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Friday, February 02, 2007

A Retail Experience in Bariloche

Photos courtesy of Betsy Jackson.
Imagine beautiful, scenic Bariloche in the Argentine Patagonia region southwest of Buenos Aires. I had heard of Bariloche before in terms of its ski resorts that avid skiers [in this case Serbian ski instructor friends] describe with longing and desire. I have even sat through slide shows showing the resort, the runs, the hefty concrete pillars for the ski lifts and the amazing human construction feat.

So, when I received an email from Craig Jackson -- a Solutia Fellow [in my company, that's a big deal!], responsible for BCF Carpet Fiber Product Development -- referring to a retail experience in Bariloche, I took note.

Craig is based in Greenwood, SC, and works closely with Manufacturing, Technology, Marketing, and sometimes directly with carpet mills and the design community. He exudes passion for carpet, carpet fiber, Wear-Dated, and coming up with ways for consumers to benefit from carpet.

Craig's daughter, Betsy [thanks for the great photos!], is the reason that Craig and his wife, Louise, wandered down to Bariloche [and a few other areas down South]. As he describes:

"Last March 2006, my daughter finally decided that she could get away for a wedding in Santiago where she could meet up with friends from a hike to Machu Picchu. The wedding was then four weeks away. Out of the clear blue sky she said "mom, why don't you and dad come along?" We couldn't think of a good reason not to go, so we went. Purely a spur-of-the-moment lark - no planning, no anticipation. I listened to Spanish tapes while driving to and from work (ten minutes each way) and got some shots at the local clinic. "

Betsy clarifies things: "And just to give my parents a little more credit for being spontaneous, we actually decided to go 14 days prior to leaving for the trip to Argentina and Chile."

Interestingly, as did Reshma in Lost In The Supermarket, Craig reacted to the same point in Katia's A Transcultural Perspective on the Retail Experience post. More specifically: "I had visited the US a couple of times before I came to live here, and one of the things that struck me most was the enormous variety of products available on store shelves compared to Latin America."

This prompted him to retrieve the attached photos from a visit to a South American "big box store" akin to Lowe's and Home Depot in Bariloche. [To give you an idea of geography, go to Dacar Car Rental site; it has great maps.]

The store - a recently opened Hipertehuelche [read this article for more information about the grand opening in 12/2004] - is attractive and eye-catching, particularly with the interesting angle of the general entrance. That and the colors make for an interesting contrast to our big box stores.

I'm also struck by how neat and clean a first impression I have. Isn't it interesting that unlike our big boxes, we see no fence samples, and outdoor shed displays, and snow blowers and other products that our stores so often showcase outside the main entrance?

This other photo shows the contractor service entrance. It strongly states "construcciones" so no way a consumer can mistake that for the general entrance. Again, neat and uncluttered.

At this point, you may be wondering why Craig and his daughter dragged themselves to a home improvement store in what might be described as the most scenic spot on the planet, or at least in Argentina and Chile.

I asked him why he decided to enter this store.... Do you remember his passion? "I enjoy comparing carpet displays in foreign stores to our domestic stores." Cool! And his daughter happens to be a Marketing Manager for Lowe's. The passion runs in the family. Even cooler!

This next photo shows the general interior and main aisle which look neat, clean and well organized. I particularly like the peaked skylight roof, and can imagine the beautiful natural light that cascades through.... casting a warm glow on the products below. Pretty clever.

Now here is where we begin to experience some cultural differences in retailing.

This next picture captures a stove display. You see 2 of the 5 on display.

Notice that the stove hoods are on a shelf under the stoves.

In other words, the products aren't really displayed to make sense to the end user. Rather than being about consumer choices and preferences, these options look more to be about functional and utilitarian decisions [i.e., black/white and price point].

According to Craig, there was only one refrigerator, and it was covered with stretchwrap. Which to me says that it wasn't meant to be opened up, examined, and compared to another refrigerator.

In case you haven't caught on, the stoves and the fridge are a warm-up for what comes next: "the horror". Have you guessed what it is? The carpet section!

This next picture captures most of the carpet display section.

"Notice the rolls on the roll-rack: they display the rolls of carpet in a way that doesn't in any way show the pile [or the fuzzy part of the carpet]. Rather, they show either carpet backing or... craft paper wrapping."

Hmmm... I don't usually purchase carpet based on the backing. Should I? I always thought it was the nice, soft fuzzy stuff that I needed to pick.

Craig continues: "Notice the very neatly penned price tags on perfectly cut-out cardboard signs. The lettering is uniform and nicely visible from a distance. The red catches one's eye. Look carefully and you'll notice, though, that these price tags cover up most of the "big" carpet samples that consumers are supposed to base their decisions on." Another point: how can a consumer touch those samples and compare them without either being 10 feet tall or having extra long arms [think The Incredibles].

There's more!

"Notice on that middle pillar-like section a series of teeny weenie carpet color swatches glued to cardboard which, in turn, is glued to the metal framework of the carpet roll-rack. Half of the swatches are in a shadow. To look more closely, the consumer must move some tubs of unknown substance that sells for $131 pesos. Oh yeah, don't trip on the roll of wire!"

What an amazing journey as it relates to the consumer retail experience. I find it fascinating because, although in many cases we do a better job creating a retail experience that connects with consumers, we still have plenty of opportunity at home to do it better. Particularly as it relates to meeting the needs of our very important woman consumer! There's a great deal to be learned regardless of which country we are in.

Anyone ready to improve the carpet buying experience in Bariloche has a willing partner waiting in Craig Jackson. His passport is current!

Craig's Travel Review and Tips for this Trip:
"Santiago and Buenos Aires are both lovely cities and Bariloche is absolutely gorgeous. Go. Bring a bundle of American one dollar bills for tips. Getting there is expensive, but mitigated by the low cost of everything there. Excellent wine - $3 US. Long taxi ride with luggage - $35 US. Wonderful beef dinner - $10 US."

Thanks to Betsy's photos and to Craig's descriptions, I am finally able to pay homage to Stephanie Weaver from EXPERIENCEology who in every post does an outstanding job of bringing to life via photos a customer experience. If you haven't visited her site, do so. You will undoubtedly get ideas on how to improve your overall retail experience.

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