Thursday, July 30, 2015

Leapfrog Generations to Sell Experiences

The Experience Economy was published in 1999, long ago within the ever-changing world of retailing. But its subtitle, Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, has inspired success for many merchants. And even though the authors used America Online as a chief example of its premise that consumers aim to buy entertaining encounters, the book has inspired many retail consultants to recommend their brick-and-mortar clients attract shoppers away from the internet by entertaining them live face-to-face.
     Now in a set of seven studies, researchers at New York University and UCLA point out that the experience economy does best when consumers feel financially confident. If the consumers instead feel highly financially constrained, their preferences shift to buying material goods that will last for a while. This is true even if the material items to be purchased are frivolous and indulgent. Emphasizing to prospects that fun experiences give enduring memories was not sufficient to overcome the effect.
     But other studies indicate that if you are in the business of selling experiences, you can continue to have success during economically challenging periods by leapfrogging the memories to the purchaser’s grandchildren. Psychological research at Cornell University and then later at San Francisco State University concluded that possessions used just by the purchaser bring less happiness than experiences shared with others. Many grandparents want to buy experiences their grandchildren will enjoy along with them and then remember as a legacy. Researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Virginia, Duke University, and University of Bologna report that consumers are often operating on the assumption that they'll have more time in the future, but not necessarily more money. To sell family-oriented experiences, advertise the benefits for shared enjoyment.
     Build in anticipation. Tell shoppers where they and their grandchildren can go online to see photos and descriptions of family groups like theirs enjoying the activities. Be sure the variety of ages, ethnicities, and other demographics in the photos and text are broad enough to establish identification for the spectrum of family groups you’d like to attract. Keep in mind the value of showing older children, since this can start the mental wheels turning about “what we’ll do next year when we come back here again.”
     It’s best to offer all-inclusive packages. Use the ocean cruise business model. Grandparents will get irritated with you if you require them to say no too often to a grandchild’s requests.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Offer Family-Oriented Experiences
Assess Shoppers’ Cloaks of Confidence
Offer Grandparent/Grandchild Experiences

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trust Educated Intuition

Don’t think long or hard about how to make the sale when a shopper enters your store. Researchers at Texas Christian University, University of Houston, and Tulane University find that intuitive judgments work out better than deliberative judgments. There was a higher percentage of sales, and the selling time was less, helping out both the retailer and the customer. In fact, the salespeople in their study who began second-guessing their initial flash impressions destroyed the selling advantage of the intuition.
     The caveat is that the salesperson must have deliberated long and hard many times before the face-to-face exchange in order to educate their intuition. In the studies, salespeople who were skilled at both preparatory deliberation and on-the-spot intuition showed 130% better selling performance.
     Building three skills in advance proved to be especially helpful:
  • Product & service knowledge. Your on-the-spot ability to guide the shopper toward the right decision and your self-confidence in doing that allow you to devote your intuitive skills to sensing the customer’s needs and decision style. 
  • Empathy. Recognize that while you routinely sell the sorts of items in your store, the shopper makes such purchases much less often. It’s more stressful for them than for you. Empathy helps before, during, and even after the sale. Researchers from Chinese University of Hong Kong and Fudan University in China found that empathy toward customers influenced satisfaction to a greater extent than did service outcome factors, such how well the clothes dryer works after being repaired or if the cruise ship vacation met expectations. 
  • Recognizing similarities to the shopper. Empathizing is easier when you and the consumer recognize your similarities. Or you fake similarities: Researchers at University of Southern Brittany found transaction success if a salesperson subtly mimicked the shopper. And when a customer finds they have the same birthday or place of birth as a salesperson, the customer gets more interested in making a purchase and is more likely to be satisfied with their purchases. 
     Customers, too, benefit from intuitive reactions in the sales transaction, as long as the intuition has been educated. Research at University of British Columbia found that a substantial percentage of consumers said they’d chosen an item because they had the right feelings about it, not because the item came out best in any deliberative accounting. Those led by their emotions expressed more satisfaction with their purchase immediately afterwards and again three weeks later.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Appeal to the Heart

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Value Cultural Values

The values held by a consumer influence what that person will purchase. And the values are themselves influenced by what others in the consumer’s culture consider important.
     How do you determine the prevailing values of your target audiences? One way is to ask shoppers their reasons for selecting certain items over others. It’s best not to ask the questions in a “Why?” format. Many consumer decisions are made intuitively or based on emotion. When asked, “Why did you make that choice?,” some consumers get defensive, as if their judgment is being ridiculed. 
     You’re likely to get better results and avoid jeopardizing the sale if you use a phrasing that assumes the shopper is making a sound decision: “What is important to you when choosing a product like this?” or “In what ways do you find this one to be better than the other possibilities?”
     When you have the answers, you’ll want to analyze them in order to inform your inventory selection, merchandising, advertising, and marketing. One scheme, used in a study by researchers at Oklahoma State University and Duke University, identifies ten families of values relevant to consumers. Here’s my version, using the ten values names from the original list:
  • Power (wealth, social status, control, and dominance) 
  • Self-direction (independent thought and action) 
  • Achievement (demonstrations of skill) 
  • Hedonism (gratification via sensual pleasure) 
  • Stimulation (excitement and novelty) 
  • Tradition (respect and acceptance of long-standing customs) 
  • Conformity (avoidance of impulsive behavior) 
  • Security (safety and stability of society) 
  • Benevolence (attention to the welfare of one’s own group) 
  • Universalism (tolerance, protecting the welfare of everyone, equal rights) 
     Americans generally place higher importance on Power values than on Universalism values in retail purchase and product use decisions. The Oklahoma/Duke researchers emphasize that this should not be taken to mean Americans care little about tolerance, protecting the welfare of everyone, or equal rights. They do care about these. But they care more about wealth, social status, control, and dominance.
     I’ll add to this that there are probably broad variations in values systems within your store’s target audiences. In categorizing your shoppers based on their answers to “What is important to you when choosing a product like this?” or “In what ways do you find this one to be better than the other possibilities?,” recognize that the same decision can reflect more than one family of values. Also, people change their values systems somewhat over their life spans.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Blame Bill Cosby for Flabby Youth Morals?

Could flawed decision making by today’s children be attributed in part to the actions of iconic comedian Bill Cosby? I’m not referring to the multiple allegations that Mr. Cosby committed rape and covered it up. Instead, I’m referring to his creation years ago of the cartoon character Fat Albert. Were young children more likely to begin long-term habits of overeating because they watched media depictions of flabby kids?
     Researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder, Colorado State University, and Indiana University showed children ages 6 through 14 cartoon characters that were either overweight or of normal weight. Later, the children were offered low-nutrient food. Those who had been exposed to overweight cartoon characters consumed more.
     But don’t Fat Albert cartoons also feature kids of normal weight as supporting characters? Well, absent the preoccupation with Bill Cosby’s cartoon creation I’m taking here, the researchers presented another set of kids either only cartoon characters of normal weight or a mix of normal/overweight ones. Even with the supporting cast, those viewing the mix ate more unhealthy foods than did those not shown the mix.
     Consumers, especially young ones, are influenced what to eat by what they see other children, even cartoon depictions, eating. In the Colorado/Indiana studies, the attraction to the less healthy food was eased somewhat by talk about eating healthy. Researchers at Boston College similarly found that health education corrected a frightening backlash effect among kids: After information on a food package identified the contents as “healthy,” those foods were less likely to be selected by the children in the studies.
     When 225 children from across Canada were asked by University of Calgary researchers to describe “kids food,” they included sugary cereals and fatty entrees, while they classified raw fruits and vegetables as “adult food.” But this doesn’t mean adults aren’t tempted by kids food. Adults tend to stereotype healthy foods as less satisfying than nutritious foods.
     Cartoons are more insidious than package information because of the long-term effects. Researchers at Stony Book University and University of Arizona asked adults to assess the healthiness of a range of brands. Those less healthy products and the retailers featuring those products received much more positive evaluations if the brands had been heavily advertised to the study participants using cartoon figures when those consumers were children.
     Let’s realize our use of cartoon figures in selling can wrongly exploit the precious sensibilities of our youngest consumers.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lift Up the Tutus When Times Are Tight

A BloombergBusiness article this week discussed a nascent upsurge in retailing STEM-themed apparel for girls. The report says parents have been frustrated by the dearth of science, technology, engineering, and math d├ęcor on female kids’ clothes. STEM is where the jobs and big money are at now and for the foreseeable future. If little Trixie shows an interest in Saturn’s rings, there should be a T-shirt for Trixie featuring Saturn’s rings. Parents could buy the items in boys departments, it’s said, but the retort has been that this would only reinforce the restrictive thinking of clothing designers and antediluvian retailers.
     The underlying theme is that parents have a great interest in preparing their daughters to be productive. A controversial research article supports the theme and, in fact, goes beyond it to find that thinking about tight economic times exaggerates a desire parents have to spend more retail dollars on daughters than on sons.
     It’s due to evolutionary adaptation say the Rutgers University and University of Minnesota researchers: Women, into which the girls will grow, are a safer bet for reliably carrying on the parents’ genes in resource-deprived conditions than are the men into which the boys will grow.
     The research is one of a number of studies where consumer psychology intersects with evolutionary psychology. An overview of such studies finds what could be called the five most basic retail sales pitches:
  • Evading physical harm 
  • Avoiding contamination 
  • Making friends 
  • Attaining status 
  • Raising a family 
     The evolutionary-based bias for spending substantially more on girls than boys in tight times operates below the level of conscious awareness. In surveys, parents generally don’t say they care more about their daughters than their sons. But World Bank statistics show that in years with a lower U.S. Gross Domestic Product, the ratio of retail spending on apparel for girls versus boys goes up almost 20%.
     Could it be that when money looks tight, parents conclude their daughters are more vulnerable, and the parents make it more of a point to buy them resources? This is probably true, too, but the researchers say their analyses find more to it than that. In any case, when there are uncertainties about the future circulating in society, it’s time to have a range of items for sale to fit girls’ preferences as well to stock the shelves with the unambiguously feminine items. The Saturn-festooned T-shirts, and also the tutus.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Smooth It with Females, Angle for Males

If the announcer advertising a retail service is a man, the women listening to the ad are more likely to purchase the service when that announcer uses a creaky voice rather than a smooth voice.
     Wait a second here. Hasn’t a long stream of consumer behavior research verified how women prefer smooth to angular in retail settings? Women shoppers tend to like shopping environments with curves and alcoves. That’s not so true of men. The gender difference goes back to childhood. Long ago, a Northwestern University study found that boys are much more likely than girls to prefer rough chunky peanut butter to the smooth variety. As girls draw pictures, they use an abundance of rounded lines, in contrast to boys’ use of many vertical lines.
     People listening to recordings of unfamiliar music with decisive rhythms and dynamics judged it as sounding better when told the conductor was male than when told the conductor was female. The ratings were about 14% higher. With music having delicate rather than decisive qualities, the participants in these University of Southern California and Ohio State University studies gave higher ratings if told the conductor was female. The difference was about 15%.
     But the creaky-voice study results don’t really conflict with prior research. They augment it. You see, when the announcer in the advertisement was a woman, female listeners were more likely to make a buy if they heard a smooth voice instead of a creaky voice. Female consumers go for smooth in women and angular in their men. The sex drive refers to much more than raw passion. In consumer psychology, it means the mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity toward each other. It's the Yin and the Yang. The complete package of passion is in the interaction.
     What’s important to you in all this is that products and packages with a strong gender identification sell better than those with a weak gender identification. So it’s the strong ones you’ll want to select for your shelves and racks.
     However, “a weak gender identification” doesn’t mean the same as “a single gender identification.” In a literature review at University of Miami and University of St. Gallen, the highest sales potential of all, across a range of target consumer populations, was for those items which had both clear male and clear female characteristics in the same product, package, or presentation. Rainbows outsell narrow color palettes.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fling Shoppers for Thrills

Market researchers at Harvard University, Boston University, and GfK caution that with the emphasis on collecting and analyzing all the data we can get on customers, we’re overlooking the importance of person-to-person relationships. It’s a particular danger with large retail businesses, so that danger gives an advantage to smaller retailers. Choose to use your advantage.
     Sometimes, developing the person-to-person relationship involves transforming shoppers into what the researchers refer to as teammates—customers who maintain high loyalty toward and advocacy for your store. However, another caution expressed by the researchers, based on their study results, is against us assuming all shoppers seek a teammate’s commitment. In reality, there are consumers who prefer to have what comes closer to being a fling with the retailer than a love affair. Flings are business transactions characterized as both “passionate” and “fleeting.”
     Shoppers seeking flings are seen most often in the retail realms of consumer technology, fashion apparel, and gaming. As for other retail categories, the shopper’s motivation for a fling could be to explore a new identity, such as after a breakup of a personal relationship. In these instances, the shopper is seeking the thrill of novelty and the license of frivolity.
     Because of the passion, shoppers seeking flings are willing to pay more than are those seeking a more settled retailing relationship. Because the relationship is fleeting, the retailer can afford to relax fears these customers will be alienated if the price is perceived as even slightly excessive.
     It’s safest to deliver good customer service, though. What the researchers call flings are not as extreme as what they’ve labeled “one-night stands.” Even passionate, fleeting customers who are trying on a new identity might choose to return for another fling in the future or stay with and strengthen their revised identity.
     Still, the customer service could be delivered with suspense. Researchers at Stanford University and Dartmouth College recruited consumers for two online photo processing and album websites, one of the sites appealing especially to a fling-seeker. Two months later, half of the participants using each of the websites were told, “Your online photo album was accidentally erased,” and then three days later, “Your album has been fully restored.”
     Unlike in the standard-condition group, participants dealing with the fling-oriented website started out having strong commitment and satisfaction, but this slowly faded until the album destruction and recovery, at which point the commitment and satisfaction grew markedly.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Fall Out of Brand Love Misconceptions

Brand love for your store counts a lot. University of Michigan researchers concluded that it is even more important than the shopper’s judgment of merchandise quality in predicting the extent of praise of your store to others and resistance to believing criticisms of your store.
     This is surely not to minimize the power of consumers falling in love with the merchandise. A set of Arizona State University and Texas Christian University studies on that theme described people who called their cars by pet names, experienced a relentless drive to be with their bicycles, and purchased guns in what the purchasers later described as a moment of passion. Those love-smitten firearm purchasers subsequently spent six times more for accessories, on average, than did those not describing passion and intimacy when talking about their guns.
     Researchers from Xavier University, Texas Tech University, and Kansas State University characterized brand love as “loyalty beyond reason” and demonstrated how it manifests itself in physiological bodily measures of love.
     Consumers who fall in love with a store and its merchandise show two characteristics, each of which can be encouraged by you:
  • Feelings of passion about everyday activities. So coach your sales staff to listen most attentively when shoppers express urges to do business with your store or purchase certain merchandise. Build store advocacy not limited to customer loyalty. Beyond, “I love to shop there,” to “I get an excellent price on top-quality fashions,” or, “Everyone there listens to any complaints and then makes things right.” 
  • Confident certainty. So respect the shopper’s opinions. Also be there to buttress against fading certainty. Love-smitten consumers become more likely to buy from you when they’re feeling sad or unsure of themselves. Facilitate the love by including some comfort products and indulgent services in the mix you offer. 
     At the same time, kill any misconceptions that store love or merchandise love are identical to love for another person. Researchers at Bergische University in Germany, a country carrying the stereotype of never getting overly mushy, looked into the difference using physiological measures and pictographic scales. The researchers verified that brand love can be highly arousing, but not as emotionally involving as what a consumer experiences with a person they love.
     Of course, it’s always possible a customer would fall in love with the operator of a retail store as a person. Interpersonal love in the retail setting. It could happen.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Present the Present as Full of Options

“The future is full of options because both dice are still in our hands. The present is highly constrained because the die has been cast.”
     That’s my description of the mindset used by marketing researcher Ji Hoon Jhang to explain a puzzling instance of consumer behavior he observed: On an overbooked Southwest Airlines flight, a pair of travelers declined an offer to leave on a flight one hour later. The reward would be two vouchers that could be used subsequently to fly anywhere in the Southwest network.
     Did the pair decline because they had a connecting flight or another commitment that couldn’t wait an hour? No. On the contrary, the pair still hadn’t decided how they’d spend their time immediately after arriving at their destination.
     For a study inspired by this episode Dr. Jhang collaborated with John G. Lynch Jr. to verify how and why consumers resist being interrupted when they perceive they are close to completion of a task. At an airport, people were asked to respond to a one-minute survey about how much spare time they believed they had prior to flight departure, after the arrival of their flight, and in the evening three weeks hence. Some were asked while at their gate waiting to board the plane. Others were asked while waiting to board the shuttle train to travel toward the gate.
     Those waiting for the train were less likely to agree to complete the one-minute survey, and those waiting for the train who did agree to do the survey reported themselves as having less spare time than did those who answered while waiting at the gate. This was in spite of the fact that those waiting for the train actually had more spare time until flight departure. For them, the proximal goal was getting onto the train, and they did not want to be interrupted.
     In the retail store setting, most consumers are more open to interruptions early in the purchase process and less open later, as they feel close to completion. Psychologists use the term “Zeigarnik Effect” to refer to the mental itch we feel when a task is in limbo.
     If it is to the benefit of your shopper, scratch that itch by helping the shopper see they still have options open. Convince the shopper that although the die may have been cast, there is probably one more die still in their hand.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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