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Monday, February 16, 2009

Consumer Choices And The Retail Experience

Weekend treat! originally uploaded by Shagadelicbabe.
If the marketplace is over-stored, if consumers have too much stuff already, and if the choices available at retail are humdrum-boring, why would anyone bother shopping? Especially now.

Think about it.  Do you need to replace your car if the one you have works fine? Who needs another pair of jeans or a t-shirt if your closet is overflowing with jeans and t-shirts? Do you really want to buy more utilitarian beige carpet when that's what's already in your house?

Many of the choices available to us at retail just aren't that inspiring. They may be considered 'safe' options, but they do absolutely nothing to make my heart sing and convince me to part with my hard-earned and scarce assets.

I fear, though, that the choices available will only become more dismal. Consider this 2/3/2009 WashingtonPost.com article titled Supplier woes may mean fewer choices from shoppers by Anne D'Innocenzio.  It just doesn't sound encouraging.  In fact, why not just put a sign out saying "Nothing new and exciting here. Come back when the recession's over!"?

I wonder if it's time to start sewing my own clothes again. 

What a missed opportunity.  After all, shopping still serves an important purpose.  It's a social activity.  It's a vibrant opportunity for retailer interaction with customers [i.e., conversation] and a tangible, physical time for shoppers to come into contact with product in a manner that engages the senses, sparks curiosity and inspires the mind.

According to this 2/5/2009 article titled 'Shopaholics will be shopaholics' by Christopher Muther at Boston.com, "the reason we shop ... has just as much to do with self-exploration and discovery as it does with gathering blouses and scented candles.  "Shopping is a way that we search for ourselves and our place in the world," says Benson... "It can promote self-expression, self-definition, creativity, even healing when it's not done to excess."  Paco Underhill weighs in on the matter saying that "retail therapy is alive and kicking."

Now, I'm not denying that these are really tough times, and the solutions aren't easy. We are faced with conflicting imperatives: the need to cut costs, to rationalize, while at the same time maintaining or improving the experience our store offers customers.

That's right. The retail experience becomes even more critical at drawing shoppers into our stores, encouraging them to engage with us and our products, and eventually purchase.

Consider this 2/4/2009 article titled Stores need to excite, execute, entertain. To survive in 2009, merchants have to aggressively court reluctant consumers with exciting products, prices and services. by Parija B. Kavilanz from CNNMoney.com.  It says that the "worst thing retailers can do in this environment is hunker down."  Better to actively take control of the situation and figure out what it takes to survive.  Definitely "keep a laser focus on evolving to the changing needs and wants of ... shoppers."

Some other advice:
+ "Don't neglect customer experience."
+ "Avoid discount mania."  Much better to differentiate yourself "by giving shoppers value beyond price."  This is where product choice plays an important role.  You want to give consumers enough breadth and depth of choice without overwhelming and turning them off.  
+ "Have the right number of employees at the right time."
+ "Play offense."
+ "Reevaluate your stores and close underperforming locations."

On the subject of product: can you bring clarity to the product range you offer and through the choices you offer diminish the paralyzing effect of over-abundant choice? Clarity goes hand-in-hand with transparency so the customer doesn't feel that you are denying him/her relevant options.

There's absolutely no denying that consumers have gotten 'frugal.' That doesn't mean that they will never again make a purchase. Quite the opposite. It does mean, though, that we have to be very clear about the value we offer them. In my mind, that's a fantastic opportunity!

In Consumers get frugal, so retailers get creative by Jayne O'Donnell and Sandra Block, USA Today from 1/29/2009, the authors state that mindless spending is gone. Shoppers now demand products that "deliver long-term value, not just empty calories." Disposable is gone. Quality is in. Hurray!  

Retailer survival tips include:
+ Highlighting value - figure out how you and your products make your customers' lives better, simpler, easier.  Focus on new/fresh/unique products to get shoppers interested in making a purchase. Know your customers and create unique product offerings relevant to them.
+ Offering better prices
+ Emphasizing local ownership
+ Going green

A good quote from the article: "cheapness is not the same as value."

Finally, don't forget to Look More Closely At The Lipstick Effect by Sarah Mahoney at MediaPostNews from 2/12/2009.  Note the discussion about price transparency. Consumers are paying close attention to what goes into products and how like products compare. Don't give them reason to not trust you and your pricing.

Remember, too, that the new austerity isn't sustainable and that consumers will be back.  Our opportunity, though, is in making connections with customers now so that, when they are ready to spend, they return to us.  Which means we must focus on the retail experience and the choices we have to offer.

Do you agree?


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