Customer Is King

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If there is one truth that has been proven over and over again in retailing, it is that the customer is king. Suppliers and retailers alike, worship at the altar of the ultimate decision-maker in the hopes of securing a purchase. If that is so evident and obvious – then why won’t suppliers and retailers collaborate better with each other to ensure that the person shopping for a product is able to locate it and purchase it with confidence content that it will fulfill the role or complete the task it is intended to provide?
The Shopper
While mass production has a proud tradition going back to Eli Whitney and his standardization or interchangeability of parts; the mistake that far too many retailers and suppliers make is to assume that shoppers are akin to machined parts. The truth is that not only are shoppers different from each other, the same shopper’s behavior will vary widely and be influenced by very different concerns on consecutive shopping trips. Yet, far too often, the supplier and the retailer will attempt to market to the shopper in exactly the same way and expect a consistent response both across different shoppers and from the same shopper at different times.
The business reality is that there are likely multiple shopper types that are frequenting your stores and buying your products. The other reality is that you may not know what those types are and why they chose to purchase from you (or perhaps more importantly, why they chose NOT to buy with you and purchased with a competitor). The suppliers do a tremendous amount of consumer research in designing and developing new products, marketing campaigns, and identifying trends related to performance, convenience, or other features. As a retailer, what research are you collecting to identify (some examples):
1. Shopper Types
a. Gender/Age/Demographics, etc.
b. Psychographics – the motivations for why the shopper is even in the market, attitudes, values, etc.
c. Product interest
d. Product Knowledge levels
e. Buying for self vs. buying for other
2. Purchase Occasions
a. Birthday or special occasion
b. Replacement purchase
c. Stock up for future use
d. Convenience/Quick fill in for immediate use
e. Use
3. Purchase Variables
a. Budget
b. Brand name of product
c. Expertise of store personnel in recommending appropriate product
d. Ambience or store environment
Failure to recognize the differences between and among shoppers, shopping occasions, and influencing variables that impact whether the customer chooses to make a purchase is going to lead to the business equivalent of the children’s party game; “Pin the tail on the Donkey” where a blindfolded person attempts to place the tail on an exact spot without any benefit of context or clue.
Shopper Experience
Every retailer has heard of the importance of shopping their own store as if they were a customer. The lessons one can learn are illuminating as it relates to learning about one’s business from the perspective on the other side of the counter. But, few independent retailers actually know what to look for and how to do it.
Pre-Store Visit
1. What shopper type/shopper target is most likely to respond favorably to advertisements?
2. Does the website appeal equally to all shopper targets or does it presume that one kind of shopper exists?
3. How does the store attract the desired shopper target(s) as s/he approaches the store (signage, illumination, ability to see inside from the outside, what is visible from the parking lot, etc.?
Inside The Store
1. Is the shopper greeted upon entry?
2. Is the store set up in a way that all product categories are easily located upon entry?
3. What signage exists to direct, explain product benefits, educate, etc.?
4. What training do store personnel have to:
a. Help guide shoppers to appropriate product choices
b. Suggest complementary products
c. Inform or educate shoppers on proper product usage
5. Does the store encourage handling of products by having samples or demos out?
6. Are products merchandised in a way that helps the shopper discern?
a. Good/better best
b. Pricing ladders
c. Performance differences
7. Are categories cross-merchandised with other products likely to be purchased together?
The store often merchandises products in a way that makes it easier for store personnel to; keep track of inventory, re-order, stock product, and otherwise suit their needs operationally or logistically. It is the progressive store that correctly assumes that the store should be designed from the shopper’s perspective. The more shopper-centric the store can be so that the shopper is able to make a purchase decision in a way that is aligned with how they wish to purchase; the more successful that the store will be and the more return visits the store will receive.
Returning to the shopper target discussion, the point was made about how different shoppers, or even the same shopper, may shop very differently on different occasions. Knowing that, the store would be well served to create “Store within a store” areas that can serve the disparate needs of the shopper on each of the different shopping occasions. Practically speaking, that may mean:
1. Putting hats with gloves/Dressings near salads/lemon near fish counter
2. Placing bottled water cases, snacks, flashlights, etc. next to signage suggesting that the hunter consider adding that to their purchase before heading out.
It may also mean dividing the store into sections that appeal to different shoppers and even replicating some products, but merchandising them differently based on use and need.

Through The Looking Glass
Our industry is in a state of flux and it will continue for the foreseeable future. Unless we are able to actually see ourselves as our customers see us and do the work necessary to identify which shoppers we want to appeal to, and what it takes for them to feel comfortable in our stores; we will be destined to smelling our own gun powder and recycling the same efforts and getting the same results. The retail world is moving too quickly to remain standing still. The eagles will soar high, and the turkeys will wind up being served up on a platter to those that recognize the importance of differentiation and evolving to meet a changing shopper’s needs.

Categories: General
David Zahn

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2 Responses

  1. Ben Waugh says:

    Nice site. There

  2. Dan Waldron says:

    You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight from everyone who participates. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, I