Category Archives: Retailing

Peace of Mind as a HUGE Competitive Advantage

Some of you may know that I recently moved from the Chicago area to Raleigh after some 35 years.

While I have moved away from many close family members and old friends, the person I will probably miss the most is Mr. Lee (who, like my elementary school teachers, has no known first name).

Mr. Lee runs a humble shop called North Town Auto, and took care of our out-of-warranty cars, both domestic and foreign, for many years. It helped that he was only 2 blocks from us in Northbrook (convenient to the Metra Station!). And while there are probably mechanics who could do a certain thing for a slightly lower price. I would use Mr. Lee even if it required a drive to get there.

The reason? Peace of mind. Peace of mind that the car would be fixed correctly, that I would not overpay, that I would not pay for unnecessary repairs, that things would be done on time, that if he said I needed to do something, then I actually needed to do it.  That there was service with respect and a smile.  No worries, as they say.

I had complete loyalty to Mr. Lee.  And when it comes to loyalty, peace of mind turns out to be a huge competitive advantage.

Americans spend a lot on lots of stuff. They generally don’t seem to mind spending a lot.

However, Americans HATE the thought that they might be over-spending. And they don’t want to worry about it.

Think about institutions that offer what Mr. Lee does:

  • fair price (not necessarily the lowest)
  • high quality
  • consistency in delivery – no surprises
  • customer focus – great service, you don’t need to be on guard

Here are a few that come to mind that deliver great peace of mind:

unknowntj

  • COSTCO – – once I pass through those portals with my oversized shopping cart, I’m pretty sure that anything I put in my cart is a great deal and great quality (even if in the back of my rational mind I realize that some things are better value than others)
  • Trader Joe’s – – great value, interesting selection, fun experience – 2-Buck Chuck!
  • Amazon Prime – – I know my selections will be delivered on time and at no cost
  • Tire Rack – – awesome customer service, great pricing, instant shipping – – it’s the only way to go
  • Online window treatments – seriously – – it’s so automated and competitive that you’re not going to make a big mistake
  • Spirit Airlines (just kidding!)

Here are a few organizations that seem to fall down on the peace of mind continuum – – you might be overpaying, you’re not sure of the quality delivered, etc. And that bugs you.

chipotle

  • 1-800-Flowers – – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • Chipotle – – unfortunately moved from the other list – – love their food, but still have a vestige of doubt
  • Car Dealers – – sorry, guys – no change
  • Movers, painters, realtors, various local contractors – – until you build a track record like Mr. Lee, you’re not on my speed dial.

Why is peace of mind so important? Because we’re so stressed with just the basics of surviving from day to day that we need to simplify and eliminate unnecessary decisions.

dog

While Mr. Lee is a small businessman, the Peace of Mind list includes enterprises of all sizes.  We all have our examples of who provides peace of mind and who doesn’t (would love to hear about yours).

In the end, it’s about delivering consistent, dependable value. And that’s good advice for everyone.

Advertisements

Don’t Be Something You’re Not

This week a woman named Federica Marchionni was eased out of her position as CEO of Lands’ End after only 19 months on the job.

federica

Federica Marchionni

This illustrates (fairly predictably) what can happen when a brand tries to be something it’s not.

Ultimately, brand-building success is driven by meeting customers’ needs, not by trying to teach them to want something different. And loyal customers have this peculiar habit of resisting (resenting) signs that they’re being taken for granted.

lands-end-1981

Lands’ End 1983

landsendgroup

Recent Lands’ End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the case of Lands’ End, since its 1963 founding by Gary Comer as a sailing supplies business, it developed a heritage as a casual sportswear business that was eventually bought by Sears (and spun off in 2014).  Mr. Comer was fond of saying “Take care of the customers, take care of the employees and profits will take care of themselves.”

But Lands’ End had recently been stumbling, so Ms. Marchionni, with a background at high-style retailers Dolce & Gabbana and Ferrari, was brought in and offered an experienced, glamorous executive who could help reshape Lands’ End “into a meaningful, global lifestyle brand”.

That’s when the trouble started.

federica-kate-hudson

Marchionni and actress Kate Hudson

New lines were immediately introduced, meaning loafers were sold alongside stiletto heels. Ms. Marchionni dropped low-profitability catalog shoppers and hired prominent fashion photographers to shoot elegant catalogs at exotic locations. She insisted on working out of New York City rather than the corporate headquarters in Dodgeville, WI, and was often seen hobnobbing with celebrities.

lands-end-canvas

New Lands’ End Canvas Line

lands-end-shoes

Lands’ End shoes – traditional and new

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this alienated not only customers but employees, who were used to casual access to top management in Dodgeville and who would be critical in execution of plans. And unfortunately sales lagged spending, creating a lot of red ink. Ultimately the board decided it was time for another change.

old-spice

Successful reposition – Old Spice

While there are success stories about brands repositioning to catch a younger/new demographic (think Old Spice or Target), this is not the first time a brand has suffered from trying to fly too close to the sun.

JCPenney famously failed recently; going farther back, the breeding ground (figuratively) of nerds, Radio Shack, tried and aggressively failed to get more hip by calling itself ‘The Shack’. And even staid Dolly Madison snack cakes invented a character called the ‘Snackin’ Dude with a Snackin’ attitude’ to try to become somewhat more hip. Another whiff.

radio-shack-the-shack

Radio Shack unsuccessful reposition

Back to Lands’ End, the acting CEO (COO James Gooch) spends all of his non-traveling time in Dodgeville and is odds-on favorite for the permanent role.

We’ll see how the company and customers respond to an expected return to tradition. On the other hand, Mr. Gooch was recently CEO of the S.S. Radio Shack. Hmm…

Conclusion #1- – ignore loyal customers at your own peril.

Conclusion #2 – – just because a brand isn’t hip, doesn’t mean it isn’t great

Customer satisfaction – the short path often beats the long road

Sometimes we need to be reminded that simple customer satisfaction is almost always the goal of most businesses – and that policies and procedures are merely means to that end.

A recent, hard-to-believe experience brought this to my attention.

Frustrated

While getting my ears lowered at my local chain haircut emporium (whose name still escapes me even after years of visits) a man came in who had apparently booked an appointment online for himself and his son.

The man was called up but asked that his son go first. The employee said that this was not possible; the computer indicated that he, not his son, was in the first position, and that it was corporate policy to do what the computer said.

The man politely but firmly mentioned that the online booking program does not allow one to enter preferences or even names of people; the order of haircut is randomly assigned – – and since it involved two family members (as opposed to two strangers), the order of haircut shouldn’t really matter.

Great Clips

Incredibly, the employee still refused to let the son go first, claiming it was “Corporate policy”.

The man understandably was confused and frustrated, but out of a surplus of good cheer he managed through the situation (after getting a more empathetic but no more satisfying repeat of the message from the store manager – “I’ll be sure to bring this up with Corporate”).

Corporate policy in this case would likely be in place for one of two reasons:

  • to avoid conflicts with two parties who have booked simultaneously
  • to gather information so that strategies and programs can be implemented to enhance the future experience of future customersShortPath

Now, I’m a big believer in insight-driven marketing; as described above it’s what one might call the ‘long road’.

HOWEVER, when the customer is standing right in front of you (or is on the phone, or in an online chat) the opportunity to create satisfaction is immediate – and needs to be taken!

As we enter the high holy season of shopping, this would be good for retailers to remember.

What an Epic Fail Integrated Marketing Campaign Looks Like

Monday’s Wall Street Journal delivered a rather amazing example of how NOT to promote a product, along with the news and pithy commentary.

Most marketers know that messaging can be maximized if deployed consistently across vehicles.  This is apparently more difficult than it seems.

Page A7 of today’s WSJ featured a full-page color ad for €5.99/$7.99 dress shirts, from a manufacturer somewhat oddly named ‘Mosegi & Haberdashery’.

Mosegi Ad 2

It is important to keep in mind that a full-page color ad carries a price tag of $386,865.98.

A cursory scan of the ad shows a few obvious errors:

  • CEO Earl Mosegi’s promise includes: “…will not lose their shirt off there back” (sic)
  • Featured product claim: “Women shirt now available”
  • Key contact called “Sale Representative”

Mosegi_Quote

It gets worse.

  • Ad contains a QR code that is inactive
  • Ad implies a Facebook page (but no URL) which if you find it, not only doesn’t reference the ad, it features products not remotely like a dress shirt. Seems to be targeted at kids.  And it hasn’t been updated since July 2014.

Mosegi_Cartoon

But wait – there’s more!

  • The website itself is remarkably incomplete but also quite entertaining.
    • Of 8 main tabs, only 3 have content. There is no contact info.
    • The all-important ‘ORDER’ page contains just a static image – – there is no ordering mechanism for all the consumers who have seen the ad to take action online!
    • The ad shows a minimum order of 12 shirts; the website lists minimum orders of both 100 and 300 shirts. Clearly this is a wholesaler trying a direct consumer appeal.
    • Most remarkably, an unfortunate keystroke error removed a key letter from the word ‘shirt’, resulting in an entirely new word, which shows up on the home page as well as every single header.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 5.07.52 PM

This brings up a few key questions:

  • Is the entity who placed this ad a) the playboy son of a Turkish billionaire setting up shop online? b) an unemployed Russian hacker? c) a Nigerian scammer? or d) a third-grader?
  • How does an ad that has a bargain-basement pitch, contains so many obvious errors and leads to an online dead-end, get approved by the Journal’s advertising department? (guess: maybe $387k has something to do with it?)
  • Is this our official notification that QR codes are truly dead?
  • Does a re-integrator exist?

Marvin

This is a campaign that seems to have been thrown together with not much thought other than a price point and a photo.

These people really need to get their shirt together.

One thing this ad is excellent at is demonstrating, by omission, some obvious basics of an integrated campaign:

  • Start with a compelling message/offer (arguably they are ok here)
  • Infuse every element of your marketing mix with the same consistent message, offer and look
  • Make it easy for customers to take action
  • For crying out loud, have someone who knows the language check for accuracy.   (The Armchair MBA is particularly pained at this last point, as its companion business, Peregrine Advisors, specializes in helping clients avoid online gaffes).

The Armchair MBA works hard to scour the globe for stories worthy of your attention. This one fell into our lap.

As the saying goes, better lucky than good.

The Loyalty Program That Will Survive the Apocalpyse – – and Why

The future of shopping and loyalty is mobile – – we are continually reminded about this.  Digital loyalty programs can leverage vast storehouses of data and sophisticated analytics, and can deliver individualized promotions at a time, place and shopping occasion that optimizes ROI.

JewelOscoPromoSo why the heck is there, sitting on my kitchen counter, a sheet for gluing small stamps received with each shopping trip at the local Jewel (Albertson’s)?  (If enough stamps are collected, a piece of Cuisinart cookware can be ours!).  

After all, this is an utterly low-tech, old media, one-size-fits-all loyalty promotion here in the digital age.

Ultimately the reasons for this low-tech promotion’s survival are related to its low-techness, and can be helpful to more tech-driven modern programs.

S&H GreenStamps

SinclairS&H_greenstamps

Hard to believe but this is essentially the same concept as S&H Green Stamps, which debuted over 100 years ago and were highly popular from the 1930s to the 1980s.  You got stamps when you bought stuff, filled out books (typically 1200 stamps) and could then win prizes from a catalog.  Stores that gave out these stamps used it as a competitive advantage.

And this is not an isolated grocery type program – – McDonald’s famously runs its Monopoly program, where customers get game pieces on everything they buy, and can win big prizes if they collect the right stamps.

mcdonalds-monopoly2013-300x300McDonalds_monopoly_pieces

 So what accounts for these games’ popularity? 

1) Simplicity – no apps, no logging on or passwords, no points to track online, no devices at all.  Just shop, stick, rinse and repeat.  It’s likely that there is greater appeal among older users for some of these promotions, but that doesn’t explain the McDonald’s popularity.

2) Can visualize success – each new stamp makes progress tangible and encourages continued participation

3) User involvement – Unlike an automatic electronic promotion, manually applying the stamps actively involves the participant, much like adding the proverbial egg to the cake mix turned Mom into a baker – increasing personal commitment level.

4) Closed-ended – a finite promotion period, so no long-term commitment or long wait for a payoff

5) It’s fun! – there’s an excitement to participating in these promotions!  It’s not just a mercenary exercise in repetitive purchases; there’s often an element of chance (and like gambling and golf, hope is what brings people back in the face of continued abject failure).

I’ve not seen any statistics about whether any of these promotions is more effective at driving shopper loyalty than any other.  I know that stamp programs definitely impact our shopping habits at home.

In any case, it’s clear that digital/mobile is the future of loyalty programs, even if the transition will take some time.

But some of the factors that make these old-school promotions popular can help make future loyalty efforts more successful.  

And until tech can replicate all of the above factors, it’s likely we’ll be shopping, sticking and winning, well into the future.

A Non-Techie’s Guide to the Internet Commerce Trade Show (IRCE)

Posted on

This year was the 10th anniversary of the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) and my first year of attendance.

IRCE logo

Trying to neatly summarize this sort of confab without a experience as an e-commerce operator is sort of like assuming you can translate Portuguese based on having watched the World Cup.  The show was large, chaotic and alien – sort of like walking into 100 Star Wars bars simultaneously.

So while I have decent e-retailing experience, I will not attempt to make sense of all of this.

But I do have some observations.

E-Commerce is based on a few simple objectives, not too different from the marketing funnel used for any other product marketing, but with different terminology:
– gain the right customers’ attention  (‘engagement’, ‘click thru’, ‘open rate’)
– encourage purchase (‘conversion’)
– efficiently delivering (‘fulfillment’, ‘final mile’)
– establish a relationship (‘customer experience’)
– encourage repeat purchase (‘loyalty’, ‘retention’)
– encourage WOM, referrals (‘evangelism’)
– etc.

Simple, no?  I mean, we all shop online, how difficult could it be?

Well, let’s illustrate some of the complexities using a typical grocery store as the template.  Imagine running this store.

This is a store where:
the store itself serves the entire world — yet it needs to be built to serve the right volume of customers profitably
– finding the store requires a guide — yet the description that will lead to your store changes every 6 months
– your most loyal customers can be lost if a competitor offers to carry the groceries to the car for free
one of your big vendors (i.e. ISP) can have a bad day and you are unable to open, with no control
competitors can pop up virtually next door – instantly – and go away just as fast
– about 4 in 10 customers fill up their carts and then exit the store, leaving the cart in the aisle
a person with bad intent could lock the doors of your store –  from thousands of miles away
your loyal shoppers are barraged with promotional messages from stores right next door – and around the world
your competitors’ customers don’t necessarily live nearby – – but you still have to find them
– some of your competitors sell products to an enormous store that’s in every market, and which sells them cheaper (hint: starts with an ‘A’)
– and all of this is changing at light speed — Yikes!

On the other hand, all is not lost.  Imagine if your store could:
remind customers when important events are, and even suggest items to buy for the occasion
– send customers totally personalized communications, including catalogs – – as often as you want, for almost nothing
make recommendations to your customers about what they might love, based on what they’ve already bought
– send customers not just promotions, but at the exact time that you know they typically buy, and the deals that they respond to
enable your customers to tell all their friends about your great store – – instantly, when they’re most excited
follow up every single purchase to make sure everything is ok
dress your store up for the holidays or another event – – instantly
change what your store offers based on what your customers are buying elsewhere
enable customers to order merely by touching the picture in the ad

This is the magic of e-tailing.  The ability to reach and influence is remarkable, and the rules are constantly changing.

Here are a few companies whose products looked interesting:

Ship 2 My ID – – from their website: “Ship2MyID is a social commerce enabler that will allow users to buy items online and send them to others without needing to know the receiver’s physical address. Both the sender and the receiver’s physical addresses are kept hidden from each other, and the receiver has to accept the shipment, ensuring security.”  Got it?  You give them your email or social media ID, they help someone ship something to you without their knowing your address.  yes, me too.

ShipToMyID

 

OrderGroove – encourages all-important loyalty by enabling subscription ordering (i.e. they figure out when you run out of vitamins, diapers, dog treats, whatever, and facilitate having the manufacturer send to you.)

Ordergroove

Bitpay – Still don’t understand bitcoins?  Doesn’t matter.  With these guys, your store can still accept them.

From their site:  “Instant conversion, no transaction fee, and bank deposits in US Dollars, Euros, GBP, CAD and more. We take the bitcoin exchange rate risk, your customers get the best rate on the market, and you get a payment you can count on, every time.”

Sounds pretty low-risk to me.

Bitpay

FeedVisor – Algorithmic Repricing for Amazon Sellers!   I will admit – – not 100% sure what these guys do.  Maybe not even 50%. There was a crowd of intimidating techies crowded around the booth so I just gave them wide berth and moved on.

Algorithmic Repricing

 

The IRCE show is one trade event that is actually worth attending every year, because you know that in a year everything will be completely different.

 

Top 10 2013 Mostly Accidental Marketing Lessons

This is the time of year where instead of being productive, people put together lists.
So here’s my look back at 10 events in 2013 that provided (purposely or not) great learning.

2013  Lesson 1:  Measure Twice, Cut Once.  Make that: Measure three times.
Healthcare.gov rollout
(honorable mention for Chicagoans:  Ventra public transit card rollout).
– So many lessons here.  It’s the lesson that keeps on giving.  Reminder: even if your brand isn’t one-sixth of the national economy you probably still want to test a new e-commerce site.  Test, test and then test again.

jon_stewart_obamacare

2013 Lesson 2: A brand CAN do a 180 in a Single Day 
Miley Cyrus
– And in this case it took about 5 minutes.  The recipe: take one tweens’ idol named Hannah Montana.  Remove most clothes, liberally add makeup, a big foam finger and nationally televised awards show; mix aggressively using the body and add a large dash of idiot grin.  Voila!  You’ve now transformed from Hannah Montana into what looks like the love child of Gene Simmons and Dita Von Teese, without the charm.
The winner:  probably Miley and her handlers, but hard to know yet.  The clear losers: Millions of formerly innocent Hannah fans.  Also, the general cultural level in the US.
So yes, it is possible to completely change your brand’s image in a day.  But it might involve twerking.

Hannah to Miley

2013 Lesson 3: There is such a thing as too much transparency
Lululemon
– Due to quality control snafus, Lululemon’s yoga pants delivered a little more than was supposed to meet the eye.  The media, always a model of sober restraint when it comes to high-minded topics like see-through clothing, did its best to spin this story as salaciously as possible.  Ultimately it went viral, resulting in loss of gobs of market value, as well as Lulu’s top management. At least they kept their sense of humor about it. (actually, there is a real lesson here: at the end of the day it’s about the product – and you can never take your eye off the ball).

Lululemon Store Window

2013 Lesson 4:  The early bird still catches the worm – – if he tweets about it.
Oreo cookies
– We now live in an era that enables, and requires, real-time marketing.  As has been reviewed ad nauseam (guilty!), Oreo slam-dunked it with a timely tweet during the Super Bowl blackout.  Meanwhile, given the opportunity of Marco Rubio’s magic cotton-mouth TV moment, the Poland Spring ad team not only didn’t stick the dive, they missed the pool entirely.

oreo-super-bowl-tweetMarco Rubio drink

2013 Lesson 5:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  When your meatball supplier tries to slip you some horsemeat, clean house IMMEDIATELY.
IKEA
– When IKEA learned that some of its famous meatballs (150 million annually!) might contain traces of horsemeat, it immediately got rid of all meatballs in inventory, whether suspect or not.  Cost of write-off?  Probably pretty high.  Benefit to reputation by immediately taking action?  Priceless.  Sales of meatballs since then?  UP.

IKEA meatballs

2013 Lesson 6:  Hint: ‘Fail Fast’ is really just a euphemism for Test and Learn.  It doesn’t mean your goal is actually to fail fast.
JC Penney
– Here is a retailer that tried to do a 180 without twerking.  Or more importantly, without considering that its customers preferred periodic discounts.  Boom.
Easier to adapt to customer preferences than to try to force them to adapt to you.

jcpenneymadnessJCP quarterly

2013 Lesson 7:  There is No Such Thing as Bad PR (at least for Jeff Bezos)
Amazon
– Amazon’s eerie delivery drones cleverly debuted on ’60 Minutes’ the day before Cyber Monday.  Never mind that if you give it about 5 seconds’ thought, the barriers are significant (snow? wind? power lines? privacy issues? teen boys with slingshots?) – what it really shows is that in addition to any product you can think of, Amazon’s mission apparently also includes delivering PR to all homes.

Amazon drone

2013 Lesson 8:  If you go for the ‘wink-wink, joke’s on me’ approach, and people don’t get it, then ‘wink-wink, the joke’s on you’.
Honda/Michael Bolton Holiday campaign
– If you didn’t see them, these spots feature the man of the strained tenor and shorn mullet singing soulful holiday-esque tunes from atop a Honda, next to a Honda, in a Honda showroom, behind a piano, behind a guitar, all to the indecipherable reactions of surprised, baffled, younger presumed car shoppers.  It’s difficult to tell what the point is.  The obvious assumption is that this is a quid pro quo: the 60-year old Bolton (perfect for a younger target!) has a new album that needs promoting (true) and Honda needs some breakthrough quality in the holiday car ad environment that generally features obnoxiously gift-wrapped luxury cars (true again).
But what’s Bolton doing up there on that car?  Apparently, according to Adweek, this campaign is ‘poking fun at itself with melodramatic guitar solos and idiotic lyrical gems like “This special time of year, it’s filled with joy and cheer, for me and you and you and you, too’.”  Well, I know something about misplaced melodrama and idiot lyrics and I didn’t catch it.  If there’s a wink in there somewhere, it’s subtle enough as to be invisible.
So we’re left with a spot with bland cars, being promoted by bland music – – a perfect match, but I suspect probably not what they were going for.
The American public as a rule doesn’t respond well to ‘subtle.’   Witness, if you will, Ron Burgundy for Dodge – – a more effective celebrity hookup.

Bolton on car

2013 Lesson 9:  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  When trying to break into Southern California, and your name contains the word ‘Fresh’, don’t pre-wrap the fruits and vegetables.
Tesco Fresh & Easy
– This one already has a coda. Big UK retailer Tesco created its Fresh & Easy chain in late 2007 to penetrate the Western US market with a fresh new smaller format store, famously after significant consumer research.  The experiment failed when consumers didn’t respond well to new formats, new food presentation, and in some cases, truly foreign concepts.  Ultimately F&E was sold to Yucaipa, which has added “competitive pricing, improved hours, fresher foods and assisted checkout” according to management.  Everything, it appears, has been changed except the name.
– The obvious lesson – – listen to your customers (see Lesson 6).

fresh and easy vegetables

2013 Lesson 10:  You can say Social Media and B2B Marketing in the same sentence
Maersk Shipping
– Maybe it’s the exotic locations where its ships are shown.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that deep down we’re all little kids and are awed by really cool big boats.  Whatever the appeal, big freight shipper Maersk found a way to go from zero to one million+ in Facebook likes in about a year (good Forbes article here).  Of course, no one places container orders on a Facebook page, but for very little cost (repurposing archival company photos) this enhances the Maersk brand, distances it a bit from its competitors, and likely provides meaningful recruiting and morale benefits.

Maersk Facebook

Probably the big lesson for 2013 has been that while many old conventions are being challenged (e.g. static campaigns, role of social media), the key marketing fundamentals are still alive and well:  understanding your customers and their needs is the surest way to success (or at least avoiding being in next year’s write-up).

Happy New Year.