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The Technology Is Now Available, but Should Your Business Use It?

Business EthicsWe are currently witnessing advancements in technology that are improving the way that we understand the human race and the world that we live in.

This new technology brings with it ethical dilemmas that we need to grapple with.

Specifically, we need to decide where the line should be drawn to distinguish what is ethical and what is not ethical.

For example, although one company’s use of neuromarketing was very successful, it pushed the boundaries of business ethics. The way another business might use biometric feedback could possibly cross the line into unethical behavior.

Keep in mind, these examples are taken from the business world. However, ethics need to be considered in all areas life.

Business Ethics Defined

There are many definitions of business ethics.

In fact, entire business/philosophy classes are offered to help people understand this subject.

For the sake of this post, ethical behavior is defined as making sure that the business is doing what it thinks is the right thing and, more importantly, not doing harm to the business, its employees, its customers, or anyone else in the world. (This would exclude, of course, taking customers away from the competition. This would harm the other business, but that’s just business.)

It is important to keep in mind that what the business thinks is ethical and what the rest of the world thinks is ethical might not always be the same thing. That is why public discussion and complete transparency are highly suggested and often required.

It is also important to point out that if customers think something is unethical, then doing it could actually decrease sales and, thus, harm the business.

Frito-Lay Pushes the Ethical Boundaries and Wins Big

For many years, companies have been using various market research techniques (e.g., surveys, focus groups, etc.) to gather insights as to what customers want and why in an effort to create better products or services and better marketing campaigns to sell those products or services.

Beginning in the 1990s companies started to employ neuropsychology techniques to their market research in an effort to find out what their customers really want, sometimes even if they don’t know it.

According to Wikipedia, Dutch marketing professor Ale Smidts introduced the term “neuromarketing” in 2002 to describe this “emerging disciplinary field in marketing.”

As a Fast Company article written in 2011 points out, many companies are using these techniques to help increase sales.

Frito-Lay is one of these companies.

According to the article, “In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand.”

According to a Gizmodo article, Frito-Lay did not stop there.

“Frito-Lay tested out a commercial that emphasized this subversive glee that Cheetos dust apparently gave people,” the author of the article writes. “The commercial shows a woman (played by the indelible Felicia Day) who pranks another woman in a laundromat by putting Cheetos in her white clothes, as Chester the Cheeto [sic] eggs her bad behavior on.”

“Focus groups hated it, saying it was mean-spirited,” the Gizmoto article continues. “But NeuroFocus revealed that people who watched it had EEG results that showed positive feedback. Just like most people don’t admit or even know that they like getting artificial cheese dust all over the place when they eat Cheetos, people didn’t want to admit that they liked a commercial about an asshole who flouts social norms. But the ad tapped into the pop neuroscience that linked Cheetos with deviant thrills.”

This commercial and the advertising campaign it was a part of were so effective that according to the Fast Company article, “NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for ‘demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.’”

Ethical Concerns with Collecting Biometric Feedback on Shopping Carts

According to SIS International Research, “Biometrics is an emerging research field of neuromarketing market research. This form of marketing relies on various biometric technologies and applications to help understand a participant’s cognitive and emotional responses toward certain stimuli. The stimuli can be anything ranging from TV ads to online advertisements.”

The company’s website states that biometric market research uses fMRI, EEG, observational analytics, heart rate monitoring, and facial coding.

We already know how an EEG can be used to create better advertising campaigns.

If other ways of gathering biometric feedback are half as effective, many more companies will start to use these market research techniques in the future.

It is therefore not surprising that Walmart filed for a patent that would allow the retailer to collect biometric feedback on shopping cart handles.

People are already tracking a lot of this information on their fitbits and other smartwatches.

If that data could be accessed in real time and combined with location data, a lot of experiments could be conducted without the person even knowing it. (Note: As far as I know, Walmart has not announced that it would use the technology this way. However, it would be possible.)

While articles talking about this Walmart patent downplay the privacy issues, there certainly are a few.

Although we might make some real gains in knowledge, we need to ask ourselves whether the tradeoff in privacy is worth it.

In the End, Either Customers or the Legal System Will to Draw the Line

In the first example, NeuroFocus used willing participants to gathered biometric data that allowed Frito-Lay and its advertising agency to create an ad campaign that was effective even when focus group respondents said that they hated it.

If companies start to collect physiological responses to different stimuli, whether it be ads, physical retail environments, or anything else without customers knowing it pushes the ethical boundaries even further. Maybe too far.

To determine where to draw the line, the business community should create ethical standards and follow them.

If they don’t, laws will need to be created.

Either way, it is important that people have discussions about what it going on so that we can ask ourselves whether or not what can be done should be done.

Photo credit: Pamela Carls on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Future of Shopping: A Shopping Cart With a Recommendation Engine

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr.Retail experts know that when customers use shopping carts in brick-and-mortar stores it increases the average number of items sold per transaction.

It is therefore not surprising that stores are looking for ways to make the shopping cart an even more integral part of a customer’s shopping experience.

Walmart is one of these stores.

If you do a quick search online, you will see several of the patents that Walmart has filed in recent years involve ways of adding technology to their shopping carts.

However, it was one patent that was filed in September of 2017 that really caught my eye. The patent allows Walmart to know when specific items are placed in a container.

Although this patent doesn’t say that it will be used with a shopping cart, it could be. And, if used in conjunction with a customer’s smartphone, it could give Walmart the ability to recommend items that customers might want to purchase in a brick-and-mortar store in the same way that Amazon does when customers are shopping online.

In other words, it would give Walmart the ability to use a recommendation engine to deliver suggestions to customers shopping in their brick-and-mortar stores.

What Is a Recommendation Engine?

As I pointed out in a post in 2016, “In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.”

“If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com,” the blog post continues. “The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

When you visit your online cart on Amazon.com, it automatically recommends other items based on what other customers who bought the items currently in your online shopping cart purchased in the past. (In fact, Amazon.com recommends other add-on items even before you get to your shopping cart.)

Bringing the Recommendation Engine to the Brick-and-Mortar Store

Amazon and other online stores effectively use recommendation engines to increase sales online.

However, offline it gets more difficult.

With the exception of maybe Amazon Go stores, most stores don’t know what the customer is currently purchasing until they get to the cash register.

And, once a customer gets to the cash register, it’s probably too late to get them to add another item unless it is being kept in a location nearby or the deal offered is really good.

Currently, having customers talk to sales associates is the best and often only way for the store to suggestive sell add-on items to customers in a brick-and-mortar store based on what the customers are currently purchasing.

Even if the customer is shopping with his or her smartphone in one hand, suggestive selling is limited to information collected from past transactions or online behavior (if the store has tracked that) and some demographic data. Mobile coupons, rebates, and targeted ads work, but again, there really isn’t a way to know what the customer is currently purchasing.

That is, unless you use some sort of sensor to track them. That is why Walmart’s patent could be so valuable.

If Walmart develops the technology that they patented and puts it into a shopping cart, they would have the ability to know what customers are currently buying and could therefore send advertising messages to them that would recommend items that are often purchased with the customer’s current selections or that the customer might be interested in.

Granted, this wouldn’t be the first time this was tried out.

In 2012, Microsoft teamed up with Whole Foods to test a shopping cart that would help a customer be sure that they bought everything on their shopping list and even warned the customer that an item had gluten in it if the customer had let the system know that was one of the things that he or she was trying to avoid.

It appears that the Microsoft/Whole Foods smart shopping cart didn’t make it past the testing phase. However, I think this was due to the fact that they tried too many things at once. In fact, some of the features seem to be solving problems that just don’t exist.

It also might have been ahead of its time or just not a good fit for the brand.

Final Thoughts

It might be some time before we see a shopping cart like the one described in this post.

However, the store that finds a way to do it correctly will definitely increase sales.

And, who knows, it could be another way for stores to sell paid contextual advertising to brands that are trying to reach customers in the offline world based on where they are, who they are, and what they are buying.

As I mentioned earlier, Walmart has filed a patent that would make a very important part of the process possible.

If there is a person in Bentonville who is working on a shopping cart that can do this, I’d love to write a post that gives more details. There are a lot of cool possibilities. And, if Walmart isn’t working on this or hasn’t thought of it yet, which I find hard to believe, please feel free to steal the idea. Or even better, contact me, as I have some additional ideas that might be useful.

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Cashless Stores: Ahead of Their Time or Just Bad for Business?

The end of cash?For years now, many experts have predicted the demise of cash.

Those who make these predictions are encouraged when companies like Apple report increased usage of proximity mobile payments. In fact, Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings report and conference call reported:  “Triple transaction volume year-over-year for Apply Pay.”

But even with more consumers adopting alternative ways to purchase items, it appears that cash isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, this is something that Jeff Hasen, one the pioneers in mobile marketing, often points out on Twitter.

Cashless Comment Jeff Hasen

A recent article on CNBC supports Hasen’s argument.

“Cash remains the most frequent method of payment in the U.S., representing roughly 31 percent of consumer transactions, more than electronic, credit, debit or checks,” the author of the article writes.

According to the same article, “Use of cash by U.S. households is consistent across most income levels, around 25 percent, and goes way up at the lowest incomes.”

That said, this is not stopping some stores from trying to follow Amazon’s lead and eliminate cash as a payment option.

I think that it’s good that stores are trying different things to see what works.

However, as you might have expected, stores that try to go cashless are often met with some resistance.

Amazon Is Leading the Way

The headline of a recent Bloomberg article says it all, “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.”

If you are not familiar with the AmazonGo cashierless store concept, the basic idea is that shoppers enter the store with a smartphone app downloaded to their phone, they scan their phones as they enter the store, they shop and leave with the items that they want to purchase without having to stop at a cash register.

As the Bloomberg article points out, “Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take and bills them automatically, eliminating checkout lines.”

In this scenario, cash is not an option.

While not going all the way to cashierless stores, other merchants are experimenting with the idea of eliminating cash in order to cut costs.

The Cost of Accepting Cash

While accepting cash as a payment option has been the norm for many years, accepting cash actually costs more than some of the other common payment options.

A USA Today article highlights some of the expenses involved in processing cash transactions, as reported in an IHL report.

According to the article, “Besides the time spent counting bills and making change, they include ensuring registers have enough change, running cash to the bank, bank fees, armored cars, employee theft and robberies, the report says.”

“All told, such hassles cost retailers an average of 9.1 percent of sales, ranging from 4.7 percent at grocery stores to 15.5 percent at restaurants and bars, IHL says. That compares to the 2 to 3 percent transaction fees credit-card companies charge merchants,” the USA Today article reports.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that some stores are looking to eliminate cash.

But this has its downside.

Going Cashless Shuts Poor People Out

This is the main point of a recent article published on The New York Times website.

According to the author, Ginia Bellafante, there are several arguments against going cashless.

“The strongest objection relates to the ways in which rejecting physical currency plays out as a bias toward the poor; advancing segregation in retail environments,” writes Bellafante.

“According to government data, close to 7 percent of American households have no one in them with a checking or savings account, while an additional 19 percent are considered “underbanked,” meaning that they rely on products or services outside the conventional financial system,” the author continues. “These include money orders and payday and pawnshop loans. The majority of people who fall into these categories are nonwhite.”

Laws Are Being Written to Prevent Cashless Brick-and-Mortar Stores

When the article on The New York Times website was published, many people wondered if it was even legal to go cashless.

As Jarrod Frates points out on Twitter, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

Cashless Comment Frates

Given this fact, it is not so surprising that lawmakers in New Jersey and New York City are trying pass bills to prevent stores from going cashless.

As an article on The Motley Fool website points out, New Jersey politicians are trying to prevent cashless stores because not accepting cash can prevent certain groups of people from making a purchase. This is the same argument that was made in The New York Times article mentioned earlier.

According to The Motley Fool article, Massachusetts is currently the only state that requires brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.

Is Cashless Bad for the Brand?

While it’s estimated that only 31 percent of consumer transactions are cash, not offering cash as an option can create hassles beyond the bad PR it is getting for creating barriers for the unbanked.

Finding out that they can’t use cash until it is time to pay can be a source of frustration for some customers.

Even customers who rarely use cash can find it frustrating when they are asked to use a credit card to pay for a last-minute addition such as mayonnaise or another condiment at restaurants or even small items at a retail store.

Cashless Complaint 1

Cashless Complaint 2

Final Thoughts

Given that customers can and often do vent their frustration publicly on social media, going cashless might be more trouble than it’s worth.

With this in mind, it is fairly easy to see why Jeff Hasen often reinforces the fact that cash isn’t going anywhere, at least in the near future.

It is also not surprising that some merchants that tried to go cashless have decided to change their minds.

Cash is Back Spero

However, as the author of the post on The Motley Fool website points out, while going cashless might not the best way to go now, stores will never know whether it is a good idea to go cashless in the future if they aren’t even allowed to try.

It does seem like there might be some easy workarounds that stores or restaurants could offer if they do want to go cashless at the checkout line. The most obvious would be making an ATM or vending machine available to customers that would give them the option of buying prepaid debit cards.

This would give customers access to the store, while still encouraging them to pay via other payment options.

I’m not sure if this would satisfy lawmakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, or any other place that makes going cashless illegal.

If you know the answer to that legal question or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Future of the Retail Sales Associate—Another Reason Why Retailers Need to Provide More Mobile-Optimized Content Online

The Future of Retail Sales AssociatesThe way customers shop, in general, is changing with more and more customers going online to research and buy products. Furthermore, smartphones have also modified the way customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

This means that retailers are going to need to rethink everything. And, that means everything.

For store employees, this means that their world is going to be altered dramatically.

In 2014, Doug Stephens, one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, wrote a very informative blog post that predicts what a “typical” retail sales associate’s job will look like in the near future.

In the post, he predicts that in the near future there will be fewer humans working in brick-and-mortar retail stores, with technology there to fill in the gap.

In the post, he cites a study from Oxford University that estimates that there is a 92 percent chance that retail sales associates will be replaced by technology in the next decade. (Keep in mind, this was over four years ago. Therefore, if the predictions are accurate, retail sales associates should be retraining for other positions now! Even if it takes a little longer than experts think it will, the world that they are predicting will arrive someday… soon.)

While this is an alarming figure, people who want to work in retail stores should be heartened by the other prediction that Doug Stephens makes—that those employees who do survive will be paid much higher than they currently are. But this is going to mean that they also are going to need to get a lot more training.

Other sources again support his position.

Some of the recent articles that discuss retail trends point to the fact that there will always be a need for some human salespeople at most brick-and mortar stores. However, they will have a slightly different background.

As far as I can tell, four types of non-management employees will emerge to replace the generally unskilled workforce that currently fills many of these low-paying retail sales associate jobs.

Professional Salespeople—The Customer Service and Product Experts

In the blog post mentioned earlier, Doug Stephens writes, “Although retailers will point the finger at price as the smoking gun behind showrooming, research shows that in fact, it’s more often the pursuit of adequate and accurate information that drives customers online.”

Therefore, in order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to hire a core group of employees who really know their stuff.

These employees won’t be the ones who check people out at the cash register.

They will be like the salespeople of old who thought of their position at the store as a career, not just a place to work until they find other jobs. These employees will be experts in customer service and they will know everything about what they are selling.

The stores that realize that there is a need for this type of employee and hire and train people who really want to excel at their job will be the stores that will succeed.

As Doug Stephens also points out, the people who fill these positions will be paid more than the average salary of a retail sales associate today.

This probably means that stores won’t hire many of these employees, if they still want to keep their costs down. But, the employees who are hired to fill this type of role will be an invaluable resource to customers and the store.

To be qualified for this role, the employee will also have to invest in additional training.

Organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) are already recognizing that this type of training is needed and have begun offering it at a reasonable price.

Part-Time Associates—Knowledgeable Salespeople Augmented With Technology

This group of employees will most resemble the current retail sales associate.

They will be the young adults who are working their way through high school or college. They will have some basic product knowledge and business acumen. And, they will have grown up using technology, therefore they will be very comfortable assisting less tech-savvy customers with the technology that the store will use to assist in the sales process.

They will also use technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access mobile-optimized content that will answer the product-related questions that customers have.

Because these employees will be in the process of completing their training, these positions will probably still be on the lower-end of the pay scale. However, to attract the best employees, retailers will still have to pay more than minimum wage.

With technology to augment the sales process, fewer of these associates will be needed on the sales floor of tomorrow.

Temporary Workers—The On-Demand Workforce

The gig economy is here, with some employees being hired to work for only a short duration of time to fill a specific business need.

As a Washington Post article points out, it is already changing the workforce in many mainstream restaurants (e.g., Five Guys, McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, etc.)

Will brick-and-mortar retail stores be next?

Retailers have always hired temporary workers around the holidays. This would just take this concept to the extreme.

It is entirely possible that stores could hire employees for one or two days to staff a large sale similar to those on Black Friday.

And, again, if stores bring in the right technological solutions to assist with the sales process, these temporary workers could be quickly trained to work the cash register or again help the less tech-savvy customer in the shopping process.

Some retail experts say using temporary workers is a bad idea. But, the reality is that only time will tell.

Non-Human Employees—Mobile-Optimized Online Content and Other Technological Solutions

The fourth type of employee that will replace the current retail sales associate is not a human at all. However, in many cases technological solutions will be able to do the same job… maybe even better than the current retail sales associate can.

As mentioned above, customers are already reaching for their smartphones to get product information while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, some customers would rather use their smartphones to find product information than talk to the retail sales associate on the sales floor.

This might be because they often get incorrect or incomplete information from improperly trained retail sales associates. Therefore, we might have a chicken and the egg situation at play.

Either way, the one thing we do know for certain is that customers want to be able to quickly and efficiently find product information either online via their smartphone or by talking to a retail sales associate.

Having the right information available online is going to be a must for the retailer of tomorrow. And, as mentioned above, it will also help human salespeople do their jobs better.

As Doug Stephens points out in his post, there are companies like Hointer that are working to bring additional technological solutions to market to help automate the retail sales process even further.

However, I will leave that topic for future blog posts.

Final Thoughts

In order to compete, brick-and-mortar stores will need to be able to provide customers with the same accurate and complete product information that they can find on Amazon or other online retailers.

If the brick-and-mortar store provides the information first, customers will have one less reason to visit another store’s website or mobile app, and therefore will be less likely to use the store as a showroom only to buy the product elsewhere.

This can be accomplished by having better trained retail sales associates and by creating the right mobile-optimized content that customers can search for on their smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, other technological solutions like “smart mirrors” in fitting rooms will also be used to deliver product information to customers.

Given the changes in the marketplace, it’s not a question of whether to invest in employees or in technology.

Successful stores will do both.

In fact, technology will help less knowledgeable retail sales associates meet the needs of the store’s customers more efficiently and effectively. In other words, in many cases technology and humans will work together to provide a better shopping experience.

Note: This is a very general prediction of what the “average” retail store of the future will need to do in order to meet the needs of its customers. There will be variation based on the products and services sold, who shops at the store, the store’s location, etc.

Photo credit: Zepfanman.com on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Fashion Retailers Could Benefit by Providing Basic Fashion Tips Online

Fashion TipsIt has been well documented that consumers often turn to their smartphones while shopping.

In fact, according to a study conducted by Salsify in September of 2016, 77% of all shoppers report using mobile devices while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. In comparison, only 35% say that they would turn to a salesperson to obtain similar information.

As a Salsify press release published in April of 2017 states, “With so many turning to mobile while shopping in-store as well, the need for strategic and informed product content has never been more essential. In fact, 87 percent of consumers say accurate, rich, and complete product content is very important when deciding what to buy.”

A study conducted by Retail Dive examined how consumers use smartphones while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. The most common response to the question was to research products and/or look up product information (58%), followed by checking or comparing prices (54%), accessing or downloading digital coupons (40%), accessing a specific retailer’s mobile app (33%), and scanning a QR code (22%).

The type of product information that retailers will want to provide will vary from store to store based on the products and services sold, the customers it serves, the time of year, where the store is located, etc.

While some content could be expensive to create, sometimes providing basic information could be enough to help convince the customer to make a purchase.

For fashion retailers it could be as simple as providing basic fashion tips to customers.

Insight From the Sales Floor

Recently, I have spent some time selling men’s clothing at a department store just outside of Saint Paul, Minnesota. In that time, I have witnessed many customers using mobile devices while shopping in-store.

While it appears that many of these customers are taking photos to send to another person to see if they approve of a purchase, I would venture a guess that other times customers are using their smartphones in the ways reported in the studies that I wrote about earlier in this post.

If the questions that customers ask associates is any indication of the information customers are searching for on their smartphones, then providing basic style advice should be something that fashion retailers would want to provide on their mobile websites and apps.

Suit photoIn particular, online fashion tips could be extremely useful to customers who are purchasing clothing that they don’t often purchase (e.g., suits, ties, dress shirts, etc.) This would include explaining the correct fit, as well as letting customers know what articles of clothing compliment each other.

And, if the information provided online is optimized for search, customers might find it while shopping in a competitor’s store. While this might seem like you are helping the competition, just think about where the customer will turn to if your competitor can’t deliver the goods. My guess is that those customers would at least consider shopping at the store that just provided the information that they were looking for.

Providing this type of basic information wouldn’t cost the company that much.

However, a quick search on Google brings up a lot of information from fashion bloggers and websites like Esquire and GQ, but not much from major department stores, fashion retailers, or even the top designer labels.

Either they are not providing this information or they are not doing a good job of optimizing their content for search engines. In their defense, I did find some information from Macy’s and Nordstrom. However, they didn’t show up in all searches that I did. Furthermore, I think that additional information might be useful.

Keep in mind that I only searched for information on men’s suits. It’s possible that they provide more information for other types of clothing. Additional research would be required to get a more accurate picture of what information fashion retailers are providing their customers online.

Final Thoughts

Studies show that finding the right online content is very important to consumers who are looking for product information when they are deciding what to buy.

Because consumers are now searching for that information while shopping in-store, a time when they are actually going to make a purchase decision, providing the right information is now even more important than ever before.

If the questions that customers ask sales associates is any indication of what information customers are looking for, then fashion retailers and department stores should be providing basic style advice and fashion tips to customers. This is particularly useful for products that customers don’t buy often and are being purchased for specific important occasions (e.g., weddings, school dances, graduations, etc.)

Since department stores can’t control how customers search, this information should be available to customers in as many ways as possible. This would include on mobile apps and on the mobile web. Letting customers know that it is available through notifications on in-store signs might also help increase conversions.

Sales associates could also help get the word out that this type of information is available to customers who don’t want to engage in a conversation. This information could also be used as a visual aid when associates are helping customers.

Finally, don’t forget to optimize your content for search. Because if customers can’t find it, then it doesn’t exist.

Photo credit: Angelbattle bros (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-ND 2.0.) and Banalities on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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How Smartphones Will Influence the Future of Visual Merchandising and Store Design

It has been over a decade since the iPhone was first introduced to the world.

In that time, smartphone use has skyrocketed.

In fact, Deloitte expects smartphone penetration to approach 90 percent in the United States, with much of the growth being fueled by increased smartphone usage among older Americans.

Customers Use Mobile Devices When They Shop and Buy

As we know, having a smartphone has changed the way many consumers shop and buy products and services in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, mobile is changing the way that we do almost everything in life.

Over the years, retailers have experimented with different ways that they can use mobile devices to improve their customers’ shopping experience.

In the near future, successful retailers will find ways to leverage mobile technology and incorporate it into all parts of their business. This will have a huge impact on the way retailers merchandise and design their brick-and-mortar stores in the future.

It is important to point out that retailers should not look for ways to use mobile devices just for the sake of using mobile devices.

Instead, retailers that will succeed in the future will find additional ways to provide value to customers. Often this means providing them with memorable shopping experiences.

In other cases, it might be finding ways to make their shopping experience easier or providing the customer with ways to save money.

Often these things can be achieved by leveraging the same mobile devices that their customers are already using.

After all, if mobile phones are changing the ways that people shop, wouldn’t it be smart for retailers to make adjustments and make it easier for their customers to find what they want when they want it using the same technology.

Using Mobile Devices to Improve Visual Merchandising and Store Design

Here are some of the ways that smartphones and tablets will change visual merchandising and store design at successful retail stores in the near future.

As already pointed out, retailers need to take into account the way customers use smartphones when they shop and buy in their brick-and-mortar stores. This includes customers using smartphones to comparison shop, find product reviews, look for coupons, and use shopping apps to do all the above. Smartphones are also changing the way customers actually pay for the products once they have made a selection.

With this in mind, retailers need to make sure that their digital marketing teams and their visual merchandising teams are talking to each other and are on the same page.

In the future, retailers that find ways to have their digital teams and their visual merchandising teams work together or even better, actually interact and play off each other will see positive results from their efforts. The goal should be to provide a seamless shopping experience, no matter what channel the customer is using.

Retailers should strive to delight customers and provide a remarkable shopping experience. In other words, retailers should be trying to create a shopping experience worth talking about.

Ideally, retailers will be able to inspire customers to take a photo of their shopping trip and post it on social media for their friends and family to see. This is some of the best advertising the store can get.

Another way that retailers can use mobile devices is to create efficiencies and improve productivity by having staff armed with smartphones and tablets and then create the right software, content, and processes that leverage mobile to the fullest.

It is not enough to just provide mobile devices to employees. Management needs to explain to retail staff how and why to use them at different points in the shopping experience.

And, don’t forget that mobile can help improve processes throughout the store, not just while staff are interacting directly with customers.

While having staff use mobile devices to enhance the way they do their job is not going to directly influence merchandising and store design, it will help the store better understand the customer and make improvements wherever possible. It will also help management gather feedback and collect valuable data.

As just mentioned, retailers can use mobile phones to help better understand the needs and shopping behaviors of their customers by using these mobile devices to collect valuable data about their customers’ shopping behaviors while in the store.

This data will influence the way stores are merchandised and designed in the future.

However, as we have seen from many of the recent stories in the news, customers can be wary of the way data is collected and used. It is therefore important to proceed with caution and follow all of the rules and regulations. While retailers will use data to improve every part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, it is important that customers are aware of what is being done.

Final Thoughts

Smartphones and tablets have changed the way that customers shop and buy.

This post has focused on how mobile devices have changed how customers shop once they are in the brick-and-mortar store. However, as we know, mobile devices play a role in the whole shopping experience, even before customers enter the store and long after they purchase the product or service.

Knowing this, successful retailers with learn to adapt and leverage this knowledge to improve their customers’ shopping experience no matter how and when they choose to shop.

It only makes sense that retailers would find ways enhance their customers’ shopping experiences using that same mobile devices customers are already using.

This post has provided a few suggestions for retailers to consider.

This includes maybe one of the most important ways mobile devices can influence visual merchandising and store design… as a way to collect data. By providing valuable data that allows retailers to better understand their customers shopping behaviors, mobile devices will improve the way the store meets their customers’ needs now and in the future.

Photo credit: Antoine K on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Importance of Photo-Worthy Visual Merchandising and Store Design

Instagrammable shirtsFor years, retailers have obsessed over every detail of the brick-and-mortar store, with the goal of optimizing the shopping experience to get customers to spend more money.

Store designers would examine the design and placement of the signs that are found throughout the store, where the shopping carts are located, what music is playing in the background, where the cash registers are located, what department is located where, etc.

However, with the advent of mobile phones and the increased use of social media, many retailers are being forced to change the way they design the store.

One of the things that retailers are now thinking about is whether or not the store inspires customers to take a photo of the store and post it on Instagram or any of the other social networking sites out there.

In the long run, having a photo-worthy store could be more important to the bottom line than one might think.

A Majority of U.S. Adults Use Social Media

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) are Facebook users, 35% use Instagram, 29% use Pinterest, 27% use Snapchat, 24% use Twitter, and 22% use WhatsApp.

It is also interesting to note that over half of current Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram users visit these social networking sites on a daily basis.

This means that there are a lot of opportunities for retailers to get their stores featured in customers’ social media posts.

The key is giving customers a reason to post a photo or comment about the store online.

Is Your Store Instagrammable?

One of the ways to get featured on your customers’ social media posts is to create a shopping environment that just begs to be photographed.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many retail experts have started to use the adjective “Instagrammable” to describe the way a store is designed.

“Instagrammable” could be translated as a photo-worthy location or item that inspires customers to actually take a photo of and then upload it to any social networking site. Because Instagram is known for being able to make ordinary photos look extraordinary with filters, people tend to use that social networking site to represent all the other social networking sites that their customers use.

Others claim that “Instagrammable” goes beyond that.

In an article titled, “Do It For The ‘Gram: How Instagram is Changing the Design Industry,” Lucy Leonard contends that, “Consumers nowadays want to lead Instagram-worthy lives.”

“What does this mean, you ask?” she continues. “It means spending more money on cool, Instagrammable experiences. It means living a life full of adventure—or at least posting pictures that make it seem like you do.”

The way stores create this type of shopping environment will vary from store to store. Therefore, it is beyond the scope of this post.

Final Thoughts

The intention of this post is to point out that retailers need to start thinking about store design not only from their current customers’ perspectives, but also from the perspective of all the potential customers their current shoppers are connected to.

If a user sees the store in a post on a social networking site, there is a chance that it will influence his or her decision to shop at the store in the future.

Therefore, in addition to getting the current shopper to spend more money, now store designers also need to encourage customers to take photos of their shopping experience and upload them for their friends and family to see online.

Furthermore, store designers need to make sure that the store will be portrayed in a positive light and in a way that is consistent with the brand’s image.

Retailers also need to keep in mind that some customers might wonder if it is acceptable to take a picture of a store display while in the store.

Therefore, once you have created a store design that you think is “Instagrammable,” it is important to encourage in-store photography!

But, don’t get too carried away, because asking customers to take photos could make it look like you are begging, or even worse, it could backfire and create bad feelings.

This topic and others associated with the post will be explored, in detail, in future posts.

Photo credit: YL Tan on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-ND 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Social Media Props: The H-E-B Limited Edition Selena Shopping Bag (Case Study)

HEB store“Fans of the late “Queen of Tejano” Selena Quintanilla caused the website of Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B to crash after they released a limited-edition reusable shopping bag honoring the singer,” writes Thatiana Diaz in a March 9th post on people.com.

H-E-B clearly hit a homerun when it teamed up with the Selena Foundation to sell a limited quantity of special-edition shopping bags that honored the late singer Selena Quintanilla.

However, the real story goes beyond the fact that people waited in line to buy the bags or that the bags sold out so fast.

The real win was all the earned media coverage that the brand received when fans of the singer posted photos of the bags online and the press covered the story after the bags sold out so quickly and caused the H-E-B website to crash in the process.

The Selena Bags Generated a Great Deal of Earned Media

In addition to the article on people.com, the story was covered on today.com, popsugar.com, retailwire.com, and on local news affiliates’ websites around the country.

This definitely helped put the brand front and center, making it visible to a lot of potential customers.

And, as most marketers know, the best thing a brand can get is a positive mention of the brand from a customer on social media, as friends and family are the best influencers out there.

So, when fans went online in droves to post photos of the bags, as well as photos of the lines of people waiting to receive their bags, the retailer scored… big time!

To see what people posted, search for #SelenayHEB or #Selenabag on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Here are just some of the posts that I found on Instagram and Twitter:

 

Yayyyy! Thank you so much Mr. Q !!💜💜 #queenofcumbia #selenayheb @heb

A post shared by Isabel Marie💗 (@isabelmarieofficial) on

Got some! #heb #selena #queenofcumbia #anythingforselenas #selenayheb

A post shared by Monica Velasquez (@lemon78644) on

Im so excited I was able to grab a couple of these!! #SelenayHEB

A post shared by Gabrielle Nichole (@gabbyrielles) on

Anything for Selenas. #SelenayHEB A post shared by Lisa Letchworth (@512panthacat) on

QUEEN OF CUMBIA!!!! #heb #selenayheb #vivaselena A post shared by Cristina Davila (@cristybexar) on

ME SIENTO MUY… EXCITED!! WE GOT OURS!!!💓💓💓 #SelenayHEB A post shared by Bek🏋🏽🐾🍕🌮🧀 (@yourstrulybek) on

 

The Limited Edition Selena Bag as a Social Media Prop

This isn’t the first time that I have written about shopping bags as a way to get a store mentioned in user-generated posts in social media.

In fact, it was about two years ago that I wrote a post explaining how to use visually appealing luxury shopping bags as photo props to get included in the posts when customers upload photos of their in-store purchases after a long day of shopping.

In this case, though, the shopping bag was not only used to carry home the products purchased, it was the product.

A product that was the star of a lot of photos posted online shortly after the bags went on sale.

The Upside of “Sold Out”

Because the sale of the bag helped the Selena Foundation while honoring the beloved singer, I think H-E-B did almost everything right.

I say H-E-B did almost everything right, because the website did go down and they did run out of bags on the first day. Clearly there was more demand than the store anticipated.

But then again, maybe the fact that they ran out so fast was also a good thing, because the limited quantity of the bags increased their perceived value. If you don’t believe me, just look what they are selling for on eBay! (Many have sold for over $50 per bag, with one selling on March 7, 2018 for $169!)

And, if the website hadn’t crashed, would the press have covered it? Who knows? Therefore, that might be a good thing, as well.

Final Thoughts

As I have said before, offering customers a trendy shopping bag is a great way for retailers to get included in the post-purchase photos that customers upload to social networking sites after a long day of shopping.

As highlighted in this post, H-E-B offered a limited edition reusable shopping bag that honored a beloved singer and benefited the Selena Foundation. In this case, the bag was the product.

A product that a lot of customers wanted, as demonstrated by the long lines and the many posts on social networking sites from customers bragging that they got the bag or complaining that they weren’t able to purchase one.

Either way, the reusable shopping bag honoring Selena Quintanilla generated a lot of earned media for the store. And, that is a good thing.

On that note, I want to end the post with a YouTube video from a customer who just missed out on getting the bag. He was gracious even though he waited in line only to leave empty handed… twice! (He waited in line in the store and couldn’t get a bag online before the website crashed.) Hopefully, he will still be able to purchase the bag online on eBay.

Photo credit: Todd Morris on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Video credit: Aaron Sanchez on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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How Social Commerce Can Help Increase Sales

Social Commerce MobileSocial networking sites have been around for over two decades.

However, it wasn’t until recently that many businesses realized that social media was a viable way to get the word out about their products or services and maybe even a place to sell directly to the consumer.

That doesn’t mean that these social networking sites weren’t trying to find ways to get businesses to use their sites to sell products early on, it was just that many businesses were slow to catch on.

While many social media platforms rely on advertising that ultimately drives users to advertisers’ websites, many of the most popular social networking sites have at least experimented with ways to get consumers to buy directly from businesses without even having to be redirected to another website.

To illustrate this, an infographic created by 16best.net  has some interesting facts about social networks as ecommerce gateways. The part of the infographic that lists a “Timeline of Social Commerce” is shown below. Although not all inclusive, it highlights some of important points in the brief history of what people often refer to as social commerce.

History of Social Commerce 16Best

 

Additional Comments on Social Commerce

In a blog post about social commerce on the Conversion Sciences Blog, Jacob McMillen states that, “Social commerce is selling that takes place directly through social platforms. Instead of using social marketing to drive visitors to your website, where you then convert them into customers, visitors are sold to directly on social media either in the form of a complete checkout experience or a “Buy Now” style click-through that triggers an off-platform checkout.”

It appears that this is what 16best.net is using as the working definition of social commerce in their infographic.

However, I need to point out that others have a much broader definition of social commerce. If you are interested, Wikipedia.org has additional information on social commerce and its other definitions.

Final Thoughts

As shown in the infographic provided by 16best.net, many of the most used social networking sites are constantly looking for ways to help businesses convert sales directly on their sites without redirecting users to another website.

This is good for the businesses selling the products because it reduces the number of steps needed to make a conversion, thus eliminating some of the lost sales that might otherwise occur because of website friction.

It is also great for the social network because it adds value to their service, not to mention the fact that it keeps the user on their site.

Remember this is only a small part of the story, as social media is often used for reasons other than conversions. In fact, often social media is part of the awareness and consideration phases of the buyer’s journey. (Note: This depends on the type of product, of course.)

That said, from a business standpoint, it is important to keep up with the options available so that you can reach your customers where they are when they need your product.

Again, your business might experience increases in sales by taking advantage of the social commerce options available, because there are fewer chances to lose the customer in the conversion process.

Photo credit: Jason Howle on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Infographic credit: 16best.net blog.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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You Might Not Look at a Mirror the Same Way Again

Photo credit: Mara 1 on Flickr.In the retail environment, it is common to see a mirror or two located near items that are for sale.

However, the reason for the location of these mirrors might not be as obvious as you might expect.

Having a mirror handy will help customers visualize whether or not an item goes with another item or even if the clothes that they try on fit in all the important places.

However, mirrors also serve several other important functions in retail.

Mirrors Make Us Act in a More Socially Desirable Way

In his book, titled “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing,” Roger Dooley points out that, “When we look in a mirror, our behavior is actually altered – at least for a short period of time.”

“The most venerable piece of mirror-behavior research dates all the way back to the 1970s,” continues Dooley. “Like many experiments in social psychology, the setup was simple: children making their Halloween rounds were told they could take one piece of candy from a large bowl of candy and were then left alone. About 34 percent helped themselves to more than one piece. When a mirror was placed behind the bowl so that the children could see themselves as they took the candy, only 9 percent disobeyed their instructions. The simple addition of the mirror cut the rate of bad behavior by almost three-fourths.”

Dooley continues by pointing out, “And it’s not just kids who respond to seeing themselves. Another experiment showed subjects either a live video of themselves (rather like a mirror except for the image reversal part) or neutral geometric shapes. They were then given a small task that required them to exit the room with a used paper towel. Almost half of the subjects who saw the neutral images littered by dropping the used towel in an empty stairwell, whereas only one quarter of those who saw themselves did so.”

The research indicates that seeing their image causes people to think about their behavior and ultimately behave in a more socially desirable way. In fact, influence and persuasion expert Dr. Robert Cialdini suggests that mirrors could be an inexpensive way to cut shoplifting and employee theft.

Mirrors Influence How We Shop

Paco Underhill, founder and CEO of Envirosell, also points out that mirrors are very important selling tools for retailers.

In his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping—Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond,” Underhill points out that, “People slow down when they see reflective surfaces.”

Underhill continues, “Stand and watch what happens at any reflective surface. We preen like chimps, men and women alike. Self interest is a basic part of our species. From shopping to cosmetic surgery, we care about how we look. As we’ve said, mirrors slow shoppers in their tracks, a very good thing for whatever merchandise happens to be in the vicinity. But even around wearable items such as clothing, jewelry and cosmetics, where mirrors are crucial sales tools, stores fail to provide enough of them.”

On the other hand, he warns not to have too many mirrors. As he mentions, “A store shouldn’t feel like a funhouse. At a certain point, all that glass becomes disorienting.”

Conclusion

Mirrors are important sales tools for retailers. Not only do they help people visualize how an item will look on them before they make the purchase, but strategically placed mirrors might also be an effective way to reduce theft by shoppers and employees, alike.

Furthermore, people slow down when they see a reflective surface. Therefore, mirrors can be used by retailers to help call attention to items that are located nearby.

Finally, while many stores don’t provide customers with enough mirrors, providing too many mirrors can also be a problem.

This is something to think about the next time that you are walking through a department store and see your reflection in a strategically placed mirror.

Photo credit: Mara 1 on Flickr.

Note: This post was originally published on HubPages in September of 2012. I removed it from HubPages in November of 2016.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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