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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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Continuous Education Will Be Required to Keep up with Technological Change


The rapid advancements in technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, are changing the work that we do and the way it’s done.

In fact, an article published on the CNBC website in October of 2017 cites a 2013 study conducted by Oxford University that “estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be replaced by robots and automated technology within the next two decades.”

This means that the human workforce is going to need to adapt to keep up with these changes.

In the same article, Jeff Hesse, PwC principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader, is quoted as saying, “It varies a bit by industry, but over the next five years we’re going to see the need for workers to change their skills at an accelerating pace.”

As the article goes on to point out, this doesn’t mean that employees are going to have to go back to school to get a degree. There are alternatives offered by community colleges, reputable trade schools, and even internal training and recruiting programs offered by companies looking to keep their human workforce employed.

Major universities and colleges have also noticed the need to train people for the jobs of the future and have started to offer online training programs directly to students.

Some universities and colleges have also partnered with tech startups to make massive open online courses (MOOCs) available to people who want to continue their education without paying a lot in tuition fees. Some of the most popular MOOCs include Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Udemy, just to name a few.

Will These New Educational and Training Programs Be Enough?

A report published by the Pew Research Center in May of 2017 tackled this question. The report included findings from a largescale canvassing of 8,000 experts and members of the interested public by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The study was conducted from July 1 to August 12, 2016.

According to the report, 1,408 respondents answered the following question:

“In the next 10 years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?”

The authors of the report state, “The nonscientific canvassing found that 70% of these particular respondents said “yes” – such programs would emerge and be successful. A majority among the 30% who said “no” generally do not believe adaptation in teaching environments will be sufficient to teach new skills at the scale that is necessary to help workers keep abreast of the tech changes that will upend millions of jobs.”

Respondents were then asked to further explain their answers and to consider a few additional questions. The responses to these questions highlight some of their predictions, both optimistic and pessimistic. Some of their responses influenced my thoughts below. I encourage you to check out the report for additional information.

The Future of Education Is a Continuous Process

Education will need to evolve.

That doesn’t mean that we will need to scrap the current education system entirely, at least in the near future.

However, I believe it will need to be supplemented.

If recent trends continue, having a bachelor’s degree will continue to be important and having a master’s degree will definitely be a plus.

Number of good jobs by level of educationA study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlights this trend. According to their research, there has been an increase in job opportunities in recent years for workers with at least some level of postsecondary education and training. However, the distribution of good jobs has increased the most among those workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Keep in mind, the past doesn’t always predict the future, but it’s a good indicator of what will happen in the short-term.

That said, I don’t think that having a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree will be enough.

If the experts are correct and the skills required to fill good jobs continue to change at an accelerating pace, then workers will need to constantly retrain for the jobs of future.

As mentioned earlier, some of this training will occur through self-directed online training programs or through training provided by companies trying to keep their human workforce employed. Mentoring programs or apprenticeships that provide hands-on training will also be important.

As we are already seeing, formal certifications that require passing rigorous testing will often be required to validate the quality of training employees receive. However, as the report mentioned above points out, determining which organizations to trust with this testing will be an issue.

This might be an area where universities again step in, as some already offer certificate programs or give students college credit for passing exams without requiring formal classroom attendance.

But, then again, who knows?

Right now, we are all trying to figure out the best ways to handle the challenges that we face.

In the more distant future, the education system that we know might need to be completely reimagined.

In my opinion, the best we can do is try to keep up with the changes by taking advantage of the educational resources currently available. Even experts in their field can benefit by updating their training on an ongoing basis. In the process, they might learn something new. And, at a minimum, they will be able to help validate what is and isn’t quality training.

Photo credit: Wolfgang Greller on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)


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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An Early and Online 2015 Holiday Shopping Season – Why REI Closing on Black Friday Is Good Business

Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.The business world was buzzing this week about REI’s decision to close its brick and mortar stores on one of the busiest shopping days of the year—Black Friday.

While it might have cost them some money in the short term, it was a very savvy business decision for many reasons.

The most obvious reason… all the free publicity REI is getting as business reporters and bloggers attempt to list and defend the company’s possible reasons for this decision.

What follows is a list of some of the factors that the company might have considered before making its announcement on Monday.

Black Friday Sales Are Not the Event That They Once Were

As Nikki Baird points out in an article on Forbes.com, there aren’t many surprise Black Friday deals to be found on Thanksgiving Day thanks to sites like blackfriday.com.

“Shoppers can see the deals way before the day they become available, compare the products, and if they’re enterprising and on the ball, they can find deals just as good or better right now – in fact, there are now price trackers that will help shoppers predict when the price will be the lowest, and apparently that more often happens the Friday before Thanksgiving, not after,” writes Baird.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that The National Retail Federation reported that there was an 11 percent decline in total spending in the four-day period between Thanksgiving Thursday and Sunday in 2014, when compared to the previous year.

It is also interesting to note that according to Google, about one in four consumers who responded to a survey conducted in January of 2015 said they had done some holiday shopping before Halloween last year. If this is true again this year, many consumers are already in stores looking for the best deal on the perfect gift.

Many Shoppers Are Turning to the Internet for Their Holiday Shopping

According to the National Retail Federation, “Almost half of holiday shopping, consisting of browsing and buying, will be done online: average consumers say 46 percent of their shopping (both browsing and buying) this holiday season will be conducted online, up from 44 percent last year.”

An Emphasis on Employees and the Outdoors Resonates With REI’s Customers

In an effort to capture more of a consumer’s holiday budget, many stores are opening earlier and earlier each year. In fact, many retailers will be open in the early evening on Thanksgiving Day.

While people often turn out in droves, many consumers (and retail employees) complain that retailers are missing the point. They feel that the holidays should be reserved for family time, not shopping.

By closing on Black Friday and giving their employees a paid vacation day, REI is sending a message that the family, employee well-being, and getting outdoors during the holiday is important to them, too.

Part of the reason that REI is able to make this unorthodox business decision is that REI is one of the few large retail cooperatives in the nation, not a publicly traded company.

“That basic structure frees up the business to do things that don’t really make sense in conventional market terms,” says Erbin Crowell, executive director for the Neighborhood Foods Co-op Association in a recent Washington Post article.

“Even if an observer called it a marketing strategy, it’s a really intriguing one that points to the fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional public corporations,” says Crowell.

“Clearly they’re seeing their social purpose, their cooperative structure, has value again,” Crowell continues, “and it’s something they want to lift up and share.”

Final Thoughts

REI made a bold move when it decided to announce that its brick and mortar stores will be closed on Black Friday and that employees will receive a paid vacation day in honor of the holiday.

Many factors may have played a role in this decision, including the fact that many consumers have been getting some of their holiday shopping done before Black Friday. In fact, many start before Halloween.

It is also important to point out that while the brick and mortar stores will be closed, customers can still purchase items from REI online.

The free publicity that REI is getting is also an added bonus.

In the end, REI’s management are undoubtedly hoping that this decision will resonate with consumers and create loyal customers who identify with the brand and the values that REI feels are important.


Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.

Video credit: CNNMoney 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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In Business or Politics, Dissent Is Not Disloyalty

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.” ~ Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow used these words in a broadcast of See It Now that aired on March 9, 1954, to criticize Senator Joseph McCarthy and the tactics that he used during the Second Red Scare.

While Murrow was trying to point out that Senator McCarthy was making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, and treason without any real evidence in the public sector, the quote can also be useful when thinking about “office politics” in the private sector.

The Role of the Devil’s Advocate

In his book, titled “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” (affiliate link) Guy Kawasaki talks about the history of the devil’s advocate and how it can relate to business.

In a post on the Harvard Business Review blog, which appears to be an excerpt from the book, Kawasaki writes, “A devil’s advocate who argues against what management says is a good person. He or she will improve your product or service by pointing out weaknesses, foster internal communication because disenchanted employees have someone to talk to, and show that rocking the boat and divergent thinking is acceptable.”

Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You

You need to keep in mind, though, there is a difference between disagreeing with your coworkers because you believe that you are correct (and, hopefully, have evidence to support your opinion) and outright saying that you won’t do something because you are too lazy to do it.

Saying that you won’t do something just because you don’t want to do it, in my opinion, is a completely different issue.

In an article on Inc.com, Jeff Haden gives some solid advice regarding this issue.

Haden writes, “Get over your cocky, pretentious, I-must-be-free-to-express-my-individuality self. Be that way on your own time. The people who pay you, whether customers or employers, earn the right to dictate what you do and how you do it–sometimes down to the last detail.

“Instead of complaining, work to align what you like to do with what the people who pay you want you to do,” he continues. “Then you turn issues like control and micro-management into non-issues.”

Final Thoughts

In business or politics, the fact that we can disagree and debate the issues often leads to the best solution.

Therefore, fostering a work environment that gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinions without negative repercussions will, in the end, benefit the business because it will help the business create better products and services.

Furthermore, having employees on staff who are willing to play the role of the devil’s advocate is important for the long-term success of any business.

Employees need to keep in mind, however, that while healthy debate should be encouraged, the business is ultimately paying their paycheck. Therefore, at the end of the day, what management says to do is what should be done.

As an employee, you still have the right to say no, particularly if you think that what management is asking you to do is unethical. However, in that case, management has the right to replace you with someone who is willing to do what is asked of them.

What management needs to remember, though, is that while they ultimately get to call the shots, dissent is not disloyalty.

Photo credit: LisaAuch on Flickr.

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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Insights From the SHRM 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey Report

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report, 83% of U.S. employees were at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs in 2011.

While the percentage of employees who are satisfied with their jobs has been trending downward since 2009, the percentage of satisfied employees reported in 2011 was still slightly higher than the percentages that were reported from 2002 to 2008.

However, this doesn’t mean that companies can rest on their laurels.

In fact, as I pointed out in the last post, maintaining high levels of employee job satisfaction may be more important for companies now than it was in the past.

Aspects of Job Satisfaction Most Important to Employees

The SHRM study found that the aspects of job satisfaction that were most important to U.S. employees in 2011 included: Job security, opportunities to use skills and abilities, the organization’s financial stability, relationship with their immediate supervisor, compensation/pay, benefits, communication between employees and senior management and the work itself.

Given the recent economic conditions, it’s not surprising that job security and the organization’s financial stability were among the aspects of job satisfaction that were most important to U.S. employees in 2011.

It’s also not surprising that compensation/pay and benefits ranked high on this list since they have been among the most important job satisfaction contributors for many years. However, at 53%, the percentage of U.S. employees who said that benefits were very important was lower in 2011 than it has been recent years.

In contrast, the percentage of U.S. employees who said that opportunities to use skills/abilities is a very important aspect of job satisfaction has been trending upward in recent years.

Employee Job Satisfaction Levels

Knowing what aspects are most important to employees is only half of the equation.

You also need to know how satisfied employees are with each aspect and then compare that to their respective importance level.

Aspects that are very important to employees but rank low on employee satisfaction are the aspects that companies should take a look at and try to improve on in the future, if possible.

According to the SHRM study, less than three of 10 U.S. employees reported being very satisfied with their organization’s financial stability, job security, benefits, communication between employees and senior management, and compensation in 2011. And, if you recall, these were all among the most important aspects of employee job satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

As the SHRM report points out, there are many factors that influence employee job satisfaction and engagement, including restructuring, demographic makeup of the organization, change in management, economic change, political change, global change and many others.

While companies have no control over some of these factors, there are things that they can do to mitigate the negative effects that they have on employee morale.

The SHRM report suggests that HR professionals help their organizations cultivate a culture that promotes employee engagement and job satisfaction through policies and practices, training line managers to better communicate their company’s mission and vision, and involving line managers in the organization’s strategic planning.

It is also suggested that organizations conduct their own employee satisfaction and engagement surveys to measure how well they are doing and then benchmark their results against other companies of a similar size within their industry.

I’d suggest checking out the SHRM report in its entirety, as it is filled with other valuable insights and information that can help your company make better decisions in the future.

Photo credit: seanhagen on Flickr.

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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Providing a Great Work Environment Is Good for Business

A recent article that was posted on CNNMoney.com reminded me of the fact that providing a great work environment for its employees is extremely important for any company.

Companies that provide a great work environment for their employees not only generate good will within the community, but they also tend to be staffed with employees who are happy with their jobs. Furthermore, these companies should also have an easier time recruiting the top performers in their respective professions.

Having happy, top-performing employees should translate into increased productivity, better products and superb customer service and thus, happy customers.

Social Media Extends Reach

When a company provides its employees with a great work environment, word is bound to get out.

Given how easy it is for people to share information on the many social networking sites that are available to them, positive buzz can spread rather quickly.

Companies that are lucky enough to be included on a list of the best companies to work for, similar to the list that was posted on CNNMoney.com, receive great publicity by just being included on the list. However, because it is so easy to share articles via any of the social networking sites that are currently available, being included on this type of list is more valuable than ever before.

Final Thoughts

In a world where a person’s opinion about a company is only an upload, post or tweet away from being made public, really everything that a company does is another opportunity to get the word out about the company and its products and services.

Therefore, a company that is looking for new ways to market its products and services might want to look at the work environment that it is providing its employees.

Providing a great work environment can help a company attract and retain happy, top-performing employees who can help satisfy the needs of its customers.

There is also a very good possibility that a company with high levels of employee and customer satisfaction will receive positive mentions on the Internet.

In fact, if the company is really lucky, it will be included on a list of the best companies to work for. That’s great publicity that is now easy to share.

Therefore, it’s easy to see that providing a great work environment is good for business.

Photo credit: brionv on Flickr.

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 Business Decision: Unintended Consequences

Photo credit: NATALIA PHOTOS on Flickr.Every waking minute, humans make choices.

Do you wear the blue shirt or the white one? Do you eat lunch at Subway or McDonald’s? Do you eat lunch at all?

Sometimes, external factors influence the decisions that we make. But in the end, we are still making a decision.

When it comes to business, the decisions that we make, particularly those that involve spending a large sum of money, can have consequences on the business beyond the area that is immediately impacted by the decision being made.

Insights From the Retail World

This topic is addressed in the book, titled “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping—Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond,” (affiliate link) by Paco Underhill.

Underhill explains that, “Retailing 101 starts with the notion that a store has three distinct aspects: design (meaning the premises), merchandising (whatever you put in them) and operations (whatever employees do). These Big Three, while seemingly separate, are in fact completely and totally intertwined, interrelated and interdependent, meaning that when somebody makes a decision regarding one, a decision has been made about the other two as well.”

Underhill goes on to say that, “The larger lesson here is that if one of the Big Three is strengthened, it takes some of the pressure off the others. If one is weakened, it shifts a greater burden onto the remaining two. This is not a good thing or a bad thing—it just is. It’s the geometry that rules the shopping universe.”

To illustrate his point, he gives several real world examples, including an instance where the boss of ladies’ shoes in a famous department store decided to increase the amount of display space for the merchandise by decreasing the amount of space devoted to the register area.

“As a result, the clerks who once used the counter for bagging had to start placing the bags on the floor and lowering the shoes in,” writes Underhill. “This added several steps to the process and made ringing up sales more arduous for the clerks, who usually wore pretty fancy shoes themselves. By the end of a day these women were hurting and dragging—and a little bitter, understandably. As part of our research we trained video cameras on the register and then, back at the office, we timed transactions with a stopwatch; at 4:30 P.M., it took almost twice as long to ring up a sale as it did at 11:00 A.M. Shrinking the counter space also added to the general clutter, making transactions less crisp. The overall result was that a mild improvement in merchandising required a change in design, which hurt operations quite a bit. In order to show off a few more shoes (like maybe a dozen pairs), transaction time grew longer, customer patience grew thin and employee energy and morale grew short. Considering that employees sell shoes better than any display, this was a very bad decision—all because someone who should have known better forgot that when you change one thing, everything changes.”

Unintended Consequences Are Not Always Bad

The side effects of a business decision aren’t always bad.

For example, after a certain period of time, businesses that decide to add social media to their overall marketing mix might get discouraged if they don’t see the increases in sales that they had hoped for.

However, as has been shown, social media can have a positive effect on a business’s bottom line in other ways (e.g., by decreasing operating expenses, increasing visibility in search engines, etc.)

If you are interested in further information, check out a blog post that I wrote this summer, titled “The Hidden ROI of Social Media Marketing.”

Finite Resources

It is obvious that a business decision can have an effect on other areas of a business by using its finite resources (e.g., time, money, manpower, etc.)

If you invest your resources in a specific project, those resources become unavailable for other projects.

Therefore, if you have a fixed budget and you want to implement a new project that requires a significant amount of your financial resources, then you are going to have to find ways to save money in other areas of the business (at least until the new project becomes self-sustaining, if it ever does.)

This might mean cutting some other project.

However, the project that is being cut might have had unidentified financial benefits. (This muddies the waters even further.)


It’s easy to see how one business decision can have a huge effect on a business’s bottom line.

It pays to try to identify how each business decision that you make influences other areas of your business before implementation.

However, because we don’t live in a perfect world, we are not always able to identify potential problems before they exist.

Therefore, it is important to continually monitor and measure your business efforts and make adjustments whenever necessary.

The key takeaway from this post is that every business decision that we make has an effect on other areas of the business. In other words, each business decision has unintended consequences.

Photo credit: NATALIA PHOTOS on Flickr.

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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Educating Employees About Brand Advocacy

Photo credit: wovox on Flickr.Word-of-mouth advertising is talked about a lot these days, thanks in part to the increased connectivity that Web 2.0 has given us in recent years.

It is not surprising, then, that brands all over the world have put an increased focus on providing the best customer service possible, in an effort to transform customers into brand advocates.

However, some of the best potential brand advocates walk through the front door every day, but are often overlooked. That’s right; I’m talking about the brand’s employees.

Brand Advocate Defined

As mentioned in the post, titled “10 Definitions of a “Brand Advocate”,” on blog.zuberance.com, people have slightly different ways of defining a brand advocate.

For the purpose of this post, I am going to use the definition given by Sarah Essary, Senior Account Executive at Edelman Digital, and blogger at consumingpr.com. In the blog.zuberance.com post, Sarah is quoted as saying, “I would say a brand advocate is willing to speak positive about a brand without much or any direct incentive.”

Employees as Brand Advocates

The brand’s employees (should) know the brand’s products and services better than anyone else.

They also interact with the brand’s customers all the time. In fact, they often serve as representatives of the brand.

So, who better to serve the role of brand advocate?

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about the interactions that employees have with customers while they are being compensated by the brand.

I’m talking about what the brand’s employees say about the brand in their lives outside of work.

The Human Factor

Remember, employees are people, too. They have access to the same online tools. They talk to people outside of work, just like everyone else.

If they are singing the praises of the brand, that is some of the best publicity that the brand can receive.

On the other hand, if a brand’s employees don’t think highly of the brand and let other people know about it, it could cast serious doubt about the quality of the brand’s products and services in the minds of its customers and potential customers.

After all, employees should be in the know about the brand’s products and services, right?


Considering the fact that employees have first-hand knowledge about the brand’s products and services, there is a good chance that what they say about the brand will have at least some influence on the purchase decisions of the people who they interact with.

Therefore, it is important that employees are given the information needed to effectively communicate the brand promise to others.

Furthermore, all employees should be trained to understand the importance of word-of-mouth advertising. And, when I say all employees, I mean all employees, from the CEO to the college interns.

What they say “off the clock” can potentially have an effect on the brand’s bottom line. This is particularly true when employees have public conversations online.

I’m not saying that brands should censor what their employees can say outside of work. What I am suggesting, though, is making their employees aware that what they say about the brand does make a difference.

On a side note, it also doesn’t hurt to make sure that the brand is providing a healthy work environment for its employees.

If employees are happy with their jobs and are proud to work for the brand, they will be more likely to tout the greatness of the brand. And, that, after all, is what being a brand advocate is all about.

Photo credit: wovox on Flickr.

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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