Tag trends

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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28 Things to Watch in 2018 and Beyond

Scan the Horizon 2018The world that we live in is changing at a rapid pace.

To prepare themselves for the future, leaders need to keep an eye on the things that will influence their businesses.

With this in mind, one of my first posts each year lists the things that I think will have the biggest impact on the world we live and work in in the next few years.

This list not only helps me stay focused on the important topics, but also serves to track whether or not I am watching the right things.

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

Final Thoughts

Each year, I add a few new items to the list.

However, this year, I combined omni-channel retail with the evolution of retail. Although omni-channel retail is important enough to stand alone, nearly all retail will need to be omni-channel in the near future. Therefore, I think it makes sense to combine these two items.

I also deleted the evolution of marketing and public relations because it is implied when you consider all the other items on the list, in aggregate.

Finally, I broke augmented reality and virtual reality into two separate categories, because we are starting to see some interesting things happen with these two technologies.

So again, you have my updated list. If there is anything that you think that I should add, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Binoculars 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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Continuous Education Will Be Required to Keep up with Technological Change

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Why Customer Experience Is More Important Than Ever Before

Photo credit: Alex Holyoake on Flickr.No matter what product or service you sell, every business is your competition.

While this has always been the case, current trends are forcing companies to face the reality that their customers now have the ability to spend their finite monetary resources in an unlimited number of ways. When they choose to spend their hard-earned dollars on one thing, that money is no longer available to be spent on another product or service.

This means that a company that makes designer clothing not only has to compete with other clothing brands, it is also competing with companies that make smartphones, computers, household supplies, automobiles, and a number of other products that consumers purchase each and every day.

To make matters worse, they also are competing with restaurants, bars, hotels, spas, movie theaters, amusement parks, and a number of other businesses that are selling experiences rather than products. In fact, the statistics show that, in recent years, consumers are more likely to spend their money on these experiences rather than tangible products.

Customer Experience Expectations Have Risen

Your business is not only competing with every other product and service for consumers’ finite monetary resources, your customers are also comparing the interactions they have with your business against every other business that they interact with.

This means that if any business is able to provide a great customer experience, their customers will begin to expect other businesses to do the same, even if they are selling a different product or service.

“Once we experience a standard of excellence, we begin to expect that same standard, circumstances or company policies be damned,” writes Jay Baer in his book, “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers.”

“It doesn’t matter what you and your direct competitors are doing, or prefer to do, in the realm of customer experience,” writes Baer. “The greatest businesses in the world are training your customers on what to expect, and they will eventually demand that you also meet that standard.”

Final Thoughts

Every business is your competition.

With this in mind, businesses of all types need to focus not only on creating and selling a quality product or service, but also on making sure that the buying process is enjoyable and that the experience that customers have after the sale is favorable.

This will not only lead to repeat customers, but can also hopefully turn customers into a brand advocates. And, as we know, this is more important than ever before.

Therfore, it’s not surprising that many businesses already recognize the importance of customer experience. And, even more will be putting more emphasis on customer experience in the not-so-distant future.

Photo credit: Alex Holyoake 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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Things to Watch That Will Influence Business – the 2017 Edition

Photo credit: Santiago Medem on Flickr.Welcome to 2017.

As I have done in recent years, my first post of the year will list the things that I am most interested in.

This will not only help me stay focused on the important topics, but also serve to track whether or not I am watching the right things.

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid Advancements in Technology [2013]

2) Mobile (User Experience and Marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile Payments [2013]

4) Mobile-Influenced Merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy Issues [2013]

6) The Evolution of Marketing and Public Relations [2013]

7) Emerging Markets [2013]

8) The Internet of Things [2014]

9) The Evolution of Retail [2014]

10) Omni-Channel Retail [2014]

11) A Global Marketplace [2014]

12) 3D Printing [2014]

13) Cyberattacks [2014]

14) Ethics [2014]

15) Online Video [2016]

16) RFID, NFC, and Beacons [2016]

17) Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) [2016]

18) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

19) Experiential Marketing [2016]

20) Wearables [2016]

21) Dynamic Pricing in Brick-and-Mortar Stores [2017*]

22) Machine Learning [2017]

23) Voice-Activated Technology [2017]

24) Business Collaboration with the Competition [2017]

25) The Evolution of Work (Changing Skillsets Required and the Influence on the Economy) [2017]

Final Thoughts

This is the list so far.

Throughout 2017, I plan to blog about each of these topics at least once.

And, when I do, I will link to the topic in the same way that I did for number 21. (I actually added it to the list in May of 2016, but it made the official list this year.

So again, you have my list. Is there anything that you think I should add?

Photo credit: Santiago Medem 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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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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Instagram Stories Might Be Good for Snapchat and Great for Marketers

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren on Flickr.As I pointed out in a post last month, Snapchat has been experiencing healthy growth and has become a major player in the competition to get the most users and, ultimately, more marketing dollars invested in the app.

However, after Instagram copied some of the features that make Snapchat unique, many people started to wonder if Snapchat will survive.

If you look at the facts, I think Snapchat should be able to weather the storm.

In fact, as I explain in this post, there is the possibility that Instagram Stories might actually be a good thing for Snapchat.

Either way, the competition between Instagram and Snapchat is great news for marketers.

The Argument for Instagram Stories

Almost immediately after it was introduced, marketers started to have success with Instagram Stories. That is, if you define success as the number of views that content receives.

As reported in an Adweek article, brands were getting more views on Instagram Stories on the very first day than they were ever able to get on Snapchat.

“Nike, for example, generated 800,000 views in 24 hours for an Instagram Story that it posted on Tuesday, the first day the feature was available,” reports Garett Sloane in the Adweek article. “On Snapchat, Nike’s best video got 66,000 views, according to Nike and its social media agency Laundry Service.”

This is leading some experts to predict the downfall of Snapchat.

For example, Adam Padilla, CEO of the creative branding agency BrandFire, thinks that the end is near for Snapchat because Instagram has more users to begin with, more high-profile users, and it has a better user interface. He also thinks that there can only be one “now” app. And, of yeah, the Zuckerberg factor also is in play.

Other people think that Instagram Stories won’t destroy Snapchat.

In a TechCrunch article, Josh Constine makes a good argument that Instagram is not necessarily trying to win over current Snapchat users, but prevent or hinder Snapchat from growing any further.

The Argument for Snapchat

It has only been two weeks and no one knows for sure what will happen in the future.

However, Yahoo! Finance is reporting that Instagram Stories hasn’t hurt Snapchat’s engagement levels… yet.

In an article on the Yahoo! Finance website, an App Annie spokesperson is quoted as saying, “Instagram Stories has not made a measurable impact on engagement since the feature launched.” (This was based on data gather during the first seven days after Instagram Stories was first introduced.)

App Annie’s spokesperson thinks that this is because many people use both Instagram and Snapchat.

I think that many of the arguments made so far, both for Snapchat and Instagram, could be good for the long-term growth and success of Snapchat.

As many people have pointed out, it is difficult to get people to find you on Snapchat. Therefore, many users have taken to other social networking sites to promote their Snapchat usernames. In fact, this is what many people used Instagram Stories for shortly after it was first introduced.

Given the fact that there are so many people using Instagram, the addition of Instagram Stories might actually increase the number people using Snapchat, just because they now have a way to find interesting people on the Snapchat app.

On the other hand, the fact that it is difficult to find usernames unless given directly to a potential follower could continue to work in Snapchat’s favor, particularly for younger users who want a place to post where their parents won’t find it.

Turning to adults, another thing Instagram Stories might have done is explain what Snapchat is used for.

Before Instagram Stories, Snapchat was starting to grow the number of adults who use the site.

However, one of the hurdles Snapchat had to overcome was getting adults to understand how and why to use the app.

Now many adults get it and some might start to use Snapchat in an effort to try the other features the app provides.

In addition to the Snapchat lenses and geofilters that have become a part of pop culture, Snapchat also has gamification elements that Instagram currently doesn’t have, including the Snapchat score, emojis, and trophies.

These are very important to some Snapchat users.

In fact, a friend who happens to be a millennial pointed out that this is one of the key reasons why her younger sister uses Snapchat in the first place.

Final Thoughts

As experts have pointed out, Instagram offers many things that Snapchat doesn’t, including more users, more high-profile users, and a user interface that is easier to use. Instagram also makes it easier for users to find other people to follow. This makes it easier for brands to get followers and, therefore, get their content in front of potential customers.

On the other hand, Snapchat will probably continue to be a place where teenagers and young adults go to share content that they don’t want their parents to see.

That said, there is a possibility that more adults will continue to try the Snapchat app and use it for its other features.

Since there is an overlap in users and only a finite amount of time in the day, Instagram Stories might decrease the amount of time spent in the Snapchat app. However, it doesn’t look like that is happening so far. Then again, it might be too early to predict the long-term usage patterns within each of the apps.

For marketers, Instagram will likely be the app that they use to reach a larger audience, while Snapchat might be the place to reach a more targeted audience, particularly for brands that want to reach younger consumers.

The real question for marketers is what app will give them a better return on their investment.

Because there are so many factors to consider, it is probably too early for brands to decide which app is the best place to invest in.

The best advice for brands is to keep an eye on both apps and experiment, test, and optimize the content used in both apps. Then allocate more resources to the app that gives the brand the best results.

Having two popular apps that can potentially reach a brand’s target audience in a slightly different way is a good problem for marketers to have.

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren 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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Low- or No-Tech Solutions for Retail Loss Prevention

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver on Flickr.While the estimates vary by source, the fact is retailers lose a lot of money each year as a result of theft.

According to one source, United States retailers are losing $60 billion a year due to shrinkage. That is billion with a “B”.

This estimate was cited in a Forbes article and was based the US Retail Fraud Survey – 2015 from Retail Knowledge. According to this report, employee theft is the biggest problem. However, non-employee theft also contributes to the overall figure.

As many retailers are already aware, thieves are walking through their doors each and every day.

Knowing this, retailers need to find ways to mitigate their losses while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere for honest, law-abiding customers.

While not a comprehensive list, a few of the specific suggestions that experts provide are listed below.

Welcome to the Store – The Importance of a Store Greeter

It is not surprising that the first suggestion listed in the Forbes article mentioned above is to have an employee greet customers as they enter the store.

This is a practice that is common in many retail stores.

According to the authors of the Introduction to Criminal Justice: A Balanced Approach, Retail security experts have noted that this person is not just a greeter. He or she is in a position to prevent shoplifting. In particular, it is believed that the greeter sends a message to shoppers that they have been recognized and that if they think about stealing, someone has seen them in the store.”

With this in mind, it is not surprising that Walmart is bringing back greeters to combat their shrinkage problems.

Customer Service as a Way to Reduce Theft

As pointed out on Wikipedia, “The vast majority of thieves have one thing in common, they will steal only if they have the opportunity. So theft prevention is fairly easy. Constant and great customer service will eliminate most opportunity to steal.”

“80% of customers who steal merchandise are opportunists and do not walk in to the store with the intent to steal,” the contributor to Wikipedia states. “They find that one thing they did not expect to find, cannot afford to pay for it, and will steal it if they have the opportunity.”

Just Look at Yourself – Using Mirrors as a Way to Reduce Theft

As I pointed out in a post back in 2012, “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.

In the post, I cited information found in Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley.

“When we look in a mirror, our behavior is actually altered – at least for a short period of time,” writes Dooley in the book.

Dooley supports this statement with past research that suggests that by seeing their own image, people are more likely to think about their behavior and act in a more socially desirable way.

Reducing Credit Card and Debit Card Fraud

In the Forbes article mentioned above, Paul Hunter, President and CEO of Sterling Payment Technologies, gives some tips to reduce credit card and debit card fraud.

“Be sure to check that the customer’s signature on the receipt matches the signature on the back of their card,” Hunter is quoted as saying. “This will verify that the cardholder is, in fact, the card owner. If there is no signature on their card, ask for ID. Additionally, ask for a customer’s ID if the amount of the transaction is larger than your average transaction size. This policy has already been implemented at many of our nation’s largest retailers. You should also implement payment solutions that include ‘point-to-point’ encryption in addition to EMV. Point-to-point encryption further reduces the possibility that card numbers can be determined if a transaction request is intercepted. Finally, when a customer’s card is processed through the card reader, make sure that last four digits of the card number that print on the receipt match the last four digits embossed on the front of the card. Some POS systems will prompt the cashier to re-enter those digits from the card to make sure they agree with the value obtained from the card reader.”

Final Thoughts

Theft is a huge problem for retailers in the United States.

Therefore, no matter whether they are large or small, retailers need to find ways to mitigate their losses while providing a shopping environment that is welcoming to their law-abiding customers.

There are some basic things that retailers can do to reduce theft.

As the examples listed in this post show, some of the most important things that retailers can do involve having employees available who provide great customer service.

This will not only help reduce shrinkage, but should also help the retailer achieve some of the other goals that they have, including the most important, selling more products.

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver 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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