Tag retail

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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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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A New Study Finds That Improving Customer Satisfaction Really Is Good for Business

Photo credit: Iman Mosaad on Flickr.For years, marketing consultants have said that improving customer satisfaction is the key to success.

However, while most business leaders would agree that customer satisfaction should be a top priority, many executives have only given it lip service.

A new study from researchers from Michigan might change this, as they found that purchasing stock from companies with high customer satisfaction levels proves to be a good investment strategy.

These findings should be good news for everyone involved.

But, in the long run, the most notable winners could be consumers.

Higher Customer Satisfaction Indirectly Leads to Higher Stock Prices

As reported in a Science Daily article, a group of researchers from Michigan have found a link between customer satisfaction levels and higher stock prices.

According to the article, “Using 15 years of audited returns, researchers from Michigan State University and University of Michigan found creating a stock portfolio based on customer satisfaction data achieves cumulative returns of 518 percent.”

“This compares with a 31 percent increase for the commonly used Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in the same time period,” the article continues. “On an annual basis, the customer satisfaction portfolio outperformed the S&P 500 in 14 out of 15 years.”

The findings suggest that customer satisfaction is more important than many people think it is.

The researchers also warn, however, that there no direct correlation between customer satisfaction and stock prices.

According to an article published in the Journal of Marketing, “We also find that the effect of customer satisfaction on stock price is, at least in part, channeled via earnings surprises. Consistent with theory, customer satisfaction also has an effect on earnings themselves.”

In other words, increased customer satisfaction levels help businesses earn more money and higher than expected revenues help boost stock prices. Thus, customer satisfaction indirectly influences stock prices.

Final Thoughts

The reality of today’s world is that businesses often try to meet short-term goals in order to please investors.

In recent years, marketing consultants have been beating the drum for the idea that providing a great customer experience is key to a company’s long-term success.

What this research proves is that all the talk of pleasing the customer is more than high-minded rhetoric.

It is one of the keys to success.

Now that we have the research to show that improving customer satisfaction can help companies outperform their earnings estimates and thus help improve the stock valuation, the job of convincing top executives might have just gotten a little easier.

And, this is good news for everyone involved.

Photo credit: Iman Mosaad 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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In Retail, the Best Price Is Not Always the Lowest

Photo credit: William Murphy on Flickr.Whether in a brick-and-mortar retail store or on a retailer’s website, the price charged for the products or services sold will have an effect on sales.

However, sometimes the retailer with the lowest price around won’t have the highest conversion rates.

This post is intended to highlight some of the ways that price influences purchase decisions in the real world.

Prospect Theory

If you took an introduction to economics class in college, you are probably familiar with the law of supply and demand. It basically asserts that, if everything else remains the same, as the price of a product decreases, the demand for the product will generally increase.

However, in the real world, this relationship does not always prove to be true.

The reason for this can be explained by a theory developed by Dr. Daniel Kahneman and Dr. Amos Tversky.

According to Wikipedia, “Prospect Theory is a behavioral economic theory that describes the way people choose between probabilistic alternatives that involve risk, where the probabilities of outcomes are known. The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics. The model is descriptive: it tries to model real-life choices, rather than optimal decisions, as normative models do.”

As several experts have pointed out, this plays out each and every day in the retail world.

Consumers Will Pay Full Price for Some Brands

As you know, there are a few brands that have established enough brand equity that people are willing to pay higher prices for the products and services that they sell.

Often this means that retailers can sell these products to customers at full price.

And, in some cases, even the sale prices for these items are higher than the full price of some of the less expensive alternatives.

As I will explain later in the post, these products are extremely important to retailers for many reasons.

The Power of a Sale

In his New York Times bestselling book, titled “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Dr. Jonah Berger mentions an experiment conducted by Dr. Eric Anderson and Dr. Duncan Simister.

As explained in the book, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Simister partnered with a company that sends clothing catalogs to people all over the United States.

To test the power of a sale, they send two versions of the catalog to people all over the country.

In one version, they listed a specific product at full price and in the other they said the product was part of the “Pre-Season SALE.”

However, in reality, the price was exactly same in both versions of the catalog.

The only difference was that in one version it was listed as a sale price and in the other it was not.

In the end, they found that just by saying the product was on sale increased sales by more than 50 percent!

The Size of the Discount Matters

In “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Dr. Berger uses an example of two stores selling the same grill to illustrate how the size of the discount can be more important than the final price that the item is sold for.

As he explains, the store in scenario A lists the original price of the grill as $350, but sells it at a sale price of $250.

On the other hand, the store in scenario B lists the same grill at an original price of $255, but sells it at a sale price of $240.

When Dr. Berger asked 100 different people to evaluate each scenario, he found that 75 percent of people who were given scenario A said that they would purchase the grill, but only 22 percent of people given scenario B would make the purchase.

In scenario A, the sale price is $100 less than the original price. In scenario B, the sale price is only $15 less than the original.

However, remember that in each case the grill is exactly the same, but the final price in the second scenario is actually less than the first.

In this case, it was the size of the discount, not the actual final price that got people to say that they would make a purchase!

How the Discount Is Stated Matters (The Rule of 100)

In the book, Dr. Berger also highlights the fact that the original price will determine whether to list a sale in terms of a percentage off or an actual dollar value.

“Researchers find that whether a discount seems larger as money or percentage off depends on the original price,” writes Dr. Berger. “For low-priced products, like books or groceries, price reductions seem more significant when they are framed in percentage terms. Twenty percent off that $25 shirt seems like a better deal than $5 off. For high-priced products, however, the opposite is true. For things like laptops or other big-ticket items, framing price reductions in dollar terms (rather than percentage terms) makes them seem like a better offer. The laptop seems like a better deal when it is $200 off rather than 10 percent off.”

Dr. Berger goes on to explain that a good rule to follow is that if the product’s price is less than $100, then a percentage discount seems like a better deal. On the other hand, if the price of the product is more than $100, a discount expressed in the number of dollars off is a better way to go.

Full-Priced Items Can Make Other Products Sell Faster

Remember those full-priced items that I mentioned earlier in the post.

The fact that a store sells them can actually help increase the sales of the mid-range items that it sells.

In “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing,” Roger Dooley highlights the fact that selling high-end items increases the likelihood that people will buy products that are considered the next best option.

As Dooley points out, “A Standford University experiment had a group of consumers choose between two cameras, one more full-featured than the other. A second group chose from a selection of three cameras, which had the other two cameras plus one even higher-end model.”

“The first group split their purchase about 50/50 between the two models,” writes Dooley. “But, in the second group, fewer of the cheapest unit sold while more of the second camera sold. Adding the very expensive model made the second camera look like a reasonable compromise.”

Therefore, adding high-end items that sell at full-price can be a good choice for retailers. If the full-price items sell… great. But, if not, they might help increase the sales of the mid-level products sold at the retail store.

Keep in mind, this only works if customers see all the options available to them.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in many brick-and-mortar retail stores, people have to walk past the really high-priced items to get to the other options available to them. This makes the other items seem like a bargain in comparison.

A similar thing could be done on a website by listing other options available when customers search for specific products. The great part of an online store is that retailers can easily do A/B tests to see what website design converts the best.

Final Thoughts

In his book, Dr. Berger explains how the price of products and services influence sales. His book includes an explanation of Prospect Theory and how it can be used to explain why the store that sells a product at the lowest price doesn’t always sell it at a higher rate than other retailers in the area.

Roger Dooley’s book also highlights how price can influence sales in several different ways.

Both books offer lessons that retailers can use both in their brick-and-mortar stores and online.

In the end, it is important to keep in mind that people don’t always act the way that we would predict that they would.

Therefore, we need to test different options in an effort to find the underlying reasons why people do or do not buy products.

This will allow retailers to modify the shopping environment in an effort to increase the number of conversions and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Photo credit: William Murphy 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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Macy’s Is Moving Toward the Future of Retail With RFID and Artificial Intelligence

Photo credit: Warren B. on Flickr.Macy’s is once again leading the charge into the future of retail.

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced that it was expanding its use of item-level RFID technology to increase the accuracy of its inventory management system, thus making it easier for the retailer to sell more items both in its brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Recently, Macy’s announced that it is also experimenting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in an online mobile web tool.

At first glance, these two initiatives seem unrelated.

However, if you look at them more closely, Macy’s is laying the groundwork for something much bigger.

Using AI to Help Choose the Right Outfit

Several news articles explain how Macy’s has started experimenting with AI.

While the retailer most likely has a long-term vision, it looks like the it is starting out with few expectations and is willing to let customers guide their future decisions.

As an article in the Washington Post points out, “Macy’s announced Wednesday that it has teamed up with IBM Watson to use artificial intelligence as a customer service tool in 10 of its stores.  The retailer dubbed the pilot program “Macy’s On Call,” and it will allow customers to type in questions on their phones and receive answers. Unlike some chatbots that can only regurgitate preprogrammed responses based on keywords, IBM Watson will learn over time to give better answers that are customized to individual stores.”

The article states that the retailer is expecting customers to ask where specific merchandise is located, where to find the restrooms, and other similar questions.

However, customers inevitably will ask tougher questions than that.

And, if the AI works as some people hope, the app will give the retailer a way to offer customers a recommendation engine that will help them make purchase decisions and offer additional product suggestions in the same way that Amazon already does.

In fact, other retailers have already started to use AI in this way.

“Macy’s is not the only retailer that is experimenting with some use of artificial intelligence,” Sarah Halzack points out in the Washington Post article. “IBM Watson has already dabbled in using its tools to power other shopping experiences such as a collaboration with outdoor apparel brand North Face on a website that helps shoppers find the right jacket. Users can type in natural-language answers to a host of questions, including “Where and when will you be using this jacket?” and “What activity will you be doing?” Based on the customer’s answers, IBM Watson will serve up some suggested outerwear.”

The Importance of an Accurate Inventory Management System

As I mentioned earlier, in January Macy’s announced its “Pick to the Last Unit” program for fulfillment of customer purchases.

This initiative uses item-level RFID technology to ensure that the retailer’s inventory is extremely accurate.

While the store hasn’t suggested that the new AI fueled “Macy’s on Call” mobile web tool will be tied to the inventory management system, this would be the logical next step.

If combined, sometime in the not so distant future when a customer asks to receive style advice using the new mobile web tool, he or she would not only receive recommendations based on the items that the retailer has for sale, but would also get information about whether or not the products are available at a particular location, at a nearby Macy’s, or if they are only available online.

These are things that sales associates can usually provide. However, when this information is provided to customers on their smartphone, it could save them a lot of time and lead to increased customer satisfaction and more sales.

And, given the fact that the mobile web tool could be used anywhere, this could be another way for Macy’s to capture sales that might end up going to a competitor.

Again, as far as I know, Macy’s hasn’t announced that the mobile web tool will be able to provide this sort of information. However, they already do offer customers the option to buy some items online or in app, and pick up them up in store.

While integrating the inventory management system with the AI mobile web tool might not seem like a big deal, I think a seemless integration of the possible AI recommendations and the ability to tell customers exactly where to find the items it recommends is extremely important.

Hopefully, this is something that Macy’s is planning. I also hope other retailers try similar things.

AI Won’t Replace the Store Associate

Some people wonder why Macy’s is investing in AI when they could have their store associates answer these questions.

And, the reality is that they already do.

However, as studies have shown, many people would prefer to look the information up on their smartphone rather than interact with a sales associate.

This doesn’t mean that the smartphone will replace all store associates, as some people still prefer to have a one-on-one interaction with a real human being. (Note: There is a grocery store in Sweden that has eliminated the need for customer service staff. However, this probably won’t be a common practice for the foreseeable future.)

Furthermore, having sales staff on the sales floor not only helps the store provide better customer service, but they also help decrease theft at the store.

That said, the real reason that Macy’s is experimenting with AI probably has to do with choice.

As Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize, often points out, giving customers the ability to shop and find information in the way that they want to is extremely important.

Final Thoughts

AI won’t replace the store associate.

What it will do is provide customers who want to find information on their smartphones the ability to do so.

And, choice is good.

Therefore, Macy’s is smart to experiment with AI.

In the beginning, there is a good chance that it will be a little bit clunky. However, if the AI learns as experts say it will, the app will get better and more useful as time goes on.

As I also pointed out, the fact that Macy’s has already improved the accuracy of its inventory management system is important.

After all, what good are product recommendations if customer are disappointed each time they go to the specific department to find the item that was suggested only to find that it is out of stock.

Keep in mind, although several articles have suggested it, it is not clear if Macy’s plans to use AI in the specific way that I am suggesting. However, other retailers have started to experiment with AI in this way, and it would be the logical next step in an effort to compete with competitors both large and small, including Amazon.

If you look at it closely, Macy’s is slowly adding new uses of technology in an effort to help improve the shopping experience it offers its customers.

Each new improvement that the retailer makes brings us closer to a retail shopping experience that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago.

Photo credit: Warren B. 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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Businesses Are Realizing That Snapchat Isn’t Going to Disappear Anytime Soon

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.For a while now, marketers have debated about whether or not it is a good idea to use Snapchat to market a brand’s products or services.

However, in recent months, the app that is known for its disappearing content seems to have more vocal fans than detractors.

At the very least, more brands are experimenting with it.

The obvious reason for this is the fact that more and more people have started using the app.

In fact, according to a post on the comScore blog written by Adam Lella, “Snapchat isn’t just for teens and college-age adults anymore. While still wildly popular among these younger demographic segments, the ephemeral photo and video sharing app is also rapidly growing its user base among older Millennials (Age 25-34) and those 35 years-and-older. Three years ago, Snapchat’s app was only being used by 5% of smartphone users age 25-34 and 2% of users age 35+, according to comScore Mobile Metrix. Today its penetration among these two age demos is an impressive 38% and 14%, respectively.”

What is maybe more impressive is the fact that 69% of smartphone users age 18-24 use Snapchat.

“Snapchat’s growth has likely been fueled by the introduction of several popular product features over the past few years, which amplified its already powerful network effects,” the author of the comScore post explains. “Most notable among those new product features was the launch of “Stories”, which allows a user’s “snaps” (i.e. photos or videos) to be viewed in a chronological order by their friends an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. The Stories feed also includes coverage of various live events or places, in which some of the best snaps from users engaging with that showcased event are curated into one story available to all users. And more recently, Snapchat began regularly adding innovative ways to express oneself, such as “Lenses,” the camera’s creative filter options which make simple photos and videos more fun and entertaining.”

Knowing this, many marketers have started looking for ways to leverage the new Snapchat features to reach all of the customers and potential customers who use the app.

For businesses that are thinking about using Snapchat, here are a few things to consider.

Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters

As Adam Lella pointed out in the comScore post, the fact that Snapchat gives users the option to make their content more fun by providing lenses and geofilters has helped fuel the growth of the app.

While similar, there is a slight difference between a Snapchat lens and a geofilter.

Lenses give users the ability to add real-time special effects and sounds to the user’s Snaps.

By now, you have probably seen the rainbows coming out of a person’s mouth or a person’s face morphed into a zombie. (President Obama used the zombie Snapchat lens in his 2016 White House correspondent’s dinner video.)

Several large brands have also used sponsored lenses to increase awareness of their products or services.

In fact, earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a sponsored lens to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that resulted in 224 million views in one day. According to Adweek, this “shattered a Snapchat record.”

According to the New York Times, a Snapchat lens like this could cost between $450,000 to $750,000. This puts sponsoring a lens out of reach for many businesses.

However, that doesn’t mean that smaller brands can’t get in on the fun.

Snapchat also has geofilters that businesses can purchase for considerably less.

Geofilters are basically digital graphics that can be put over the user’s Snaps to make the current photos or videos more interesting.

In addition to the free community geofilters and the filters that can add various stats like time, temperature, or the speed that a person is going, Snapchat also offers on-demand geofilters that can be purchased by businesses or even users themselves.

The Personal Geofilter can be used to promote weddings, parties, birthdays, graduations, or just about any other event that is tied to a physical location.

A Business Geofilter can be used to help promote sales or any other event that is taking place at the business.

According to a LA Times article, these geofilters can be purchased for as little as $5 depending on when and how large of an area you want to include.

This inexpensive price makes it possible for local bars and restaurants to experiment a little.

Snapchat Stories

As mentioned in the comScore article, the other feature that has helped fuel Snapchat’s growth is the introduction of Snapchat Stories.

Again, the Snapchat Stories feature lets friends view a user’s Snaps an unlimited number of times within a 24-hour period.

A lot of brands are using Snapchat Stories to give users a behind the scenes look at the business, offer an all-access view of an event, offer surprise coupons and discounts, or create an interesting story that connects with customers.

For example, Red Bull often lets influencers take over their account in order to let users see what it is like to live and compete in some of the extreme sports that fit the brand’s image.

Other brands like Express are using Snapchat to highlight some of the items that they have for sale and then ask for engagement with the brand. They then acknowledging those who do respond, which is a great way to make customers feel valued.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many different case studies to be found on the Internet.

Also, you need to understand that any brand can create Snapchat Stories, and these shouldn’t be confused with the content provided on Snapchat Discover.

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Snapchat

I started this post off by mentioning that there has been a debate going on about whether or not brands should invest in Snapchat.

And, while a lot of brands have started to at least experiment with Snapchat, others think that it is a waste of time. These people often list measurement issues among their largest concerns.

In a Forbes article, Mark Fidelman explains the concerns that he has with Snapchat.

Many of his complaints are similar to others I’ve heard before.

However, the one point that he makes that really hits home with me is the fact that when a person sees your content on Snapchat, there is no way to send them to your website or blog using a clickable link. This not only makes it difficult to drive sales, it also makes it difficult to attribute a conversion to Snapchat. And, the fact that there aren’t any links from the app means that your efforts won’t help with SEO at all.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely issues that make it difficult for some businesses to justify investing in Snapchat to market their products or services.

However, given the fact that a lot of people have started using the app, it might make sense to invest at least a part of your marketing spend on the app.

If done right, using Snapchat can be a fun way to connect with your current and potential customers.

In my opinion, this is an app that I would keep an eye on and try a few things, but it is not a place that I would invest a lot of time in. At least not now.

That said, I also don’t think that Snapchat is going disappear anytime soon.

It is just somewhat difficult for businesses to use Snapchat to market their products and services. And, it’s even more difficult to measure the results of these efforts.

This, however, might be part of the reason why so many people have started using Snapchat.

Photo credit: Marco Verch 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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