Sales in retail have always been achieved through the skill of supply and demand; successfully matching potential customers with the right merchandise at the right price. It is supported by advertising first to get customers in the store and then once they are there, talented sales associates and alluring store displays do the rest. Years ago, all retailers could rely on were newspaper ads, radio and television to attract customers to their stores. Creative people would lay awake at night coming up with the next brilliant ad campaign with slogans to stand aside of the competition, many of which older people still remember today because they were that good.
WHEN DID IT CHANGE?
The change began in the late 80s when creative campaigns started to slowly be replaced with what was to be the sure thing, Direct Marketing. Direct Marketing skyrocketed almost overnight—first through Direct Response ads—with the thought being that advertisers could say their message directly and without the bells and whistles if they had a toll free 1-800 number for customers to call. It was great for service businesses, but of course didn’t do much for retail stores. At about the same time, the Direct Mail boom came to be. There was no longer a need to spend huge dollars on radio and television advertising. Now, marketers could reach their target customer directly through the mail. And what happened? Soon, we had junk mail. What was wrong with most of it? It was junk because it lacked creativity and didn’t get the person’s attention. So, in the trash it went.
The focus on most of the direct marketing ads was the offer, usually being some type of discount. When calling the toll-free number, all you had to do was give them the word or code you heard in the ad. As for Direct Mail, you just had to take the coupon that was delivered in your mail box and bring it into the store to get your discount. Creativity was further lost and soon business people were all talking the new term, ROI (Return on Investment), because marketers could track callers via the toll-free number and could track customers coming into the stores with coupons.
In the mid 1990s, the internet started to boom. (Remember dial up AOL? Another must have.) Soon everyone had email. Retailers learned they could directly send emails to customers to get them into their stores. It worked until every retailer and every other type of business flooded them with too much stuff, mostly discount offers. Once again, we had “junk mail.” What do most of the email offers we receive lack? Creativity. So, we just hit delete.
RETAIL DEALING WITH TECHNOLOGY TODAY
Today we’re told that retailers must have websites, store apps and every conceivable method of reaching their customer through technology, or the common term, “touch points.” That’s fine and much of it is very cool. But where’s the creativity? What is supposed to motivate the customer beyond price and product to do business with you? That’s what real advertisers and creative teams were once responsible for and it worked.
If retailers today implemented some real creativity, they could be using the internet like radio and TV was used to feature engaging and exciting messages with appealing reasons to shop them. The reasons should present a company image, company uniqueness, and customer benefits other than the product and the price.
To get the customer in the store, give them an exciting reason to come see you; personalize their visit with well-trained associates who know how not to pressure the customer, but rather to engage them and make them feel special. Let them experience your merchandise. They can’t do that online, but use your website to entice them to come try the items if they’re not already buying them from your website.
You want technology, fine. Spend money on it, but invest in useful technology to enhance the customer experience. Does it really please the customer when the cold computer voice at the self-checkout says, “thank you” after the purchase? When a human being does it, and adds a smile, I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel good and I smile back. That’s an important part of the customer experience.
EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITIES
Retailers, wake up and embrace all the opportunities you have today, especially through technology and the internet. Start by looking at your stores from the customer’s point of view. If they feel bored, make them feel excited.
Start with the simple things. For example, make sure you’re playing the right in-store music and bring up the volume to make it appeal to your shoppers. Make your stores bright with charm and not overcrowded with merchandise. Use the internet as the go between of online and in-store. Yes, you should allow customers to pick up online purchases in-store and take online returns in your store. And of course, when you don’t have the item the customer wants in the store, assist that customer and let them purchase the item from your website along with giving them the choice of in-store pickup or free shipping to their home.
Bottom line, every time you get a customer in your store, do everything you can to make them feel special, appreciated and valued. And when they click on your site or app, remind them about what makes doing business with your brand special for them. Be creative! Let them enjoy the shopping experience. Use these tools creatively and your competition will be scratching their heads as they try to figure out your success!
CEO The TSi Company