Saturday, March 31, 2012

Skedaddle from a Skittles No-Win

There are public relations situations in which a retailer could make things worse no matter what the retailer does or does not do. Often, the least bad alternative in such situations is to promptly move away for a while. This gives time for emotions in the marketplace to cool so that when the retailer does take action, the public’s response will not be so reflexive or extreme. Moving away also gives you, the retailer, time to strategize.
     A recent New York Times article provides an example of this sort of thing from the world of candy. It’s the case of Trayvon Martin’s Skittles. Mr. Martin is the teenager killed by a Florida crime watch volunteer. The case has drawn broad accusations that racial prejudice is behind the killing and the subsequent police response.
     At the time of the shooting, one of the few items Mr. Martin had with him was a package of Skittles. Now people are buying Skittles to display as a protest. Those selling the candy are profiting. Shouldn’t they be giving the extra money to racial reconciliation programs?, some people are asking. A professor of African-American studies at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is quoted as saying that, because of the added publicity for Skittles, Wrigley should donate funding to communities where, “murder based on stereotypes is a reoccurring theme.”
     According to the NYT article, Wrigley has not responded to these demands, instead issuing a statement saying, “…we would never wish for our actions to be perceived as an attempt of commercial gain following this tragedy.” A spokesperson for the business declined comment about the impact on profits from the involvement of Skittles in reports of Mr. Martin’s death.
     Considering a consumer psychology perspective, the Wrigley response is wise. Later, Wrigley’s might do well to donate money to causes logically related to the Trayvon Martin incident. How much money would be seen by consumers as enough, while not exploiting the situation? That decision might depend on the degree to which the death ends up being viewed as racially motivated.
     Prior to serving as the name of an import from Britain which has become a highly popular candy treat among American teenagers, “skittles” referred to a British game many of us would call “bowling.” Handle a “Skittles No-Win” incorrectly and your profitability might get bowled over. Handle it with a deft skedaddle and you might strike it richer.

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Cultivate Controversy Carefully
Keep Quiet to Fuel Principled Controversy

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hire the Autistic for Their Retailing Strengths

Fans of the TV show “Parenthood” came to know, through the character Max, the personality liabilities and assets of Asperger’s Syndrome, which mental health professionals consider to be a mild variant of autism. Max had difficulty both looking people in the eye when talking to them and acknowledging what others in social interactions truly want. Not the sort of person you’d want as a front-line retail employee, you might be thinking.
     Actually, what I’m thinking now is about my Uncle Larry, who was the general manager of the Boston Store in downtown Milwaukee during the early 1960’s. He strongly advocated hiring the handicapped for their strengths. The reasons he gave to those who asked were that these people had trouble finding work, so they didn’t demand the highest of pay rates and they were dedicated to the boss. But because such bosses often coach disabled employees to improve their living situations and counsel them when they are emotionally upset, maybe my Uncle Larry's true reasons included doing well by doing good.
     The Max character in “Parenthood” had an incredible ability to absorb, recall, and use minute details. Go back to Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of autistic Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 classic, “Rain Man” or back to the title character in 2009’s “Adam.”
     A Bloomberg Businessweek article a while ago discussed the profitability opportunities in hiring people with autism. The attention to accurate detail and enjoyment of routinization are assets for many tasks. In the retailing environment, for instance, think about who you’d ask to make the ongoing changes in shelf tags to optimize merchandise pricing.
     The Bloomberg Businessweek article recognizes that training the autistic employee requires special skills. As you might expect, behavioral scientists find that computer-based training often works better than face-to-face training. Related to this, employees with autism can suffer paralyzing anxiety when confronted with the social interactions found in any store. They might do better handling the internet side of the business, working in a quiet room. Wearing headphones not only blocks out the distractions, but also signals to people wandering by that this employee prefers to forgo the collaborative suggestions.
     The Max’s, Raymond’s, and Adam’s in the retailing workplace avoid social interaction because they don’t know how. When they master the skills, they often treasure the opportunities to break out of loneliness. Retailers can help make that happen when hiring the autistic for their retailing strengths.

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

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Attract with Social Consciousness
Accommodate Disabled Shoppers’ Psychology

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Defuse Your Frustration Hot Buttons with Teens

Teen shoppers are wonderful to have in our stores.
  • Typically, their housing, food, and medical expenses are covered, so they’ve more discretion in spending what money they have.
  • Historically, parents will trim their own expenditures before cutting back on what’s spent on their children. So as the economy recovers, growth in teen spending should be faster than growth in parent spending.
  • Teens have somewhat greater tribe mentalities and greater use of social media. They’re highly concerned with what their peers think of them, but at the same time, want to have a distinctive group of peers with whom they’re in constant contact. Buying merchandise and then spreading the word on the internet come naturally.
     But teens can also bring out the worst frustration in retailers. All adults have gone through being teenagers, yet still can find themselves viewing adolescents’ behavior as weirdly foreign. Development psychologists explain this by saying the conflicted brain adjustments during the teen years are so uncomfortable that, as we finally enter adulthood, we promptly start to seal over our memories of the conflicts.
     Using the advice of those psychologists, defuse our hot buttons when dealing with irritating and unruly teens so that we ease the frustration rather than escalate the unpleasantness.
  • Teens place extraordinary importance on looking good in front of their shopping companions. In most developed cultures, those companions are more likely to be other teens than family members. To the degree that you can, address the individual teen rather than speak to the group of teens when upset starts brewing.
  • Be decisive without being disrespectful. Avoid repeating yourself using identical words. Instead of, “Get out of here, get out of here,” a security officer should say, “You must leave now. I’m directing you to go to a different area.” The exact repetition of wording serves as a signal to the retailer that a hot button has been pressed. It also signals the adolescent brain of weakness in an authority figure.
  • Offer options and ask the teen for suggestions on how to resolve the situation. The first reply might be completely unrealistic, but then carefully listen for ideas that allow you to form an alliance with the teen consumer. After all, this unruly adolescent could become a lucrative shopper in the future.
For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Profit from Resurgent Teen Market
Flash Mob Scenarios Before Staff Eyes

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Show Up Before the Right Eyes & Minds

Woody Allen wrote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” A report released this week by digital business analysts comScore says that online advertising could be more successful if it ends up showing up before the right eyes and minds. Overall, nearly one-third of the ads in the study never had an opportunity to be seen at all by the desired audience of consumers.
     The findings offer tips for online advertisers:
  • Choose your site carefully. Although the study showed that about 31% of the online ads never had an opportunity to be seen, the rates ranged between 0% and 93%. So with some sites, every single online ad analyzed did show up before the eyes and minds of the desired audience members.
  • Select a site that appeals to your intended audience, then design the ad to fit that site. The more detailed your audience description, the lower will be the hit rate, in general. In the comScore study, when the retailer set consumer age range as the only descriptor, about 70% of impressions went to people in that age range. If gender and income were added as criteria, the rate dipped significantly. At the same time, though, message recipients would be more likely to buy, assuming the demographic criteria were specified properly.
  • Attend to mind set as well as mind. Almost three-quarters of the advertisers experienced instances of an online campaign being presented adjacent to content members of the desired consumer audience were likely to find to be objectionable. Monitor your ad environment. Also related to this tip, the comScore report says that fraud is a growing problem in digital advertising. It takes the form of ad presentations to non-human agents being tabulated by the site as genuine impressions.
     There are parallels for all this when it comes to sales staff showing up before the right eyes and minds in-store. Look at your interception rate—the percentage of shoppers entering your shop who are spoken to by a salesperson. But compensate for the weakness in the concept of interception rate:
  • The name itself has implications of blocking the shopper’s path. Don’t ask your sales staff or yourself to do that! Be available to guide the consumer without becoming a nuisance.
  • Recognize that not every person who enters your store is a high-likelihood shopper. Greet everyone, but attend to showing up before the most promising eyes, minds, and mind sets.
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Clearly Define Your Different Target Customers

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Appeal to the Heart

Findings from Columbia University, University of California-San Diego, and Duke University indicate that each of the following techniques makes it more likely a customer will continue to favor the same product alternative on successive shopping trips:
  • Show the shopper an enticing picture of the product instead of giving him an enticing product description to read.
  • Show a color picture of the product instead of a black-and-white picture.
  • Say to the shopper, “In making your choice, I recommend you trust those pleasant and unpleasant feelings you’re telling me you’re experiencing,” instead of, “In making your choice, I recommend you trust the reasons you’re telling me for you selecting or not selecting each available alternative.”
  • Present pricing information and technical details about each choice in a format difficult for the busy shopper to remember.
  • Emphasize the exciting aspects of each of the choices.
     What do these techniques have in common? The researchers reply that all five appeal to the heart more than the brain. They target the emotions, and purchases made for emotional reasons tend to be consistent.
     People are more likely to stay highly satisfied about their purchases if they either experienced a burst of joy or a rush of relief at the time of the purchase. In fact, the overall emotion is often more important than the shopper’s objective evaluation of the product’s features.
     A substantial percentage of consumers chose an item because they had the right feelings about it, not because the item came out best in any mental accounting of advantages and disadvantages. People who let themselves be led by their emotions, compared to those customers who do not, express more satisfaction with their purchase afterwards. These shoppers would keep their preferences and satisfaction even if they’d been told an article in Consumer Reports would have ranked their selection as less desirable than available alternatives.
     Here’s a caution, though: Shoppers are different. Never keep dumping emotions onto a customer who seems to be getting uncomfortable when you try it out. Research at Universidad Pùblica de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain concludes that for certain shoppers in the world, emotion sells, but for others, it’s a turnoff. How to tell which is which? Monitor the extent to which your shoppers use emotion words themselves.

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

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Emphasize Emotions with Older Consumers
Know How Much Emotion to Deliver
Show Customers the Right Picture

Monday, March 26, 2012

Socialize for the Next Four Years

One classic image of socializing at a retail shop is two straws stuck into the same ice cream soda. A recent shopper insights analysis by The Nielsen Company might be taken to mean the same image could serve as a suitable icon for what’s ahead.
     Considering the highly-educated guesses in this “Retail USA: What’s in Store 2016” report, here are my recommendations for small to midsize retailers:
  • Provide opportunities for shopper socialization. Energy prices will continue to be a source of uncertainty for consumers. Many shopping trips will continue to be for quick pickups of items needed immediately. However, consumers are becoming more accustomed to anticipating their needs and shopping online for items in order to save money. Increasingly, shoppers who do consider coming to your store will be attracted by the entertainment value of socialization.
  • Carry food-related items. Nielsen calls food “the social network of the ages.” During a time that total book sales have dropped 6%, cookbook sales have increased 10%. In drug stores, the product categories showing the fastest sales growth are edibles.
  • Identify your store as much by the type of people who shop with you as by the type of products and services you carry. Between now and year 2016, divisions between consumers on income and wealth will remain or broaden, Nielsen guesses. Currently, the wealthiest 20% of Americans have already exited the recession, while the remaining 80% have not. One result is that niche marketing—an objective of small to midsize retailers who want to prevail against larger competitors—should be based on price points away from the middle of the spectrum. When appealing to both the high-income and low-income, have each set of items in different areas of your store. Shoppers will want to rub shoulders and compare notes with others they consider to be in the same social stratum as themselves.
  • Forge alliances with your suppliers and with other retailers. This flavor of socializing will become more important because of the increased competition from large online retailers. Nielsen predicts that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will devote substantial resources to expanding sales and marketing in the four years ahead. Unless you reconfigure your business model to incorporate collaboration, you’ll find it harder to turn a profit.
  • Get involved in your neighborhood. Nielsen predicts that the bricks-and-mortar stores which succeed will do so by emerging as the social centers of their communities.
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Integrate with Manufacturers’ Sales Staff
Strengthen Your Barbell Retailing

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sell the Same Content in Different Formats

Books, magazines, newspapers, and instruction manuals available in print and online versions. Music sold on a CD or via internet download.
     Researchers at Lehigh University and University of Maryland point out that if a retailer can sell the same content in more than one format, more money can be made. The researchers’ work suggests ways to facilitate these multi-format sales. Other studies, at University of Mannheim, identify circumstances in which consumers will pay for “option value,” such as the ability to use content in different formats in the future even when there’s no planned use for the multiple formats. And Duke University research finds that the way in which the format options are presented can even reverse the purchase priorities.
  • Recognize that consumers usually choose a format with one specific situation in mind. The newspaper to be read at the breakfast table, shared with family members, is the print version, but the electronic version better fits the tight quarters of an airline seat. The retailer can sell more than one format by asking the shopper about the range of situations in which the content will be used. The converse of this is for the retailer to start by describing the distinctive ways in which the shopper could get to the content in different formats. Then invite the shopper to think of situations he encounters, one situation to match each of the access attributes. Feature the flexibility.
  • If the shopper says that each of the formats has a certain disadvantage in common, clearly acknowledge this and then present a distinctive advantage of each format. The Lehigh/Maryland studies found that this technique—which they appropriately characterize as counterintuitive—increases the chances of selling more than one format. The reason has to do with consumers who want to satisfy a desire being willing to ignore the downside of alternates if the alternatives all share that downside.
  • Those Duke researchers asked business students to choose among three magazine subscription alternatives: Internet only at $59, print only at $125, and both formats at the same price of $125. About 84% selected both formats, 16% chose internet only, while understandably, nobody selected the print only. Then the researchers eliminated the print only option and asked a different group to select between the internet only and the internet/print. Now 68% chose internet only, and 32% selected internet/print. The implication: Highlight the value in choosing multiple formats.
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Combat Your Competitors’ Trivial Claims

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brush Up on Boomerang Measures

How frequently do your customers return to your store? This boomerang measure is an indication of your current retailing success. When you track the measure over time, it’s also an indication of where your business is going.
     Consider what’s happening with hair salons. CNBC says that customers typically visit every six weeks, but in economic downturns, it drops to every eight weeks. The frequency did decrease but now is improving. As a result, hairdressers’ profit margins are at almost 8% as contrasted with about 4% in 2008.
     As the interval between return visits decreases, offer your customers a broader range of products and services. This maintains the momentum of the boomerang. Consumers don’t like to experience the same things repeatedly. A Professional Beauty Association white paper says that during the time the frequency of visits was found to increase, spending on hair color increased by about 6%.
     When customers return soon and often to your store, the total of sales revenues for those customers averages a higher amount than that for customers who come infrequently. This is true even when the customer is making a large purchase on an infrequent visit and smaller purchases when shopping with you frequently.
  • Coming in increases the likelihood the shopper will have others along. The shopping is combined with socializing. And somebody shopping with a group tends to spend more. Customers are more willing to tolerate the inevitable nuisances of shopping when they are with a group. This “misery loves company” effect has been noted by social psychologists at Vanderbilt University.
  • According to University of Pittsburgh and Baylor University research, more than 75% of shoppers plan to make purchases beyond what they came in for. However, there is a limit for each shopping trip. The more shopping trips, the more often the customers stumble across needs they’d forgotten to include on their shopping list and items they didn’t realize they wanted until the items were in front of them or in their hands.
     To increase boomeranging, have migration paths for current customers:
  • Merchandise a continuum of product lines. The retailer carrying Gerber baby foods could have all six product lines, starting with Birth+ and moving on up to Preschooler.
  • The retailer could add more advanced levels to a loyalty program, keeping the customers returning by upping the challenge. If you have a silver level and gold level now, add a platinum reward level.
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Habituate Customers to Quick Return Trips
Minimize Customer Turnover

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bundle Expensive & Cheap Synergistically

A consumer electronics store charges $2,000 for a high-definition television and $10 for a video cable. How much would consumers be willing to pay for the two items together? Maybe $2,005, with the customer figuring that the retailer has already made enough profit on the HDTV sale?
     How about $1,950? Less than the price of the HDTV on its own. That’s what researchers at Pepperdine University and Northwestern University discovered. Participants in their study said they’d pay $2,000 for the television and they’d pay $10 for the cable, but later said they’d expect to pay $1,950 for the combination.
     The reason seems to be that grafting an inexpensive item onto an expensive item cheapens the price image of the expensive item. The same phenomenon occurred when the Pepperdine/Northwestern researchers paired a tote bag with a premium-priced suitcase. It happens with other product categories like scooters, barbeque grills, telephones, jackets, and backpacks. On average, consumers’ acceptable price points decreased by about 25% when a trinket was added onto a treasure. Of equal concern is that consumer interest in purchasing the expensive item decreased by about 15%.
     One remedy is to wait until the shopper has made the decision to purchase the expensive item and then offer the inexpensive item as a free thank-you gift. You might earn gratitude from the surprise, even though the item is viewed as a trinket.
     A better way to avoid the price depreciation is to point out the synergy in the two or more items you’re offering. Talk about how the items bring out the best in each other. This dissolves the shopper’s impression that the inexpensive item has been grafted onto the expensive one. This impression is, after all, what’s behind the decrease in willingness to pay.
     Research findings from Singapore Management University and Korea’s Kyung Hee University suggest that in situations like this, you describe to the potential purchaser how well the various functions work together. Instead of focusing on the different capabilities, focus on the added benefits that come from the synergy.
     The Singapore/Kyung Hee research indicates that this is especially useful with items the shopper considers to have a high level of technological performance. It is more important with smart phones than with toothpaste. However, because cultures vary in the thresholds consumers set for high technology, the value of pitching synergy differs by culture. Assess what works with your shoppers.

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

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Pitch the Synergy of Multifunction Items
Profit from Product-Service Synergy

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Prepare to Thrive

As Advertising Age pointed out in a cover story, year 2012 marked the golden anniversary of a quantum change in retailing: Fifty years prior, in 1962, Walmart, Target, Kmart, and Kohl’s all opened their first stores.
     Selling name-brand items at everyday low prices—thereby channeling customer loyalty from the merchandise brand to the store brand—was around long before 1962. Exactly six decades before then, James Cash Penny opened his Golden Rule general store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
     The fears of business death among smaller retailers when facing large-footprint discount chains aren’t new either.
     Retailers that do survive and thrive use the shopper psychology lessons from the history of Walmart, Target, Kmart, and Kohl’s:
  • Consistently project your image. The spirit of frugality permeated the public image of the four discounters. Kmart let it be known that all corporate employees, including the top executives, went to the company dining room for lunch. Walmart used employees and their children as models for the clothing in circulars. You may find that the store image which works best for you is something other than frugality. Whatever that image is, project it consistently.
  • Experiment, then learn from the results. Target has tried out pop-up stores, themselves an experiment, to assess the popularity of new merchandise lines. Walmart, Kmart, and Target each tried out adding supermarket merchandise to the mix in the store. Not all the experiments have been successful. Kmart fumbled repeatedly and had to file for bankruptcy protection. They did not seem to learn well from their failures. Walmart’s decision to tidy up and widen the store aisles contributed to a succession of setbacks in year-to-year same store sales. In your store operations, always look for opportunities to innovate. But limit the probability of damage by, for instance, doing the experiment in a well-defined area of the store. Then be sure to track the results so you can determine in what ways it’s working, how well it’s working, and how to adjust or abandon it so the profitability for the store will be even better.
  • Plan for the long-term. This is another aspect of change management. Large companies naturally think about cultivating and recruiting the talent that will allow for the extension of their influence into the years ahead. Small to midsize retailers often don’t. Whether your long-range plan includes selling the business or handing over management to the next family generation, prepare.
For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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Project Your Brand Positively
Turn Your Image on a Dime
Set Your Sights on Doing Even Better
Cultivate a Life Outside Your Business

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Teach “I Don’t” In Place of “I Can’t”

In most of our interactions with consumers, we’re wanting them to do something. Still, there are many retailers of services who succeed when they empower a client not to do something. The clearest examples are in the treatment of habit disorders, such as at clinics for weight loss or substance abuse. A starting point in the treatment is for the client to sincerely conclude that the old habit needs to be changed. Beyond that, though, how do we build up the resistance to temptation?
     Researchers at University of Houston and Boston College say that a change of phrase can help: Teach the client to say, “No, I don’t,” when faced with the temptation.
     Study participants were assigned to one of three groups, based on what they were instructed to say to others and to themselves:
  • “No, I won’t”
  • “No, I can’t”
  • “No, I don’t”
     Over the course of the study, each participant received a daily e-mail with a reminder of what to say. The participants were also asked to regularly report details of circumstances in which the phrase worked or didn’t work, along with the feelings and thoughts experienced.
     The “No, I don’t” group reported substantially more success than did those in the other two groups. They also said they noticed improvements in feelings of self-direction. They became more likely to believe and act as though they themselves were making the decision to decline than that somebody else was forcing them to do it.
     Similar results were found in three additional consumer studies.
     An adaptation of this technique can be used regarding salesperson-shopper interactions. When a consumer makes a request that is unrealistic, we are better off saying, “My store does not do that,” rather than, “My store won’t do that” or “My store can’t do that.”
     Notice that in this case, none of the statements would begin with, “No.” This is because “no” is a shopper’s least favorite word. Our general rule is to avoid saying “no,” instead developing a way to say “yes” and setting a price on it or otherwise finding a way to acceptably satisfy the person.
     Throughout, do accompany the no with a yes. The dieter should be sure what to eat in addition to what not to eat. The substance abuser should know what, when facing temptation, is the productive thing to do and why, along with what not to do and why.

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

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Clench Your Fists to Fight Temptation
Repeat Yourself Repeatedly
Say Yes and Apply a Price

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Increase Home Prices in Your Neighborhood

Locally-owned grocery stores in Detroit are upset, according to WTOP. Whole Foods is opening a store downtown after receiving tax breaks and real estate incentives never offered to the locally-owned stores.
     The counterarguments are that Whole Foods needed such incentives to build in a neighborhood this economically depressed and an upscale grocery store will increase residential property values in the neighborhood. Evidence for that second point comes from a report titled “An Assessment of the Marginal Impact of Urban Amenities on Residential Pricing” published by land use economics consultancy Johnson Gardner.
     However, what could be overlooked is that the analyses in the report also indicate how the proper mix of locally-owned stores can increase real estate values, especially in urban areas. Here are tips based on the evidence in that report and academic consumer psychology research:
  • Encourage variety among the merchants and locate related store types together. When there is more retail shopping convenience, people are willing to pay more to live around there.
  • Include stores where people will want to dwell. Cafés, dress shops, hardware stores, and book shops are examples. But any store appealing to a specialty interest and staffed by experts can increase dwell time. In the Johnson Gardner research, wine shops were particularly effective in improving residential property values nearby.
  • Make a place for placemaking. Outside the stores themselves, dwell time is enhanced by placemaking. This term refers to creating plazas where people can gather and decorative streets where they can stroll. Placemaking encourages outsiders to patronize the stores surrounding the plaza and walkways. It encourages locals to become more interested in staying around when spending their money. And for these and other reasons, property values climb.
  • Encourage people to enjoy their residences and the local area. Stores carrying decorative arts for the home and yard also helped raise house and condo prices in the neighborhood, as did shops selling and repairing bicycles.
  • Have billboards advertising prestige retailers from the local area or elsewhere. Economically disadvantaged areas, with land values that are relatively low, often have more billboards than do other neighborhoods. When the prestige of the area increases, property values increase. Featuring top-line retailers on billboards boosts the area’s prestige a bit. Those marquee merchants might believe that billboards in such a neighborhood would bring down their own prestige. Research at Hofstra University and Saint Louis University finds this concern to be largely unfounded.
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Dress Up Your Neighborhood
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Attend to Context When Advertising

Monday, March 19, 2012

Catch the News About Viral Video Ads

It’s the dream of retailers to have video ads go viral, with viewers driven to forward the link to friends on and on, in the process, more and more people exposed to the marketing message you’ve produced.
     Researchers at Harvard University have identified a set of factors that make an ad more likely to spread its influence in this way. Here’s my adaptation of that list:
  • Make your store name and logo informative, not intrusive. Using eye-tracking cameras, the researchers discovered how the viewer’s attention is drawn to a store name and, even more, a well-designed logo. However, if the name or logo are too prominent, consumers will feel like they are being manipulated. One alternative is for you to weave your store name and logo into the ad, showing them repeatedly, but not continuously. A better alternative, in my opinion, is to put the name or logo in the lower right corner of the video, where it serves as information for the viewer without getting in the viewer’s direct field of vision.
  • Produce joy and/or surprise right off. Television ads have often been designed to build toward a laugh or a revelation. The rules are different with the online video format. The Harvard researchers analyzed viewer’s facial expressions to spot smiles, frowns, and signs that the viewer had stopped paying attention to the ad. The conclusion: Dropout happens real fast unless there’s a jolt of emotion promptly after the start. The best emotions to use are joy and surprise. Best of all is to use them in combination.
  • Change the pace. You don’t need to pump out a constant stream of surprising jokes. Actually, it’s better not to do that. It’s an example of what psychologists call habituation. Consider the massage therapy category of services retailing. Masseuses report that the client generally likes the massage more when they’re rubbed for a while, pounded for a while, kneaded for a while, and then rubbed again, than if there’s no change. The speed of habituation is related to age. Deliver the pitch in brief segments with changeups, especially for younger audiences.
  • Give viewers substance to share. The Harvard researchers suggest targeting ads to people exhibiting two personality characteristics associated with forwarding video links to others: Extroversion and egocentrism. In my opinion, a more realistic suggestion is the most basic rule for propagating a virus: Give people something they’ll pass around.
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Give Your Sales Pitches Changeups
Depend on Interactive Text in Web Ads

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Quote Measurement Units for Future Buys

Let’s say your shopper is evaluating dining room tables on the basis of table size. Which of these two will sound larger? “4 by 5 feet.” “48 by 60 inches.”
     The traditional consumer psychology answer is that the second one will sound larger because the numbers are larger. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium and Tilburg University in the Netherlands asked consumers to compare the advantages of a seven-year warranty and a nine-year warranty. To one group, the duration was stated as seven years compared to nine years. To another group, the identical duration was stated as 84 months compared to 108 months. Those consumers presented the months figures saw the difference between the warranties as larger than did the consumers hearing the comparison in years.
     However, more recent research, at University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech, finds that if the shopper is considering making the purchase at an indefinite point in the future, not right now, the “4 by 5 feet” description generally sounds larger than “48 by 60 inches.” This is because consumers who are gathering information for future use tend to process measurement information in terms of units rather than numbers. Feet are larger than inches.
     The South Carolina/Virginia researchers uncovered this effect not only with table sizes, but also with perceptions of the time of maturity of financial products, the weight of nutrients, and the height of buildings. Consumers who are looking for large for imminent purchases respond better to larger numbers, so quote in smaller units. Those who anticipate making the purchase, but aren’t sure how far in the future it will be, respond better to quantity quotes using larger measurement units, even though the numerals will be less.
     It also works with delivery times. Here, let’s say you need to tell the purchaser about a delay. When is it better to say, “Your product will be arriving in three weeks, not one week,” and when should you use, “Your product will be arriving in 21 days instead of 7”?
     If the customer is anxiously awaiting the arrival in order to start using the item, favor the first wording. In this case, the customer is looking for small. If the customer’s focus is instead on, “I made the purchase then because it was a great price, but I won’t be using the item right away,” describe the delay in terms of days.

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Number Costs and Benefits for Desired Effects
Clarify Item Advantages via Pricing

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lean Away from Big Fat Shopper Decisions

There are the habitual purchases which are quick and easy for the shopper. And there are the decisions—such as those requiring a change in brand or a large expenditure of time or money—which are difficult for the consumer. In these circumstances, people often put off the purchase and, if they do make the buy, they’re often plagued with lingering doubts.
     Researchers at Cornell University and University of Toronto suggest that when the shopper is feeling overwhelmed by a difficult decision, and you want to make the sale, you encourage the shopper to back off. Literally.
     In one of their studies, the researchers presented consumers with two equally attractive products and invited the consumers to either choose one of the products right then or defer the decision. Next, some of the consumers were asked to lean in toward the computer screen where the products were displayed. The remaining group of consumers were asked to lean away from the computer screen.
     Those leaning in toward the screen reported the choice between the products to be more difficult and were more likely to ask to come back later.
     The Cornell/Toronto researchers found that it also worked for shoppers to cognitively lean away from the decision by thinking more abstractly. This might be accomplished by encouraging the shopper to think about ways the two products are alike.
     Other research finds that a similar advantage can be achieved by encouraging the confused consumer to go on to another item on the shopping list and then come back in a short while to make the purchase decision.
     Note that the effects of physical or imagined approach and avoidance are different when it comes to building the appeal of a specific item rather than the act of choosing between two items.
     Researchers at University of Chicago and University of Arizona showed student participants in a study a can of food. The label on the can announced that the contents consisted of curried grasshopper, a delicacy which most of the students found unattractive.
     Some were asked to imagine themselves avoiding the can, and afterwards instructed to eat the curried grasshopper and report their evaluation. Another group was asked to imagine themselves approaching the can before they received the eating and evaluation instructions.
     The participants who imagined approach beforehand gave the more positive evaluations.
     Encourage approach in building attraction, then allow temporary withdrawal to ease indecision.

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

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Apply Systematic Desensitization to Fears
Start Your Shoppers Feeling Yes
Attend to Negatives When High Time Pressure

Friday, March 16, 2012

Keep Quiet to Fuel Principled Controversy

“Rip their heads off and suck their guts out.” How about that as a tag line in a marketing campaign for your store? A marketing campaign directed to children.
     The UK’s Daily Mail is reporting about that tag line, which had been used by Frubes, the UK’s best-selling children’s yogurt. The phrasing referred to how you consume the stuff by tearing the top off the tube and squeezing the yogurt into your mouth.
     But the rip-off/suck-out phrasing wasn’t the real Daily Mail story. Yoplait, the manufacturer of Frubes, recently replaced the tag line with “Pull their tops off and eat them all up.” That replacement is closer to the real Daily Mail story, but not exactly it either.
     The real story is the outpouring of affection for the former phrasing and charges of silliness for Yoplait changing it.
     What does the company have to say about the controversy? They’re keeping quiet. When the assistant brand manager of Yoplait UK was asked, she refused comment. This does add to the intrigue, thereby fueling further publicity.
     Is any publicity about a controversy valuable? Researchers at University of Delaware and University of Hartford asked if even negative publicity improves profitability. The researchers concluded it doesn’t. With one exception: If you take refuge in principles important to your target audience, the controversy tossed around by negative publicity leads to you being noticed without being hurt.
     On the other side, tamp down controversy with apologies when your principles are questioned. A while ago, baked goods company Entenmann’s tweeted, “Who's #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!” This on the day that endless tweets of outrage were circulating about the acquittal of Casey Anthony on charges she had killed her 2½-year-old daughter.
     Entenmann’s soon issued a new tweet: “Our #notguilty tweet was insensitive, albeit completely unintentional. We are sincerely sorry.”
     Likeable Media, the social media consultants to Entenmann’s actually did the original post. They were tracking the #notguilty tag as a trending topic, so hopped on board with its use, but say they failed to first investigate why the tag was suddenly so popular.
     The Frubes tag line did have something else going for it beyond controversy: Disgust. In general, people make more purchases whenever their emotions kick in. The boost works best with positive emotions, but activating consumer emotions we think of as less pleasant—yes, even disgust—can also stimulate purchasing.

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Arouse Lovers by Flaunting Haters
Take Refuge from Controversy in Principles
Cultivate Controversy Carefully
Protect Ads Against Overwhelming Emotion

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gas What Your Shoppers Are Worried About!

Top-of mind for American consumers from time to time is the high cost of gasoline. They can only guess when there will again be a drop. These concerns about such transportation expenses on even short trips shift the preferences of your target consumers toward shopping online rather than at your brick-and-mortar store site. In addition, the price of fuel affects shipping costs from your suppliers and to your customers.
     A while back, The Huffington Post published a set of tips for small business owners on coping with the situation. Among the suggestions was to add a fuel surcharge to your purchase prices. The argument for doing this is that your customers all realize when gasoline prices are rising.
     Partitioned pricing, in which you state an item’s cost as a main price plus one or more surcharges, can work. However, the problem with a fuel surcharge is that the partitioned pricing calls attention to transportation as the reason for a price increase on an item. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania and University of Florida found that customer anger is most likely when the retailer's explanations for increases in product costs are in terms of transportation or insurance. They concluded that the explanations most likely to head off customer anger center on the cost of goods to the retailer from the supplier.
     Explain that you need to increase your prices when your supplier increases their costs to you. Adapt the following to fit your style: “When our suppliers increase their prices to us, we need to pass those increases on to the customers so that we can stay in business and continue to serve shoppers like you and employ the people like me.” Although the basis for suppliers charging you more might be the dramatic rise in transportation and shipping costs, avoid using this as a reason with customers.
     Another of the Huffington Post tips does make sense from a consumer psychology perspective: In delivering purchases, consolidate trips, even if this delays the arrival for customers. Charge extra for expedited delivery. Researchers at University of St. Thomas and University of California-Berkeley say consumers are likely to consider the extra charge as fair because it is a common practice to levy a fee for expedited delivery.
     Other research suggests that acceptance is even more likely if you present the delivery charge as the one for expedited delivery and then offer a discounted price for a longer delivery time.

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

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Use Partitioned Pricing to Highlight Benefits
Explain Price Ups & Downs to Customers
Prepare Customers for Price Increases

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Feather Pricing Changes with Precision

Dropping prices dramatically can attract new customers. But it also has a clear potential to irritate current customers. Economists use the term “rockets and feathers” to describe how prices on many item rise quickly, but drop slowly. The economists’ explanations for rockets and feathers have to do with supplier costs and consumer search strategies.
      Lowering prices gently and with precision is a good way to ensure customers who visit your store often will continue to trust your pricing. Economists can still credibly use the word “feathers” to describe this pricing strategy, since one meaning of “feather” is to hit softly and precisely.
      Another meaning of the word “feather” is “to adorn as if to attract notice.” And that brings up a provocative suggestion: If you do offer substantial discounts, target the notice so that the loyal customers are less likely to discover it. Don’t adorn it with feathers.
      But research findings lead me to conclude this is a risky strategy. Researchers at University of St. Thomas and University of California-Berkeley analyzed a pricing policy used by Amazon in year 2000, in which some shoppers were offered a discount of 30%, while others were offered a discount of 40%. When customers discovered online what was going on, they had challenging questions for Amazon.

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Search for Better Supplier Costs
Offer Exclusive Price Discounts Cautiously
Redirect Consumer Boycott Anger

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Talk to the Handheld with Restraint

“Talk to the hand” was the dismissive phrase from the 1990’s which in its long form, with closed fist extended toward the other person, was, “Talk to the hand because the ear is not listening.”
     These days, the phrase might be so last year. That’s 2011, during which a Coca Cola radio commercial featured a talking iPhone app telling the phone’s owner to “talk to the hand,” to which the owner responds, “No one says that anymore.”
     Results from the “2012 Digital Advertising Attitudes Report” suggests the contemporary phrasing might profitably be “Talk to the handheld, but with restraint.” Consumers are especially sensitive to receiving store advertising on their mobile devices.
     The study, sponsored by Upstream and conducted by YouGov, polled a total of more than 4,000 U.S. and UK adults. The results were statistically weighted by demographics so they are roughly representative of all U.S. and UK adults.
     About two-thirds of the respondents said they’re getting too many ads and promotions on their mobile devices. At the same time, a slightly higher percentage said they wouldn’t mind getting more of the right kinds of ads.
     What’s “right”?
  • 26% want the mobile device ads tailored to their personal interests
  • 21% want the ads to take account of what the user is doing at the time
  • 19% want the ads to be specific to their geographical location
     Current and evolving technologies can make that possible. Until and unless you’re doing it, be careful with the frequency and the complexity of the messages. More than 70% of American consumers and almost 80% of UK consumers say that banner advertisements on their mobile devices are irritating. About 15% of Americans and 11% of Brits who use mobile devices say they’ve ever clicked on a mobile banner ad, and only about 1% say they do so frequently.
     Cross the line of irritation, and there is a price you’ll pay. About 20% of the U.S. survey respondents and about 27% of the U.K. respondents said they’d stop giving business to the advertiser.
     I believe these results indicate that consumers consider interactions with their mobile devices, especially mobile phones, to be more personal than interactions with other internet paraphernalia. The opportunity here is for the retailer to get through the clutter by personalizing the messages. The caution here is to pitch to the consumer via a mobile device only if you do the requisite personalizing.

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Monitor Your Thanks to Customers
Strategize in Advertising Expenditures
Map Mobile Device Users to Buy from You

Monday, March 12, 2012

Copycat Based on Leader Brand Proximity

A “prototype brand” on your store shelves or racks carries the name and label design best known by consumers in your target markets in that product or service category. For peanut butter, the prototype might be Skippy. Prototype electronics brands include Sony and Samsung. From the geographical angle, the prototype brand of laundry detergent might be Tide in Milwaukee, All Free in San Francisco, and Ala in Buenos Aries. For beer, it would be Budweiser in America and Heineken in the Netherlands.
     A “copycat brand” you choose to carry in your store aims to imitate the appearance of the prototype brand. Copycat brands can sell well. However, researchers at University of Cologne and Tilburg University find that the type of copycat you carry should be based on the proximity of the prototype brand. The researchers distinguished among low-, moderate-, and high-similarity copycats, depending on how much the package design and brand name resembled the prototype’s.
     If you don’t carry the prototype brand in your store, you’ll do best having high-similarity copycats. On the other hand, if you stock the prototype brand adjacent to the copycats, you’ll do best carrying moderate-similarity copycats.
     From a shopper psychology perspective, the second strategy is better:
  • By stocking both the prototype and copycat, you offer variety, and variety attracts shoppers.
  • When the copycat is physically close to the prototype, the shopper’s mind attributes positive characteristics of the prototype to the copycat. As a retailer, you’ll be hitchhiking onto the strong images prototypes carry. Their manufacturers devote massive amounts of marketing support to maintaining top-of-mind awareness.
     The research indicates that when a prototype is close by, a high-similarity copycat implies trickery to the shopper and so arouses suspiciousness in the shopper’s mind. This is especially likely if you have charts in ads or on store signs which compare characteristics, features, or benefits of the copycat and the prototype. The moderate-similarity copycat doesn’t arouse this degree of consumer suspiciousness. The person realizes they can easily tell the difference in package design, so can’t be tricked.
     Shoppers find comfort in being with brands they’ve known well for a long time. Consumer psychologists talk about “the mere exposure effect.” Shoppers tend to have more favorable attitudes toward something they’ve seen before. Copycats work well because of the mere exposure effect, and as long as product or service performance meets customers’ expectations, the copycat can become their personal prototype.

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Introduce Unfamiliar Products Like Old Friends
Display Unfamiliar Brands with Prototype Brands
Compare Unknown Brands to Best-Known Brands

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blanket the Cold with Romance

When your shoppers are feeling cold, offer them a little romance.
     Researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that study participants who drank cold tea were more likely than those who drank warm tea to subsequently choose a romance movie over other sorts of movies. Similarly, when another set of study participants were asked to sit in a room that was cold, this increased the tendency to select a romance movie.
     Next, the researchers, wanting to plot out all the relationships between cold and romance, matched the dates of customers’ DVD rental records with the data on temperatures around the time of the rental. Sure enough, when it was cold, there was a shift from the horror flicks toward the romantic ones. I guess the enhanced chances of getting a bear hug when watching the creature features wasn’t enough to compensate for the shivers up the spine.
     The researchers note the connection between love and warm feelings in our songs and poems. When people feel cold, they like to be blanketed with romance. However, the connection for consumers seems to be strongest at a subconscious level. If the study participants in the cold room or with the cold tea were asked to think about how comfortable they were with the temperature, the preference for romantic movies pretty much disappeared.
     Researchers at Roma Tre University and Columbia University asked, “What’s the relationship between a movie viewer identifying with an actor in the movie and the viewer rating the movie as excellent?” Toward answering that question, they analyzed audience ratings of 440 movies nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.
     The researchers predicted that the viewer’s identification with a leading star the same gender and around the same age would increase liking. But after analyzing the data, the researchers found they’d been wrong. What made a difference was the viewer’s identification with relating to opposite-gender stars who were somewhat younger than the viewer. When the movie romanced the viewer, the viewer liked the movie.
     Okay, everybody out of the theatre and back to the store. Does this mean that each time a customer enters, you should flirt shamelessly or at least invite them to dance to your store’s background music? No, but it does mean you should romance the customer—professionally.
     Make an additional effort to reach out tenderly when baby, it’s cold outside.

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

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Romance the Customer, But Professionally
Get on Consumers’ Calendars
Give Customers Assurance They Belong

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Showboat a Bit with Showrooming Shoppers

Retailing consultants are talking about “showrooming.” This is the term applied to consumers coming into your bricks-and-mortar store, draining the brains of you and your staff for advice and training, and then leaving your store to make the purchase online. Or maybe not even leaving your store, but rather using a mobile phone to scan the UPC code from a package on your store’s shelves and placing the online order while standing right there.
     A Marketing Daily post reports that about one out of five shoppers for somewhat technical, somewhat expensive products are showrooming. Examples include electric knives, sewing machines, power tools, and hairsetters. My first reaction to this news is that it still leaves four out of five shoppers who are not showrooming. They might be making lots of purchases online, but they’re not taking up the time of your sales staff and then walking away. Twenty percent of consumers is a good chunk, but not approaching a crisis majority.
     And if, in fact, showrooming is restricted to the somewhat technical, somewhat expensive merchandise, this leaves loads of other SKUs.
     Still, you’d like to keep all the showroomer’s dollars in your store. The Marketing Daily piece suggests that you accomplish this by doing your own online sales. When the shopper comes into your store, the shopper or the salesperson can use a computer to place the order. That’s fine, but it certainly is nothing new. Bricks-and-mortar stores have been accepting special orders for a while.
     What I’ll suggest as a way to handle showrooming is showboating. Now, “showboating” means to show off in ways intended to draw attention. Too much of that would irritate consumers, so what we want is only a little bit.
  • Highlight the post-purchase extras your store has to offer which are challenging to find online. Setup at the home or business. On-site training, for a fee or as part of a large purchase. Tell the shopper about all the extras, but to assist memory and avoid irritation, unveil them a bit at a time.
  • Without grandstanding, display your expertise. You might not get this one sale, but the consumer will build gratitude.
  • Entertain the shopper. The best humor to use in a sales situation is gentle and informal. To avoid offending, build on what you discover the customer considers to be funny. Make humor a team sport as you volley giggles back and forth.
For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers 

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Let the Internet Set Your Price
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Joke Around to Facilitate the Sale

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stay Aware of B2B Distinctions

Smart retailers cultivate various streams of income to protect against damage if one stream dries up. To bricks-and-mortar, add your online selling. If you sell products, consider what services you can offer, and if you sell services, add a product line. If your transactions are almost exclusively people buying for themselves or their families, develop commercial accounts.
     Regarding the last of these, remember how business-to-business (B2B) customers are distinctive. A respected analysis by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University of Nebraska identified these:
  • In general, end-users prefer fixed pricing because they can then leave the transaction with the belief they got the best available deal. However, with B2B customers, the salesperson needs to be flexible, creative, and skilled in adjusting and negotiating pricing and terms to fit the situation. What’s the size of this sale? What’s the likelihood of and likely dollar amount of follow-on sales? What payment arrangements is the shopper expecting? What out-of-the-ordinary requests are being made?
  • Because B2B purchases may involve many decision makers, understand the information needs of each role. For instance, Initiators identify the need for what you’re selling, but Buyers authorize the purchase.
  • B2B customers are likely to attend to technical specifications. Initiators pay attention because they’ll want to convince the Buyers. Gatekeepers like the specs because they gather information to route it to others. For all, technical specifications reduce the feeling of risk.
  • As do end-users, B2B customers determine purchases based on emotional reasons. But the emotions are more likely to relate to the working relationship with the salesperson than to a desire to make an impulse buy.
     Business-to-business customers often expect a person-to-person relationship. According to research at University of Geneva, there are two dimensions to that expectation:
  • Secure business attachment. Your B2B customer may want to rely on you for quick answers to questions about purchases made from your business and for quick solutions to problems with purchases.
  • Close business attachment. Your B2B customer may want to develop personal bonds with you or your outside sales agent, exchanging information about family and friends, for instance.
     The research findings also suggest a way to learn the mix of secure business attachment and close business attachment each of your B2B customers wants: Watch as they interact with others who are close to them. This can mean paying attention to how the various participants in the purchase decision relate to each other.

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

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Learn the Relationship B2B Customers Want

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Appeal to Vanity

A recent article in the Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago Sun-Times blatantly exposes a scam in which customers are gleefully mislead by retailers. The scam is “vanity sizing.” A twist, however, is that the glee in the misleading might be felt as strongly by the customer as by the retailer.
     Fashion retailers intentionally mislabel the sizes on clothing so that shoppers think they can fit into a size 10 when a standard measurement chart would tag the item as a size 12. The phenomenon is seen most often with women’s clothing, but a number of British retailers are also using “manity sizing,” labeling trousers as a smaller size than they really are. Debenhams, Next, and Topman were selling pants up to one inch larger than labeled. The objective is to have customers say, “I feel better about myself when shopping at that store rather than elsewhere, so I’ll make more of my purchases there.”
     The Sun-Times article reports on research at University of North Texas which finds that:
  • More expensive clothing is more likely to use vanity sizing. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein clothing items were especially tolerant of size label distortions.
  • Consumers 20 to 29 years of age are more pleased with vanity sizing than are consumers 40 to 49 years of age. As our population ages, people want more accurate sizing information. Macy’s and Lane Bryant have begun to provide such information online.
     Researchers at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that even phony flattery can facilitate sales. This works best if the customer is distracted from thinking about the flattery having been phony, such as by being rushed or making a selection after some time has passed.
     Still, for best long-term results, give genuine praise.
  • Flatter expertise. Researchers at Duke University saw that a motivator for many experts is showing off their knowledge. Say to the expert something like, “It is clear that you know a lot about this type of product. May I share with you some of the latest versions we have and ask you what benefits you see that these new products hold for our customers?”
  • When customers are completing their purchases, they are more interested in reassurance than in benefits statements. This is a prime opportunity for praise. Compliment them on the good decisions they made, and invite them to return to tell you how their purchases worked out for them.
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Check that Vanity Appeals Aren’t in Vain
Praise Your Customers
Flatter Shoppers with Care and Caring

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pull Magical Thinking Out of Your Hat

“I am Dr. Fredrickson,” the man began as he stepped through the curtain to address the audience. “I was called to this theatre half an hour ago, and I have just declared as deceased the female lead of the play you came to see tonight. The rest of the cast and the house management are in shock. They asked me to come out here to tell you.”
     Silently, the audience members stood up and, with one exception, moved toward the doors. The one exception, a short woman standing on her theatre seat to see above the crowd, yelled out to Dr. Fredrickson, “Give her some chicken soup.”
     The doctor looked highly surprised. “She’s deceased. Perhaps you didn’t hear me.”
     “Go ahead and try some chicken soup,” the short woman yelled back.
     “Madam, the woman is dead. How could chicken soup help?”
     “Well,” replied the woman loudly, “it couldn’t hurt.”
     Some might call that an overwhelming faith in chicken soup. I’ll call it magical thinking. In circumstances when consumers are striving to gain control of their circumstances, they’ll often pull magic out of their hats. The results could be a superstitious failure to handle reality well. Or the magical thinking might make no difference at all, as in the case of Dr. Fredrickson’s latest and late patient.
     Or it might be so helpful to the consumer that the retailer goes along. Researchers at Canada’s HEC Montreal and at Queen’s University-Kingston give as examples the magical thinking springing from consumers’ out-of-control efforts to control weight. They might talk of a body that is conspiring against them or food which seduces them. Before being weighed, they’ll change into a less heavy outfit or they’ll exercise vigorously.
     Acknowledge the power of magical thinking. Then recognize the two flavors. Researchers at University of Texas-Pan American, Ohio University, and China’s Chongqing Technology and Business University differentiate between consumers who do things like carry good luck charms and those who believe in the power of fate or karma regardless of what lucky charms they're packing.
     Research at Dartmouth College and Columbia University suggests that for those who respect karma, you show extra perseverance in resolving any customer service complaints. Research at St. Louis University and Oklahoma University suggests that the other type of magical thinker will become a fan of your store if you pair positive shopping experiences with a small item carrying your store logo.

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Offer Superstitious Shoppers Good Luck Charms
Space Out “Bad News” Products on Shelves

Monday, March 5, 2012

Offer Variations to Ease Fear of Conformity

Researchers at University of British Columbia and University of Alberta saw people discarding perfectly good products. Why? A clue is in what else consumers were doing: Customizing a flawless product or taking it back to the store to make an exchange.
     Another clue about the reason is that the products were not, in the person’s opinion, perfectly flawless. The flaw was that someone similar had the identical product. These consumers feared conformity.
     You’ll increase sales when you help your shoppers reach their favorite spot on the conformity-distinctiveness scale. Research findings from University of South Carolina, Loyola University, and Baruch College suggest that one tool you have for doing this is the phrasing of a certain preferences question:
     If you ask your customer, “What about this product do you like that your friends would also like?,” this prompts individual distinctiveness, since it puts your customer in the role of advisor and perhaps opinion leader.
     On the other hand, if you ask your customer, “What about this product do your friends like and you also like?,” this prompts the customer to think about the comfort of adhering to group preferences.
     Research identifies triggers for the fear of conformity.
  • Substantial effort by the consumer in making the product selection.
  • Age. In most cultures, older shoppers are more likely to seek distinctiveness than conformity, while teenagers tend to opt for conformity with groups they aspire to belong to.
  • When product choice is thought to reveal personality characteristics. Older consumers are more fearful of conformity with fashion items, such as clothing and entertainment products. They’re less concerned regarding functional items, like appliances and foods. With functional items, shoppers want to know what others think of the product itself rather than what others think of people who use that product.
  • Choice sequence. Researchers from Sorbonne-Assas in France and University of Adelaide in Australia found that, in a French restaurant, when about 30% to 80% of a group had ordered the same choice, people placing their orders next tended to go along with also ordering this choice for themselves. But once the conformity exceeded 80%, subsequent orders were more likely to show variety seeking.
     The British Columbia/Alberta researchers suggest that the retailer look for ways to offer even minor variations in order to ease the fear of conformity. A choice of face plates on a mobile phone and alternative patterns on a wrist band were enough.

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

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Expect Shopper Conformity & Variety Seeking
Navigate Shoppers Toward Distinctiveness
Broaden Target Markets Beyond Yourself

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Diversify Job Duties in Diversity Management

As a consumer and organizational psychologist, I’m interested in how characteristics of the employees of a retail store affect that store’s profitability. An article in the Spring 2012 Personnel Psychology journal reports that one significant factor is the degree of match between the racial/ethnic characteristics of the employees and those of the target customers.
     The article’s authors—from Temple University, Rutgers, Davidson College, and J.C. Penney Inc.—confirmed the notion that a greater match leads to better store results. The authors then go beyond this to skewer two misconceptions. Here is my adaptation of those attacks, using a broader base of research:
  • It’s an error to believe that research has uniformly found substantial benefits when the racial/ethnic characteristics of the employees and target customers closely match. In truth, the research literature has yielded inconsistent answers to the question. The reason for inconsistent results is that the match doesn’t affect profitability directly, but does it indirectly by increasing customer satisfaction. If other factors disrupt customer satisfaction, the racial/ethnic match won’t help profitability.
  • Some might think that the match is helpful only when there are many minority customers. Yes, it is most strong then, because minority shoppers are especially likely to have received inferior customer service in the past from salespeople who do not share the shopper’s racial/ethnic characteristics. When minority shoppers see minority employees, that’s a service clue. However, the match-advantage effect also holds true when there are few minority customers. On average, shoppers are more satisfied when dealing with salespeople they see as being like themselves.
     I also hold a certification, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), granted by the Society for Human Resource Management, reflecting my interest in performance management of retail employees. I share the Temple, et al researchers concerns about a retailer using the findings of their study to aim to strictly match racial/ethnic characteristics of salespeople with those of the target consumer. A major difficulty in doing this is how it can limit the job opportunities of the salespeople to learn and excel in other retail functions, such as buying and bookkeeping. Another wrinkle is that if you’re hiring based on a race/ethnicity match, you risk violating equal employment opportunity laws.
     In your store’s implementation of diversity management, pay attention to hiring for retailing skills and developing competencies by diversifying job duties for all your employees. Competency initiatives surpass diversity initiatives when it comes to achieving profitability.

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Watch Out for Discrimination
Race for Recognition