Posts Tagged ‘Shopper Marketing’

Why identifying the problem is half the challenge

April 22, 2013 1 comment


Over the last few weeks, two very different types of establishment, from different parts of the world, have hit the headlines thanks to their unorthodox approaches in dealing with frustrating patrons.

In the process they gave the old adage about the ‘customer always being right’ a bit of a kicking, but that’s not what’s bothered me.

You can’t solve a problem that you haven’t identified

The madness started when a store in Australia imposed a $5 ‘browsing’ fee to combat ‘showrooming’. Then, a Californian restaurateur went one step further by naming and shaming the people who hadn’t turned up for their reservations on Twitter.

As we all know, when we want to encourage a behaviour, we reward it and seek to remove any barriers that might be impeding it. Conversely, when we want to stop a behaviour, we punish it and insert barriers.

Neither establishment is the first to seek ways to overcome these particular business challenges. Both caused plenty of debate with their novel approaches with many commentators critical of the decision to take the latter ‘punitive’ method, accusing them of being heavy-handed and ‘demonising’ their patrons.

However, my issue with what both businesses have done is that neither policy will solve the problem facing the business. And that’s because neither business has really identified the problem they are trying to solve.

From Showrooming in Australia

Let’s look at the Australian store first – ‘Celiac Supplies‘ in Brisbane. As its name suggests, it caters to people with a very particular need.

Their gripe is that these people come to the store for advice, and then leave without purchasing, in the (mistaken, according to the store) belief that the products will be available cheaper elsewhere.

Their frustration is understandable but by charging people to browse, they are likely to reduce footfall, when their challenge was all about increasing conversion. Their solution doesn’t really match their problem.

So, could they have approached the problem from another angle?

Many articles suggesting ways to deal with ‘showrooming‘ recommend investing in staff education and offering price-matching as key ways to increase the likelihood of closing a sale in-store.

In the case of Celiac Supplies, their staff knowledge is one of the main footfall drivers in the first place. And in their explanatory note, they highlight their competitive pricing. On the face of it, they seem to be well placed to overcome the dangers of showrooming.


The barrier to converting their footfall was simply the perception that they were more expensive. All they needed to do is find a way to overcome this.

It’s something that could easily be achieved by providing internet access in-store so that shoppers could check competitor prices before they left the store, or by listing the prices of nearby stores. By facilitating price comparison, the store would empower shoppers and reassure them that they are getting a good deal in-store. Better still, being a physical store means that they can immediately fulfil a shopper’s needs, eliminating the need to wait for an online order to be delivered.

So, rather than start from a position of mistrust, wouldn’t it have been better for Celiac Supplies to welcome potential shoppers, confront the problem of price perception, thereby overcoming their fears of overpaying and turn them into loyal customers?

To No-Shows in California

While showrooming is a relatively modern problem for retailers, restaurants have been dealing with ‘no-shows’ for years. What’s changed is that social media has given restaurants the platform to ‘name and shame’ the people who cost them money by not keeping their reservations.

Frustrated at having to turn away guests because empty tables were being kept for people who had didn’t turn up as anticipated, Noah Ellis, the owner of Vietnamese fusion restaurant Red Medicine took full advantage of this opportunity. He took to Twitter, and under the guise of explaining why restaurants often overbook, proceeded to name all of the people who had recently no-showed at his establishment.


His annoyance is understandable, but there are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea.

Primarily, because like Celiac Supplies charging people for entry to their shop, it won’t solve the problem plaguing the business.

On one hand, people may not care about being named, which completely negates the impact of his actions. Worse still, potential diners may be so worried at being called out if they can’t make their appointment that they decide to book elsewhere to reduce the risk of embarrassment.

People are pretty quick at finding solutions to challenges, and Ellis’ approach could be easily circumvented by booking under a false name.

It could also backfire. What if perversely, being named and shamed became a ‘badge of honour’? Or Red Medicine found itself targeted by pranksters who reserve tables under a friend’s name? Both of which would exacerbate, rather than solve, the problem of no-shows.

And if a regular visitor fails to turn up, do you risk alienating them too with an angry Tweet?

Adopting such a confrontational approach is fraught with danger. Red Medicine isn’t alone in suffering from no-shows, and as this Wall Street Journal article demonstrates, many different solutions have been implemented to deal with them. The number of hoops a prospective diner is prepared to jump through in order to make a reservation will depend on how desirable the restaurant is.

It may be that no-shows are something that can’t be eliminated, and so the challenge becomes to minimise the consequences that they have on business. Looking at the problem this way, we can see why Ellis’s approach won’t solve the problem. He’s engaging with people AFTER they’ve cost him business.

If Red Medicine is so popular with walk-in trade, then limiting the number of tables available for reservations, particularly to new people or those with a history of no-shows would help reduce the impact on business. Similarly, releasing tables that aren’t taken within 15 minutes of their reservation time would allow them to be given to people turning up without a booking.

Sometimes the human touch works too. Rather than ranting after the event or imposing a system or barriers, simply ringing people on the day to confirm their reservation could help identify whether or not they were going to turn up on time.

Perversely, the publicity generated by both businesses could see a short term increase in interest. Their challenge now is to adopt policies that will remove any barriers that could prevent these new shoppers becoming loyal customers.

Let’s hope they identify it.

Why brands need to get to the point on YouTube

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment


There are a couple of things that bother me about YouTube. Leaving aside the angst about the future of the human race that reading more than a couple of comments naturally brings, the first is as a user.

When I’m trying to get my daily dose of Gangnam Style or watch yet another hilarious Harlem Shake video, I don’t yearn to watch an advert first. Nevertheless, it’s a free service and they have to make some money somehow.

The second is as a marketer. Although they are a bit of a pain, when these adverts pop up you can choose to skip them after a few seconds.

Yet because the ads are at least 30 seconds long, they’ve barely started setting the scene before they are bypassed. YouTube themselves say that between 70% to 80% of ads are skipped.

So in the end, rather than enhance the experience and engage a wide audience, the adverts become a frustration for the user and provide no real benefit to the brand. Nobody wins.

Tailoring the message for the medium

For some reason, brands aren’t designing for and exploiting the medium they are using. But as basic as this sounds, it’s not unusual. Early TV ads were essentially radio ads with a still image. Fifteen years ago, many websites were just glorified company brochures. It takes marketers a while to figure out how to get maximum impact from their new toy.

Parallels with Shopper

The same is occasionally true for Shopper Marketing.

Increasingly, brands are wising up to the importance of focusing on the shopper and the lead up to the purchase decision. They’re starting to invest accordingly, seek out specialist counsel and are rewarded with increased sales. However, there are still many brands who still think that a shot of their TV ad on a bit of cardboard is all that is needed to clear the shelves.

Sitting amongst Business Directors, I see the frequent battles they face as well-meaning partner agencies from other disciplines liberally suggest how shopper focused executions ought to look, but don’t want to take any feedback on their own work.

That every media opportunity comes with its own pros and cons, and plays a unique role in communicating brand messages and pushing shoppers closer to purchase, seems like something you would learn on your first day at Marketing School.

While forward thinking agencies can offer ‘integration’ and ‘joined up thinking’, individuals will inevitably show a bias towards their own particular field.

Seconds to Sell

Just like in-store comms, YouTube ads have to get their message across quickly.

So why don’t they?

Well, YouTube’s TrueView system doesn’t charge advertisers unless the ad is watched in its entirety, or at least 30 seconds are shown. To some, this means an ad should be at least 30 seconds long, because otherwise you are paying for something you could have got for free. It might make economic sense, but doesn’t consider the viewer, who should be the primary concern. Just as importantly, it doesn’t consider the purpose of the communication.

Sometimes brands get it right. This environmental campaign from Chile incorporates the ‘Skip Video’ option to encourage users to stop wasteful behaviour. But it is an exception, not the rule.

The challenge to brands using YouTube is clear.

Either sell me your product in the first five seconds, or at the very least, use them to sell me the rest of your ad.

Otherwise, I’m skipping.

Horses for main courses

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment


The last couple of weeks have been far from slow for news.

The Pope’s resigned, Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder after shooting his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day and then a meteor crashed into rural Russia. However, one story threatens to keep them all off the front page – ‘The Great Horsemeat Scandal of 2013’.

The Guardian provides a chronology of events so far, but in short, horsemeat has been found in a number of dishes that claimed to contain only beef.

Reaction has been suitably mixed, from horror to apathy. Some see the deceit as part of a larger criminal activity that conned consumers, failed to adhere to religious doctrines and risked public health and so must be punished, while others take the view that the meals tasted nice, and therefore think, ‘So what?’.

Either way, our trust in those who put their names to the compromised products has been eroded. So far, all the major retailers have withdrawn products, and Findus are the biggest brand name to be affected after their lasagne was found to contain 100% horsemeat.

Our historical relationship with meat is quite complex. In the past, how you saw it depended on your social status. If you were a peasant, you saw the animals when they were alive. So you called them, cows, sheep, pigs and deer. If you were from a higher social status, you saw the animals on a plate. So you knew them as beef, mutton, pork and venison. Note that the latter come from the French, a land of unrepentant horse eaters. But in English, the meat of the horse is simply ‘horsemeat’. We don’t have a fancy name for it, because it’s never really been on the menu.

But for all the gnashing of teeth, is this scandal a major surprise?

Everyday Value

Even before the recession hit, retailers were doing their utmost to be seen to be providing value to shoppers. Often that was achieved by bringing prices down. This is generally accomplished at the expense of the suppliers, who in turn look to make savings from the companies that provide them with goods and services.  Marketing agencies know only too well that negotiations with procurement departments are rarely painless. The same is almost certainly also true for meat suppliers.

When cost cutting becomes endemic and pressure gets pushed down the line, people look for new ways to deliver. It can be the spark for innovation – necessity being the mother of invention and all that – but it can also lead to corners being cut and standards being lowered. In this instance, the consequences are apparent.  Real damage has been done to the brands caught up in the scandal and they will have to invest to build back their credibility.

For shoppers, it has provided a wake-up call and brought the whole meat processing business into the spotlight. Far from being happy and healthy beasts, we now know that meat is sent from country to country before it finally ends up on our shelves.

Effect on Shoppers

For some, these revelations will change behaviour.  A survey by Consumer Intelligence found that around one in five shoppers will cut back on the amount of meat they’ll buy, while around three in five are more likely to buy meat from independent shops. Inevitably though, the indignation will wear off and in the medium term, the convenience of supermarkets will win back many of those who ever managed to find a local butcher.

The irony for those who do stop buying processed meat is that, just as someone who is burgled tends to react by improving their security arrangements, new regulations will soon be implemented to improve standards in the meat supply chain. These ought to mean that the standard of meat we buy will soon be higher than ever.

Beyond processed meat, there may be benefits to consumers as food brands in other categories take a closer look at their own processes to ensure they don’t end up making the wrong type of headlines in future.

Indeed, for all the unpleasantness, perhaps we should be grateful that while we have been tricked and there has been serious criminal activity, it was ‘only’ horsemeat that entered the food chain. Had it been something more emotive like dog meat or far less pleasant like rat meat, the damage to the brands and retailers would have been much harder to overcome. In the meantime, the whole episode provides a clear lesson to brands, retailers and shoppers alike.

Cheap often comes at a high price.

Evian miss a trick with new device

A nicely put together video by Evian featuring a little machine you attach to your fridge to order more water. At a Future Laboratory trends briefing last year, audience members were told how simply putting a smiling face on displays encourages interaction (not to mention obedience). But is this device everything it could be?

Firstly, it is self-evident that bottled water is a pain to buy in a shop, only then to have to lug it home. Far better for it to be delivered. But the purchase of bottled water (presumably more than one bottle, as suggested in the video) would naturally be part of a larger, weekly shop, involving other products. Taking it out of the larger shopping process could prove difficult, or worse, make people realise just how much they spend on a product that also happens to come out of the tap, for free.

Secondly, have there been any environmental considerations thought of here? From the video this isn’t ckear, but if you are ordering bottled water to be delivered by vehicle, you’re quickly burning a lot of carbon.

Thirdly, could the tactics deployed in this strategy have been smarter? Presumably the strategy here was to get people drinking more water by taking the hassle out of fetching it themselves. So what about something that could prompt the user. Something that perhaps tried to measure water consumption per person in the household, after keying in the relevant data, to prompt you when you haven’t had your daily suggested intake? Or, even smarter, what about some true M2M activity? We’ve talked about M2M previously, and many brands are still reluctant to engage. This could have been a nice way for Evian to dip their branded toe in the water (no pun intended), perhaps using scales in a smart fridge to see how much water is left, calculating how much time that will take to be drunk, and prompting the consumer with a call to action to order more. Currently this product seems to rely on people motivating themselves to order more.

Evian is a wonderful brand. They perhaps should have thought harder here.

Sustaining the Green Push for Brands

Zeitgeist was recently asked to write an article on sustainability trends for the coming year. The following is an altered excerpt of the original article…

There is a hotel in Italy, nestling in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. It literally blends in to the surrounding hills; they form part of the architecture of the building. The Klima Hotel is not just an aesthetic triumph, however, for the soil that forms the roof of also helps keep the building insulated, saving on both cost as well as emissions that would otherwise be generated from artificial heating.

Today, sustainability issues are more prevalent than ever, as organisations and corporations desperately try to set themselves apart from their peers, creating a manifesto for their brand. Often though these efforts can amount to little more than lip service, a practice in danger of becoming as saturated in use as the phrase ‘lip service’. So many brands are exploiting these issues that it no longer suffices merely to say x amount of the paper used in the office is being recycled. There has to be a point, a purpose to the policy that goes beyond cosmetic dalliance. It’s not just about having a solar panel here or a wind turbine there, though these are important things. It’s about recognising changing shopper habits; since the recession, people want to be able to keep items for longer, reuse them, pass them on or put them to a different use entirely.

Pepsi’s Refresh Project has been an earnest attempt at promoting issues of sustainability, and not just environmental. Several supermarkets are currently making an impressive effort in this area too… Sainsbury’s take their sustainability credentials out of store, with beehives to help sustain the bee population, and even treehouses for, well, who wouldn’t want a treehouse? The Sainsbury’s in Gloucester Quay has employed an impressive array of sustainable initiatives, one of the most interesting being a device that takes the kinetic energy of cars as they pass into the car park and uses it to help power the store. It’s technology like this that can be taken a step further; can these touch-sensitive pads be used to monitor where free spaces exist, to direct shoppers using digital signage? 7-Eleven in Japan are planning to use LED lighting and solar panels on 1,000 of their stores, but the key point is their desire for charging points for the Prius. It illustrates that sustainability is not just relegated to specific areas, it is a way of life, a lifestyle that encourages responsibility as well as innovation. So far we’re lacking the impetus for that innovation…

What constitutes the next step? One trend is that of upcycling, that of not just dumping your goods into a big box with a swirly arrow on it, rather actually stretching the efficiency of your products once their initial purpose has expired and reconstituting them for entirely different purposes. At a recent LS:N trends briefing, London designer James Gilpin’s latest work was mentioned; it involves using urine from diabetics (therefore with a heavy sugar content) and turning it into a premium, single malt ‘Gilpin Family Whisky’. In this instance, the material is such that it is already labeled as ‘waste’, but actually still has the potential to be something else. While shopper habits might preclude a desire to see old urine sitting on supermarket shelves any time in the near future, as consumers get more thrifty, such a philosophy would go down well in homeware.

There is more than enough room then for aesthetic beauty and sustainability to co-exist. Fashion brand Hermès recently launched a line of accessories created from upcycled materials. The copy for a brand of upcycled wooden watches is beautiful in of itself; “Completely absent of artificial and toxic materials, the WEWOOD Timepiece is as natural as your wrist. It respects your skin as you respect nature by choosing it… the perfect natural mate, whose story also becomes yours”. Selfridge’s recently unveiled its Project Ocean, “aiming to raise awareness of the dangers of over-fishing”, Contagious reports. One very whimsical example recently highlighted by PSFK was the creation of furniture from old parts of the fair on New York’s Coney Island. Not only is this sustainable production, but it also imbues these “new” items with an in-built past, a piece of history that people can continue to live with (and eat off of, too, I suppose). And we all know how things get better with age.

Surf’s up: Toward shopper marketing integration

March 29, 2010 1 comment

Forrester estimates that $249b will be spent on online retail in 2014 in the US of A. (Great until you consider what Roland Emmerich estimates will happen in 2012.) When we think of people shopping online, our tendency might be to think of a housewife at home, at her desktop computer, slightly less bewildered than perhaps the average housewife would have been five years ago, clicking away at Tesco or Amazon. However, as a brand’s presence online is effectively communicated and merged with in-store comms, people are increasingly shopping online while in-store, as typified by last year’s notorious Dixons campaign.

As eConsultancy reports, while previously there may have been a fluid, predictable path to purchase, since the arrival of the Internet things have changed. “People research online and buy offline. They research offline and then buy online. And in both cases the brands and retailers are likely to vary. And in both cases satisfaction with the experience impacts repeat purhcase likelihood across all channels.” The risk is that someone might use the bricks-and-mortar store as a mere window, an experiential exhibition to test and get a feel of the products before buying them online. This is exactly what the article goes on to detail, albeit anecdotally. It calls the situation “apocalyptically galling” for offline retailers. Some high-street stores are responding. HMV for example has POS comms suggesting people buy the product just as easily from their website (a precarious strategy as somone might defer their purchase while in-store and for one of many reasons not go through with the online purchase). These online alternatives will be judged against the John Lewis et al. of the world by cost, convenience and service. Many will not be able to tick all three boxes.

More recently, eConsultancy wrote about the recent publication of a survey entitled “Respect the Shopper: Harmonizing the Cross-Channel Experience”. The survey revealed,

•    88% said they had shopped that retailer’s web site
•    75% said visiting the brand’s web site helps them to shop in-store
•    85% compared prices online
•    44% visited a competitor’s web site
•    26% will visit the retailer’s web site to continue shopping after leaving the store

This level of integration bodes well for promotional activity and awareness opportunities. However it also leaves the shopper open to exposure to competitive retailers while in-store, instantly. One way to combat this challenge will be to make the shopping experience – from specific promotions to the retail environment – more personal and engaging, to create some sort of an affinity for the store they are in and the brand as a whole, taking away the relatively bespoke nature of the online environment.

Taking up the ‘in-store slack’

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

An interesting new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in the US claims that shoppers have a prepared mental budget to allow for impulse purchases.

The study, conducted in Texas involved asking shoppers what items they planned to purchase, how much they expected to spend on the planned items, and how much they expected to spend on the total trip.

Upon leaving the store the shoppers presented their receipts and answered some questions about themselves and the experience.

Over three quarters allowed themselves some ‘In-store slack‘ for unplanned purchases and the authors propose that this happens because we anticipate having ‘Unplanned wants’ and ‘Forgotten needs’ as we shop. However, such behaviour can affect household budgets for shoppers with a low temptation threshold.

The authors, Karen M. Stilley, Jeffrey Inman and Kirk L. Wakefield note that, “Less-impulsive individuals who shop most aisles tend to spend the money available from in-store slack, but don’t exceed their overall budgets. In contrast, in-store slack leads to overspending for highly impulsive individuals who shop most aisles.

“For the majority of consumers, having in-store slack appears to be a rational way to use the store to cue needs and preserve self-control. Highly impulsive individuals may want to consider planning as many purchases in advance as possible.”

Such findings demonstrate the importance of in-store communications because the study implies that shoppers actively expect brands to prompt them to make a purchase. To read a bit about our own study on shopper behaviour, click here.

‘In-store slack’