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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A. Alfred Taubman: Overcoming Threshold Resistance

The New York City Chapter of the Luxury Marketing Council held an event titled Overcoming Threshold Resistance: Luxury Retailing Pioneer Alfred Taubman Shares His Secrets to Getting Shoppers Over Your Threshold.

The event held instant appeal because it discussed the retail experience and how to get consumers to enter your store. In other words, how to overcome "Threshold Resistance" - that strong sense of inertia coupled with a sense of foreboding that makes you quickly walk by and avoid a store entryway.

It certainly didn't hurt that A. Alfred Taubman himself -- entrepreneur, real estate developer, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer', and legend in his own time -- was present to share his perspectives.

From the Luxury Council's writeup:

"Author Malcolm Gladwell credits A. Alfred Taubman with “perfecting” the modern shopping mall. Retailer Les Wexner states that “every retailer in America wants to be in a Taubman center, and the reasons are pretty simple - Al demands excellence,”... "

Here follow my notes from the event. You'll note that he covered lots of ground. The format was one of questions that Taubman answered using examples from his life [and book].

"Threshold Resistance" [R] exists everywhere you turn: in business and in life. It's not just store design. It's also psychological, physical, cultural, social and economic, and it's always there.

When Taubman first got started, he objected to how store windows were done. Essentially, everything you could find within the store was featured in the store window. That contributed to Threshold Resistance. If you didn't see what you were looking for in the window [and good luck finding it amidst all of the stuff there], you wouldn't enter.

He discussed the impact of regional malls. Many people blame the mall for the demise of American downtowns. That is a distortion of history. Post World War II led to the construction of highways which meant that people could drive to work.

Taubman explained that retailing follows population and many malls were built in anticipation of highway construction.

The earliest department stores were born as downtown arcades and the first malls or arcades happened in Europe, not America. Noble lands featured strips of stores and many Paris department stores were built with the expectation that the owner would rent out space to individual retailers.

With goods being first manufactured in the late 1800s, department stores became exciting outlets that combined branding power and salesmanship. They were better than any other concept in existence.

Using the example of outlet malls and Costco vs. full price stores, Taubman explained that there can be no off price if there isn't full price. These need to balance against one another.

Everybody shops everywhere. A lot of people can afford to do some shopping at Tiffany's or Neiman Marcus. Few people can afford only to shop at Neiman Marcus. Luxury brands are treasured by everyone.

What is fashion? Fashion is added value through design. Not just in apparel. Design makes something useful, interesting, and better.

Every good retailer discovers that customers lack confidence. This inherent insecurity contributes to threshold resistance yet it represents a golden opportunity for retailers to offer advice and add value with sales people. Wal-mart does not equal fashion. Rather, it represents price and promises about prices. Price is less critical to fashion.

Consistent mediocrity is the MacDonald's and Holiday Inn promise. Don't ever underestimate its power especially at lower price points.

The biggest issue with Internet shopping: no fitting rooms. The more expensive the item, the more critical it is that it fit well. Each color/shade works differently for each individual. For example, did you know that Neiman Marcus shoes can only be purchased in-store. Better products need to be tried on first. Taubman advocates 360 degree retailing where the relationship can take place both online and via a brick/mortar store.

We must all go Beyond Needs Satisfaction. No one needs another shoe. People shop because they want fantasy, entertainment, fun. Shopping is experience! The purchase is truly secondary to the experience.

Changing the Art Market - Taubman was instrumental is changing Sotheby's from a closed, wholesale, insider, illegal business to an inviting retail business, thereby revolutionizing art market and opening it up to more consumers. He bought in 1983 and encouraged customers, schools, and others to learn about art via luncheons and other educational venues. [Be sure to explore the Sotheby's website as it, too, educates.] Look at what Tiger Woods did to open up the golf world and totally change the interest level.

Integrity, transparency in how products sold is critical.

Taubman says that lifestyle centers can't beat major enclosed malls. They offer no definition of traffic. They may be good with local traffic, but create no concentration of traffic to deliver large consistent groups of shoppers.

The event description also stated that "few individuals have had a greater influence on today’s luxury consumer market than Alfred Taubman. The company he founded in 1950 introduced many of the architectural and business innovations that characterize the best high-end shopping environments in the world. To this day, Taubman Centers, Inc. owns and operates the most productive portfolio of retail properties in the nation, with such landmark marketplaces as The Mall at Short Hills in the New York area, Beverly Center in Los Angeles, Denver’s Cherry Creek, and The Mall at Millenia in Orlando."

I certainly left the event thinking carefully on what I had heard, more appreciative of overcoming threshold resistance and eager to read through the signed copy of Taubman's book that I received.

I will detail more about the retail experience from his book in a separate post.

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