Posts filed under ‘retail’
I went on a bit of a Retail Safari round Leeds yesterday morning:
We’ve heard of Pound Shops, but how about the Pound Bakery? They’ve over 30 stores, mostly in the North.
picture from a RidingsFm promo event because I didn’t think to take pics, doh
M&S have taken a stall at Leeds Market (where the original M&S first launched as open-air stall in 1884) selling souvenirs and PRing their new museum (yes, really) which exhibits stuff from the company archive and has just opened at the other end of town.
photo by the lovely LeedsGrub
There’s a pop-up One Direction store, which I kept getting asked for directions to by harassed looking Mums.
photo from the YEP
And that 1D store is in the newly opened Trinity Leeds. I first saw the plans for it in 1998ish (my old agency had a lot of property development clients) and it was sold to us as a way of connecting disparate shopping offers, rather than as a new development. It’s obviously been re-positioned since then because from all the hoo-ha round here you’d think it was the biggest thing to happen to retail since Bluewater.
photo by the gang at Leeds retail agency Gratterpalm
In reality, they’ve put a funky glass cover (note not a weatherproof roof, you can see the gaps at the edges in the photo above) over several different buildings that already had shops in them, connected them up, created walkways to access upper floors more easily and added some extra square footage by taking advantage of awkward corners and so on. It’s only half-open at the moment and freezing cold because not only is the roof more of a roughly fitted awning than something capable of stopping hot air getting out, the entrances are all ten foot wind tunnels with no doors that simply serve to bring the cold air in. It was so cold when I visited that people were wearing gloves inside and one Spanish restaurant had abandoned their al fresco terrace and stuck this sign up:
I thought there would be enough interesting stuff around Trinity to keep me going for a few hours of nosing about. In reality, I gave up and went on a hunt for some new jeans, finding them in a store outside the development. Where it struck me that the one thing Trinity has changed is the shape of the shopping hub for Leeds. It used to be T shaped (Briggate and Albion Place) and now with Trinity’s main entrance on Briggate and stores from Albion relocating into it, it’s become a one street town center. Which can’t be a good thing.
I’ve been thinking A LOT about the retail shopping experience recently. Partly because I’ve got relevant projects on the go or in the works and partly because I’ve been ‘impulse storing’ – which I’ve just invented to describe popping into a store on impulse to try and knock some items off the worrying large festive shopping list sitting in your handbag.
In the last couple of weeks, through a combination of work and life I’ve managed to visit ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose, Booths (which is a sort of northern Waitrose), a big Co-op, Currys, ASDA Living, John Lewis, Selfridges, TK Maxx, B&M, M&S and Wilkinsons. Which seems to me to be a fair cross section of all ends of the market.
What’s really struck me on my SuperShop is that the higher the price point, the better the shopping experience. With the obvious exception of anything on Oxford Street four weeks before Christmas. But I’m not really talking about queuing time, customer service or the in-store environment. It’s how the other customers behave that seems to make the biggest difference.
With the best will in the world, pushing a trolley round a major mainstream supermarket in mid-December is not going to be a pleasant experience. But it’s made considerably worse by trolleys pushers not giving way, parents screaming at their kids and people being generally inconsiderate of their fellow shoppers while they’re in full-on hunter-gatherer mode.
I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to make customers a little more considerate and, well, human while not impacting on the desired ‘must buy lots of stuff’ mentality that keeps the store tills ringing. Surely a more pleasant experience would make shoppers more likely to browse, impulse buy and stay longer? You’d think that someone would have done some research into the effect on basket spend of a chillaxing environment vs. one where sensory overload has a dehumanising (but possibly spend amplifying) effect.
Someone has at least investigated one side of this dilema, the New York Times has reported that ‘the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend’. Researchers from Penn State and the National University of Singapore concluded that music played at high volumes was one of several factors that leads to overstimulation and ‘a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.’ (thanks to @russhmeyer and @clweinfeld for the link)
But I’d be really interested to hear if anyone has looked into the other ‘let’s all be nice to each other’ option? Booths are pretty brilliant at delivering this, but they have the luxury of a time and cash rich core customer base. I’m just not sure I can see their ‘we’re all gentleman here’ approach working in one of ASDA or Tesco’s megastores. Perhaps it would just take a few Random Acts of Kindness by store staff to kick it all off? If anyone’s done any research into this I’d love to hear about it.
By the way – I’d advise any Brits reading this to get your Christmas food shop done on Saturday 22nd or be brave and hold off until you can sneak out of work on the 24th. Traditionally, the 23rd is the biggest, busiest day of the year for supermarkets. But the 23rd this year falls on a Sunday so the 6 hour Sunday trading rule applies. Which means the festive bunfight will be twice as bad as usual as the shopping window is halved that day. Tesco and Morrisons have both asked for extended opening hours and have been refused so don’t say I didn’t warn you…
I popped into M&S the other day and noticed a piece of POS encouraging women to ‘Drop a Dress Size’ in their new range. The body copy explained that you should buy the dress in your usual size and its cut and support would make you appear a dress size smaller.
M&S have quite clearly run with the dual insight that ‘women want to look thinner’ and ‘women want to fit into a smaller dress size’ and tried to kill two birds with one stone.
But I bet they won’t make a song and dance about their biggest marketing advantage of all – their women’s clothes are all a size bigger than the label states. I’m a size 10/12 everywhere on the high street except M&S, where I comfortably fit into their size 8. And for many women I’m sure there’s a certain satisfaction and feel-good buzz in fitting into a size smaller than usual.
I’d love to know whether this has been a happy side effect of tweaking their standard cut for a more apple shaped customer (for the benefit of my male readers I mean women who are thicker in the middle rather than the traditional hourglass shape), cutting more generously because their core customer wants a loser fit – or a calculated attempt to appeal to women who want to feel thinner and therefore better about themselves.
This false sizing simply serves to annoy me as there never seems to be any size 8s in stock, but I suspect there are a lot of women out there making the store their first port of call so they can stay (or drop to) that all important happy dress size number.
No wonder our high streets are struggling – they’ve become a shopping assault course.
In my second Planning job one of my clients was a big shopping centre. One of the insights we came up with was that this out of town complex was simply shopping made easier than the high street – it was warm, dry, flat for easy pushing of pushchairs and had free parking. It was also seen by many women as being a lot safer place to shop, chiefly because the security guards and zero tolerance policy towards buskers, beggars and chuggers made it less intimidating and consequently more relaxing.
Anyone who has recently tried to make their way on foot through a city centre will know that ‘relaxing’ is not really an appropriate word to use. Since one of my busiest clients is based in Leeds city centre I’ve been taking the opportunity to run a few errands after meetings but I regularly have to face an assault course of big issue sellers (who, to be fair, are the most polite of all of them), MRS clipboard ladies, lucky heather sellers, buskers, the-end-is-nigh religious types, novelty woolly hat cart traders, leafleteers and chuggers.
Last week in Leeds I was approached by twelve different variations of the above in the time it took me to walk from the car to M&S.
The chuggers are worst of all. Again last week I was walking along when out of the corner of my eye a 6 foot something bloke built like a tank strode towards me shouting “hey, lady in the black coat!”. My first thought was not ‘goodness me, who is that interesting and charming man?’, it was ‘Help’. When another dirty great chugger bloke tried “hey, lady in the stripy grey trousers” a hundred yards further along I’m afraid my reply was most unladylike.
Shopping is supposed to be pleasurable. Not scary. And until city centres put their foot down and clean up their high streets, more and more people will decamp to the safety and reduced stress of out of town shopping. Which means that the stores will follow them.
There are some great Christmas ads already airing…and some not so great ones too.
Boots has continued the Here Come the Girls theme with a crack team of women getting Christmas sorted while everyone else is asleep. It’s engaging, funny, on brand and totally relatable. It also stands up to repeated viewing, which is a good job since it has been on air for several weeks already:
John Lewis has done it again with their ‘thoughtful kid’ ad, that judging by twitter seems to have reduced most Mums to tears on first viewing. I’m not sure how this one will stand up to weeks of airing though:
Waitrose’s School of Christmas Magic is great too – another double hander from Delia and Heston but interestingly focusing on semi-scratch solutions to Christmas catering:
There are, however, a few less impressive festive ads out there as well.
Argos use blue aliens to demonstrate why you should avoid stressmas shopping and ‘check and reserve online’ all your gifts and then pop down to Argos to pick them up. I’m not sure that slagging off high street shopping then suggesting you would be better off doing all your shopping by reserving online then shelpping down to the Argos store to pick it all up is actually a winning strategy:
I found the Argos ‘making of’ ad on youtube (why do so many brands feel the need to add a Making Of ad as if they’ve just made a major movie, complete with director, cast and client interviews?) and the client talks of how the campaign is brave, bold, arresting and “really bringing to life the dichotomy of the high street at Christmas”. I think you might be overthinking it a bit love – and that’s coming from a Planner…
I posted about the Littlewoods Christmas ad the other week (it seems to be to be rather heavily inspired by a scene in Love Actually), but even after having viewed the ad several times and written about it, talking to an agency bod this week I merrily misattributed the ad to Argos, which doesn’t say much for its memorability. I’m also not sure in Austerity Britain that ‘make your family happy by buying them lots of stuff’ is the way to go:
So some Christmas Crackers and a few Festive Flops. Let’s see what the next four weeks brings.
PS I know I haven’t mentioned the M&S X Factor ad, but I think it deserves a whole post to itself…
I used to love GAP. Mainly because their sales staff were always prepared to bring you dozens of different jeans to try on until you found one that fit. When your body shape is tricky (little waist but curvy hips), that kind of customer service makes a big difference and GAP became my first port of call for denim.
I’m 99% sure this exemplary customer service was because the staff were on some kind of a bonus scheme based on being name checked at checkout in answer to “has anyone helped you today?” It was certainly being logged on the tills.
Then maybe two years ago something changed. Getting any kind of assistance on the shop floor or in the changing room suddenly required an eagle eye and determination not to be fobbed off, ignored or redirected. Except at the tills, where the staff were now concentrating all their smiliest efforts on getting customers signed up to their email database, giving me a fair idea of exactly where the staff bonus scheme had been redirected.
It looks like Gap’s recent instore marketing materials haven’t been thought through either. I’ve tweeted several examples of not-great GAP signage I’ve spotted recently, including this one which obviously hadn’t been tweaked for the UK market:
I now darken GAP’s doors a couple of times a year to stock up on their black work trousers that miraculously seem to fit me, while playing the exciting game ‘how many staff members can fail to make eye contact while you try to buy something’. So bar a couple of pairs of essential oh-my-god-they-actually-fit trousers a year, sorry GAP, but I’m out.
A store can only get it so wrong, for so long before the target audience walks away. The brand reported last month that sales across its international markets fell 13 per cent year-on-year in the five week period ending October 1st 2011.
The last couple of weeks for me have been about contrasts in customer service. And they’ve all been frontline contact, whether face to face or on the phone.
Take Holiday Inn Express. Their website promises an improved experience with “Real Service. Really.” But trying to book a meeting room and couple of bedrooms was more like a krypton challenge of emails gone AWOL, generally being treated as an inconvenience and multiple misunderstandings.
The irony is that when I tweeted this:
their parent company (Intercontinental Hotel Group @IHGcare ) twitter guys were straight on the case offering to help. One arm of their customer service operation was delivering brilliantly, while the frontline fell flat on its face.
Booking the same package at a similarly priced Days Inn elsewhere in the country couldn’t have been a more different experience, with obviously well trained, motivated and switched on staff going out of their way to help.
I had a similar compare-and-contrast experience last week when I popped into Debenhams and was mid browse, only to be interrupted by an employee, pen poised, with an abrupt “excuse me, do you have an email address?” , to which I’m afraid my reply was that I may have one but she certainly wasn’t having it. There was some kind of promotional marketing data collection form in her hand, but she had decided to cut out explaining *why* she’d like my details and what was in it for me and just go straight to the ask (at this point, the agency/head office people concerned should feel free to bang their heads on the nearest desk).
Across the store her Debenhams colleagues seemed to have decided that making eye contact with customers or helping them in any way was a sackable offence. In contrast, in New Look (where you’d perhaps expect the staff to have less training) they were all on the ball, helpful, upbeat and engaging .
It all comes down to how the customer’s experience is realised at the point of delivery. And that comes from the top man or woman on the ground. The Debenhams store manager was obviously a lot worse at communicating to his staff how they should handle and engage with customers than the one at New Look, just like the Holiday Inn Express hotel manager could take some lessons from his or her counterpart at Days Inn.
So as I’ve riffed on several times before, we should perhaps be spending more of our time as marketing bods concentrating on how the brand is going to be experienced at the point of delivery – and less time farting around with long winded brand architectures.
While I was on a Road Trip last week, for long and complicated reasons I popped into an independent mens and ladieswear retailer in the Yorkshire Dales (which shall remain nameless because I think the owner is a friend of a friend of a friend…).
I understand that the business changed hands relatively recently and the shop front was certainly looking smart and fresh with a fairly subtle identity (which I’ve covered up so you’ll have to trust me).
Then I saw this in the window:
No, not a 1970s knitting pattern, their new brochure. And this is the leaflet I found inside the store:
Somewhere, some kind of designer (however much of an artworker or printer they might really be) thought that this was an appropriate reflection of a relatively upmarket business (tasteful stuff aimed at an older market, with summer dresses at around the £100 mark).
And perhaps worse, somebody inside that business signed off the design work and thought it was OK. Sometimes I wonder if we get the design we deserve.
Trying to cram all that information into a little leaflet maybe meant that the look of it had to suffer. But if you can appreciate fashion, surely you can see a visual tram smash when it’s put in front of you for sign off?
Whenever I’ve been out with friends recently, the conversation has tended to revolve around subjects a bit outside my personal experience, like primary school places and Baby Ballet. Yes, 90% of my friends now come complete with small children – they’ve moved into the next stage of their lives. In contrast I haven’t got kids (and for long and complicated reasons can’t see children on my horizon), which sometimes leaves me with nothing to contribute to the conversation.
It strikes me that there must be a few brands out there in a sort of similar situation. The original core customers have moved into a new lifestage – but taken the brand with them. So you end up with Samantha Cameron wearing Topshop at the same time as a load of fourteen year olds. Who the heck are they supposed to market at?
It can only be a matter of time before Topshop stops trying to be all-things-to-all-women and starts chucking out a few proper sub-brands. I seem to have ended up as Aunty Gemma in several households. Perhaps it’s time to open some nice stores next door to Boden and Jigsaw called Topshop Collection?