Showing posts with label retail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retail. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 2

Trending 2013: The Year Of Convergence

When people used to bandy about the term "convergence" as it related to media, they were mostly talking about broadcast and broadband. But nowadays, spend even a few seconds searching the net and you'll see that convergence in this niche has already happened. Almost anything and everything you can find on cable television has a connection to a computer screen, desktop or mobile device.

Sure, some organizations have a better handle on it than others, but digital is digital. The only barriers between television and broadband are the ones we create, clinging onto the past as if there are any real differences beside the screens we use to access them. Convergence means something else nowadays.

Convergence isn't between data 'types' anymore. It's all about merging the digital and the physical world.

While people still sometimes distinguish between "friends" and "friendz" on social networks, businesses have given it up. They don't have "customers" and "customerz" because they recognize that the same people online are the same people who shop in their stores or order services over the phone.

There is no difference. The medium will become increasingly indistinguishable this year, with the obvious exception of shaping its delivery. And any marketers who ignore this fact will be left behind.

It's easy enough to see convergence lurking around every corner. During the holidays, I was looking for a specific book to give to my son. A few people have read the heartfelt portion of the story (Dec. 17 post), which was recently republished by Aaron Johnston, one of the authors of the book. But there is the other half of the story that happened inside Barnes & Noble that relates to modern marketing.

It took a good half hour before I visited the customer service counter for help. I had already looked over the other possibility — from the science fiction section under Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston and new releases — and became nearly exhausted by the effort. With a couple of key strokes by the employee, she located the last copy of the book, which was sitting on a remote discount table.

It was the last copy in the store. I couldn't help but wonder why I couldn't have found it. And even if I couldn't do it using a desktop kiosk in the store, then why not my phone? Location-based technology (when I turn it on) already knows where I am. Why can't it help me find what I'm looking for there?

For that matter, why aren't books published with QR codes that automatically take you to an author page maintained by the publisher, author, or agent? Why isn't there an automated solution to pull up book reviews, recent articles, or content about the book, authors, etc. without any effort? And while I'm looking at all this content in the physical space where I can make a purchase, why doesn't the retailer give me an inventory of related books and products that are in the store (stuff I might never see)?

Who knows. Maybe I could hold a book in my hand and automatically access all of this, including any social networks where the author or authors have taken up residence. None of this is rocket science. The dots are there but we have yet to connect them between a virtual and physical world.

Moving beyond the bookstore would be simple enough. 

If this can be done with books, then other retail should be a snap. If I scan a code (or perhaps activate a proximity code on my phone) on a new car in a car lot, why can't I pull up every other car in inventory for price, gas mileage, and other comparisons? Why can't I consider every option beyond the one right in front of me or the one that the salesman decides to show me?

And if I really want to talk to a salesman, why can't I hit a call for service button on my phone instead of pushing him off when I'm not ready and struggling to hunt him down when I am ready? Who knows. Maybe I could prequalify myself for a loan right there or take in some of the sales specials that salespeople sometimes like to keep up their sleeves until they are sure you won't pay retail.

One would think that all of this ought to be second nature by now. It would be especially useful in sprawling stores like Home Depot or Walmart. It would be readily convenient if we need to find ingredient substitutes while shopping for groceries.

This is the kind of stuff that some B2B professionals have already integrated into their daily lives. (I never leave home without a digital portfolio, among other things.) But even as a consumer, I once resolved a customer service issue at Target by asking whether or not I would receive a better resolution by contacting corporate through Facebook. Where is the so-called boundary between online and off?

The first step is to stop thinking about social as a channel. 

Social networking is great, and I really enjoy that some communication work lets me operate in that space. But I'm much more fascinated with the next step, which integrates into our world as opposed to trying to prove that it has some independent value that can be measured in a vacuum. While it's possible to measure whether an organization is moving in the right direction; likes, shares, and so-called influence measures are meaningless and independent quantifiers of success. (More on that, much more, in the year ahead.)

Instead of thinking that social media and social networks can merely add communication value to the lives of the people we want to connect with, organizations need to start thinking about the technological advances that add value to the customer experience right there, right then, when they are engaged in retail space or wherever you might happen to meet. This is the kind of convergence we need in 2013.

Monday, September 17

Making Social Physical: Social Media In Restaurants

Every time I read a story that pits high touch against high tech, digital against physical, or the Internet against brick and mortar, it annoys me. These articles are worthless. The advice is nonsense. The agenda is forcing small business owners to pick one thing or the other because the future is coexistence.

I was reminded of this recently when a mutual group member (David Lopez) of mine posted an article about Mobile Point-of-Sale (POS) technology in restaurants. This article doesn't pit high tech and high touch against each other. It marries it. And this technology is only the tip of the iceberg.

The customer perspective of handheld devices.

When I was traveling in Vancouver a few weeks ago, two restaurants had already adopted mobile point-of-sale handheld devices. Specifically, the server asked us if we needed anything else and we said no, so she pulled out a handheld device. Right there, she swiped the card, allowed me to review the charge, and we were done. The handheld even listed tip options, automatic tip percentages (5-20 percent) or hard dollar amount.

Contrast this to the traditional method practiced by most restaurants. You finish your meal and the server eventually brings out the check. Most people let it sit there awhile, finishing up any remaining edibles and conversations. Eventually you slip in a charge card and it sits around until the server has time. They pick it up, take it back to the register, and then bring it back to you to sign (and calculate the tip in your head).

The traditional method means something as a simple as paying a bill can take five to 20 minutes or more. The tech-savvy solution clocks in around two minutes. The customer wins because several points of contact become one point of contact (and you can leave when you want) and the restaurant wins because everyone who has spent time in restaurant knows that table turns impacts the bottom line.

The only semi-odd thing about it, from my perspective, was having the server stand by while writing the tip. I generally tip 20 percent anyway (a old good habit from my days as a reviewer), but it felt awkward. But I imagine this feeling would pass pretty quick if it was considered a norm.

POS technology is only the beginning: iPad menus rock.

One of the restaurants that adopted POS technology went one step further. At LIFT, the menus are iPads (and better than their website). It is the most amazing experience. The menu is divided into sections — appetizers, lunch, dinner, dessert, wines, etc. You pick a section, scan the list, and then pull up a picture and description of the dish you are interested in before placing your order.

I can't remember the last time comparing and picking a dish was so easy. There were no guesses or surprises. It also helped establish one of the best first pre-meal impressions of a restaurant ever.

The iPad menus really made my creative wheels spin too. There are so many remarkable things a restaurant can do with social technology and take it to the next step. What if customers...

• could tap their smart phones to the menu and receive the menu app?
• could tap their smart phones and subscribe to a content rich blog attached to it?
• could tap their smart phones to enter a contest to win a free lunch?
• could order their meals or request specific seats before they arrived?
• could receive a survey the next day instead of trying to do it at the table?
• were invited to an upcoming special event or special menu sampling?

After just completing a two-year social media contract with a restaurant in Las Vegas, I can attest to the fact that although social media can deliver a return on investment (30-80 check-ins a month, noting that only about 10 percent of all people actually check-in), traditional social media models don't go far enough for restaurants. The primary reason is that they are too focused on impressions and captures (local searches, of all things) and not focused enough on the customers at the table.

Specifically, most restaurants are so comfortable with the old media model — impressions in magazines, phone books, etc. — they have been conditioned to think that applying old media rules to new media is all that can be done. Sure, some of them receive a lift if they implement a social media program, but the real magic of a successful restaurant in the future will not be social media as another marketing silo.

Restaurants that look at technology as an extension of their physical location rather than a means to attract people to a physical location will be the ones with the best bottom line. And those that do it in the United States now (while the recession still makes people think twice about eating out) will be light years ahead of their competitors in the future. This post only scratches the surface.

By the way, I would like to add something about LIFT, given they helped inspire the story. Hands down it was the best meal, best service, and best experience of every restaurant we visited while in Vancouver. And as someone who once wrote dining reviews of some of the finest establishments in Las Vegas, I would have given them five stars, perfection. And yes, the harbor view helped too.

Wednesday, September 5

Shopping Online: The Sales Tax Issue

As Pennsylvania becomes the newest state to require online retailers to collect a sales tax on residents, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Revenue a.k.a. chief tax man Dan Meuser says it will level the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses. But will collecting a sales tax really level the playing field?

If brick-and-mortar businesses really believe that, then they have fallen behind further than I ever thought. According to eMarketer, more than 72.6 percent of Internet users bought online on 2011, representing 148 million people (ages 14 or more) who made at least one purchase. Thirty million more are expecting to join them by 2015.

There have been dozens of studies published about the motivation of online buyers. And almost none of them place avoiding sales tax at the top of the list. What are some of the reasons people shop online?

Ten reasons that people shop online instead of offline.

1. There are no store hours online so they can shop online any time.
2. They can comparison shop between stores and find better prices.
3. They are given discounts to shop online by brick-and-mortar stores.
4. They never have to worry about crowds or checkout lines.
5. They can find things easier instead of searching racks and shelves.
6. They don't have to associate with cranky salespeople or pitches.
7. They are never sent to another store because of out-of-stock items.
8. They don't have to spend money on gas, driving to different stores.
9. They can see what other people are saying about products and stores.
10. They can do it alone and from home, wearing whatever they want.

Sales tax doesn't even register. Other then discounts and clearance sales, the biggest incentive that online buyers look for is free shipping. Shipping is something people prefer to avoid. That's about it.

But in looking at the list, brick-and-mortar stores have much more work to do than worry about sales taxes. In order to compete with online retailers, they have to create experiences online transactions can't offer their customers as well as capitalize on the reasons people sometimes prefer to shop offline.

Ten reasons that people shop offline instead of online.

1. They enjoy store-hosted events and special appearances.
2. They are still wary about online privacy and security.
3. They want to try on clothes/shoes and match up outfits.*
4. They find it easier to take in the entire store at a glance.
5. They like to window shop and visit other stores in proximity.
6. They consider shopping a social experience and enjoy it.
7. They don't have to wait for the item to arrive by mail.
8. They like knowledgeable employees on hand to help.
9. They don't worry about being spammed after one purchase.
10. They enjoy making discoveries they would have missed online.

*This includes hearing a sound system or test driving a car, etc.

There are more, but most of it revolves around the experience. The question brick-and-mortar stores have to ask is whether or not they are giving shoppers a reason to come in the store. With the exception of best practice independents (e.g. Book People in Austin, Tattered Cover in Denver, Amoeba Records in Hollywood), most stores don't.

Some of them (especially bigger brands) effectively cannibalize their own in-store customers by trying to convert them to online shoppers by offering better follow-up deals than their customers could ever find in the store. In essence, the online component of transitioning brick-and-mortar stores is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, retailers ought to be working to erase the online/offline distinction.

The future of brick-and-mortar and online retailers. 

Although I often wonder how many times government can tax the same dollar (taxes are levied, frequently more than once, every time money moves from one place to another), requiring online retailers to pay online state sales tax has very little to do with fairness and everything to do with state tax revenue. They might as well stick to that statement because they aren't helping brick-and-mortar stores, most of which are trying to develop some semblance of an online presence or online storefront.

Right. The reality is that brick-and-mortar stores as we knew them are nearly obsolete as even independent sellers have to develop an online component where they can increase sales beyond walk-in traffic and/or stimulate walk-in traffic with special appearances or events. What many haven't done yet is map out the potential symbiotic relationship between high tech and high touch, but they will. Eventually, every store will be best described as brick-and-click and not one or the other.

The future of retail is one where you can use mobile apps or online sites for in-store assistance, with off-site solutions when you can't find the size or color or whatever you want on hand. It's one where if you purchase a book from the store, you might receive an email or posting any time that author makes a book tour visit. It's one where you can try something on in the store and save your sizes or preferences for updates, referrals, and future purchases (online and offline). It's one where search engines are somewhat circumvented because the store earns consumer trust and loyalty. And so on and so forth.

Friday, December 3

Shopping Psychology: Why Retailers Attract Bargain Hunters

shopping psychology
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, shop owners are leaving lures around their stores to attract more holiday spending. Many of them are placing inexpensive items in the windows that lead toward more expensive fashions in the back.

"No one wants to buy anything for themselves anymore, you've got to get them through the door," one store owner told The Wall Street Journal. He's not alone. Another one says he added items that clash with his contemporary aesthetic. And yet another is targeting children at the door in the hope their parents might buy something else.

Why Are Retailers Tossing Out Bait While Fishing With Dynamite?

While the National Retail Federation is estimating that Thanksgiving weekend sales were up 8.7% over last year, retailers are still scared of their third down season in a row. So many of them are skipping out on customer service and trying out tricks instead.

Ironically, if they thought more about their customers, they might not have to. For all his street smarts, the shop owner who said nobody wants to buy anything for themselves is wrong. Chances are, he's just not selling what they want for themselves. He also might be attracting the wrong buyers for his store.

The Real Psychology Behind Holiday Shoppers.

According to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, shoppers will be buying items for themselves. Those who can be described as more materialistic will allocate as much as 34 percent of their holiday budget on themselves. Those who are not materialistic will still spend 17 percent of their budget on themselves.

Not surprisingly, the size of those budgets will be primarily dictated by whether shoppers feel secure about their jobs or not and whether they realized an increase in income this year or not. The attitude between these two shoppers can be best described as "deal shoppers" and "value shoppers." The deal shoppers are looking for cheap. The value shoppers want to treat everyone to more, but are looking for the right value.

With this in mind, now consider the first shop owner's strategy. What type of buyer do you think he will attract with cheaper trinkets up front? And then consider the buyer he might attract if he placed one or two luxury items with the right value incentive in the window?

Shop Owners Might Consider Their Own Psychology.

The Kellogg School of Management says its study reveals that an individual's perceived relative control over resources affects their shopping habits. The same might be said of store owners (or site owners for that matter). Their own insecurities might be driving them to attract less secure shoppers.

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