dresses and the comment by the staff “We don’t have stock of that dress. A few pieces came and has sold out. Many customers see this poster and ask for the dress. We don’t have stocks.”
We persisted and asked about the arrival of fresh stocks and the staff had no idea. She was even doubtful if the stocks of that particular dress would come at all.
No doubts, VM and visuals are extremely powerful influence on shoppers and the Merchandising & VM team at that Retailer have done a good job of leveraging the same. However, it could have been even more powerful and the sales impact could have been significantly more if some more basic things had also been done.
Some inputs from this experience for all Retailers, especially fashion ones are -
  • Plan your mannequin displays and make it relevant. It is not only about the ensemble you want on the mannequin but also the size and proportion of the mannequins. A petite, very thin, mannequin might be a great idea to attract younger shoppers. It might be a better idea to use “plus sized” mannequins for stores where the shopper profile is in the older age group.
  • Needless to say, accessorize, match and present a holistic solution. We ended up purchasing the complete combination. However, the mannequin did not sport any accessory like a wide belt, etc. Maybe a display of such an accessory would have included that also in our purchase.
  • The use of VM visuals as POP and sales promotion aids was very impressive and I don’t see that being adopted by many Retailers in India. It is a great idea and if done tastefully it will not compromise the look and feel factor while having the positive spin off on sales.
  • The most important factor is to plan, track and replenish stocks of SKUS used in such display and visuals. It requires some effort but it is not difficult to create a separate inventory and sales tracking mechanism for only these SKUs. In fact, it could even be manual and done at the store level, then consolidated at a region or state level for reordering. Even assuming that this was being done at the store we went to, it was obviously not working and imagine the loss of sales opportunity
Lastly, as I often say in my classes and training programs, Retail works like a ball bearing and if each and every component of the bearing does not move freely while being interlinked, the whole bearing freezes and brings the machine to a halt. Good ideas need great, outstanding execution.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Coffee beans and perfume selection, a potent combination

I had recently visited a standalone apparel store in Chennai and as most male shoppers do, was prowling around waiting for my family members to finish their browsing. When I neared the perfume counter, I saw an interesting and curious thing. There was a small container with lots of coffee beans kept there. Coffee, as you know has a string aroma and my first thought was that some new perfume with a coffee fragrance (Like the chocolate deodorant!!! Ugh) had been launched.

As a Retailer at heart, I was curious to know about this and asked the counter salesman. He explained that the coffee beans had been kept there to help shoppers make the right choice when purchasing perfumes. Frankly, this was something new and I asked him the logic. He went on to explain that the aroma of coffee beans were supposed to cleanse our olfactory sense (sense of smell).

While it did sound very interesting and innovative, I dismissed the explanation as a sales gimmick as I have not seen this in any of the large lifestyle stores which have far bigger perfume counters offering a wider range.

When I returned home, this was nagging me and I checked i out on the internet and realised that the salesman had been correct.

One site says “Our sense of smell is really powerful but it tires really quickly. We call this tiring “olfactory fatigue.” So, when you smell perfumes/fragrances, smell no more that 3 at a time before you “reset” your nose by smelling coffee beans. If you were to smell 4 perfumes in a row, you are not smelling the 4th one.  Smell 1, 2, 3 “reset” then 4, 5, and 6, etc. So the next time you are at a fragrance counter that has coffee beans, try it.”

Now the larger question is that why the large chain stores do not implement such a simple and customer enabling idea?

My earlier posts and articles about customer orientation and ownership of the customer experience highlight the lack of such a simple step. Retailers need to step into the stores more often, think like the customers and implement simple but effective customer enabling ideas. This is possible only when any retailer thinks from a customer perspective which is in turn possible on when they walk the store often enough and interact with customers. Sitting in conference rooms and devising grand strategies without the feet being firmly on the ground or rather walking around in the store is a sure fire recipe for failure.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Word of mouth in the social networking era

The buzz around social networking sites has been growing over the years and in the recent past we have seen many corporate trying to leverage the same. Unfortunately, the rules of the game have changed and corporates are still getting used to these. However, Indian Retail is still a far cry away from truly leveraging these media options. Barring the few mandatory Facebook pages, there is very little that is being done. Even these fan pages are fairly static in nature which defeats the very purpose of social networking sites. I had lamented the lack of initiative by Indian Retail in leveraging this excellent customer connect platform in my post "Using Social Networking Sites"

Recently, when travelling out of the country I came across this advertisement by a leading retailer.

The picture is self explanatory as to how well this Retailer has leveraged the social networking site and more importantly how the positive comments have been taken forward into a conventional media (Newspaper advertisements). Needless to say, this will help create a good and positive cycle of increased word of mouth amongst customers and more importantly potential customers.

However, this approach is not for the faint hearted as social networks cannot be controlled and manipulated to reflect only positive things. One needs to work really hard to be able to carry this effort off in a successful manner.

Recently in one of my training sessions I was explaining how well this media lends itself to both corporate as well as store level marketing initiatives. Although the participants were very excited and wanted to implement the ideas given by me, they were diffident about the corporate bureaucracy which will eventually kill the idea.

It is not impossible but definitely not easy. Will Indian Retail move to leverage this wonderful new customer connect opportunity?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Creating Unsustainable Expectations

Waiting at the billing counter has always been a touchy and sensitive point with customers. They are at their irritable best if there is even the smallest of delays. In fact this factor is now one of the key drivers for customer to revert to their trusted neighborhood store for basic/ functional purchases. Make a phone call and be done with it.

So, it was refreshing to see an Indian hypermarket take the bull by its horns and tackle this issue head on. They released advertisements about the “No more long billing queues” and branded it as the Green Line revolution.

Quite frankly I thought that they were quite ambitious in their claim and was watching to see how this would pan out.

I shared this advertisement in several of my classes and invited inputs from the students in the context of customer service and customer satisfaction. Initially the feedback was very positive with most students mentioning how this was a welcome move and they would try this store just for this service factor.
Cut to a few weeks later. This campaign has been on my mind and I was keen to see how successfully this Retailer had managed this service issue and what had happened.

In order to maintain objectivity I asked another class of mine to do a field visit to various stores including this hypermarket. They had not been showed this advertisement and there had been no discussion in this regard in the class.

The feedback was rather shocking although along expected lines. The Green Line initiative was highlighted as a positive and the message registered well with the student customers. Although under the negatives for that store long lines and a long wait for the billing was highlighted. The net take out was that the claim was not supported in reality and was a huge disappointment.

Obviously this Retailer might have ended up irritating more customers than winning them over with this initiative and the fact that this is no longer mentioned in their advertisements seems to validate my point of view.

So, what went wrong?

It was creating unreasonable and unsustainable expectations. Service delivery is not only ensuring great service but also setting the right expectations. In this case the customer expectations would have far exceeded the delivery that the Retailer was prepared for. This is not uncommon and I see this often enough.
In fact the reality is that most customers might have not even registered the word “long” in the advertisements. They would have registered the message as no more queues.

This just another case to the point that Retail marketing is a 360 degree exercise and starts from the home where customers get some communication from the Retailer. Wrong or misleading communications like “Upto 50% Off”, with “Upto” lost in the small print or claims which are not sustainable will hurt more than help.

In Retail everyone should get a first hand feel of the store reality by spending time there and ideally working at the store often. Then they will be wary of such actions which are not sustainable. Remember, Retail is all about execution, execution and execution. Brilliant ideas conceived and presented in meeting rooms counts for very little in the reality test of how the customer actually experiences the same.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Loyalty Cards; The new toy!

I went to a supermarket a few days ago and was informed by a staff member that they have launched a loyalty card. Later while billing, the cashier thrust an envelope at me and said that it is a loyalty card and I can become a member. I politely declined and after another half hearted suggestion to enroll in the loyalty program the cashier gave up.

The following thoughts ran through my mind in a flash –  
  • The typical cost of any loyalty program averages at 3% of sales. So, this supermarket chain is now going to incur an additional cost and that is going to put pressure on its other operational parameters. 
  • Any event or activity that is to be implemented in Retail needs simplicity and clear cut directions to the store staff. The impression I got was one of a standard briefing email about the new loyalty program and a courier with all the application packs. That could be a key reason why the cashier was not able to highlight the benefits and make me interested in the loyalty card. If the store staff are not sold about a program, how can they sell it to the customer?
  • There are a few more supermarkets on the same road and a few of them also have loyalty cards. As a customer if I do not get what I want in shop A, I will go to shop B without being bothered about the loyalty card. Here lies the issue with regard to Indian Retail. When availability of many products is still a common problem faced by supermarket customers, why should the business waste time, effort and money to run a loyalty program. Customer loyalty can be gained by simply addressing the stock out issues, as a first step! The usual argument to justify such loyalty cards is the possibility of targeted data and therefore better decision making. Frankly, this is a myth. Indian Retail can generate enough data from the POS sales to manage adequate stocks. In fact, the reality is that the POS data itself might have an accuracy of anywhere upwards of 65% to 70%. So, how does data from one more source help?
I have faced many situations when someone suggests that we should run a loyalty program and I have some very strong views about it.

Loyalty programs per se are not bad or wrong. It is like a sharp instrument. In the hands of a doctor the instrument saves a life and in the hands of a murderer it takes a life. Similarly, if loyalty programs are run without adequate thought, preparation, briefing and very good execution, it will only take the life of that Retail business. The funny thing is that most enabling businesses like the loyalty program implementer, card supplier, etc. will all strongly endorse loyalty programs because it ensures revenue. Whereas the Retailer who gets influenced and implements the program will spend and spend, while a long wait awaits them to realize the fruits of such an initiative, if at all there are any.

There is a common saying about easy ways to lose money. It is said that the two easiest ways are to get into gambling or get into Retail without knowing Retailing. A faster and surefire way to lose money is to start a loyalty program as if it were a new toy and play with it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Articles about Consumer Behavior

Two more articles of mine about being a Smart Shopper in The Hindu Retail Plus and the links are as follows.

- What is impulse shopping
- Perception Vs Reality

Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them for all of you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Using social networking sites

When one speaks of the internet in the context of Retail the immediate association is with online shopping. However, there is a very powerful use of the internet that shoppers can leverage to become smart shoppers and getting more value for their value.

I had written about this for The Hindu Retail Plus and the link to that article is as follows -

Using social networking and the internet