Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ushering in 2010

Ah New Year's. Ushering in 2010. The celebrations, the bowl games, the first long weekend of the year. Tired of the usual? Here's what "The Muse" is reading, watching, and seeing, as the decade closes down and the "tens and teens" decade dawns:

What "The Muse" is reading:

1. Perhaps one of the most important books of this decade, "The Muse" is re-reading Naomi Klein's, No Logo: 10Th Anniversary edition. Her tack on the corporate culture and the branding of every available space continues to be a must read for anyone in business, arts, or education. With a new, smartly written introduction, the title should be on every manager's bookshelf.

2. "The Muse" is really taken by the journalist Simon Houpt, who writes a weekly column called per.sua.sion for the Globe and Mail. Houpt's focus is on marketing and advertising. A recent article here, is on new and slightly edgy recruitment campaigns by Universities and Colleges. Sharp, witty and well written, Houpt is well worth checking out each Friday.

What "the Muse" is seeing:

1. Up in the Air. This movie, starring George Clooney as a charming hired staff terminator, is a timely flick in this age of cutbacks and layoffs. One wants to be canned by a Clooney type, but it usually doesn't go that way. Still, the film is charming, with a strong cast and a tale of lost life and love. Worth a viewing.

2. Woodstock: Directors Cut. Watching the Directors cut DVD of "Woodstock: 3 days of peace and music, "the Muse" remembers cursing his parents for not birthing him earlier in time to attend in person. Forty years on, this film captures the spirit of community, positive thinking, and and a large dose of naivety, that the world will be a better place. Great performances as well. It wraps up the sixties and reminds us that 1969 was a watershed year of change. The belly of America was sliced open, and 40 years on, some of the sutures have yet to close.

3. CBC DocZone. It may be Canadian, but don't let that put you off. Some of the best, award winning, documentaries, are through DocZone, and they can viewed online. Besides an interesting documentary on what will happen to the British Monarchy after Elizabeth II passes away, many may be interested in the recent debut: "The Secret World of Shoplifting" . It is a fascinating look at the shoplifting problem, focusing on professional shoplifters, and how retailers in the US are trying to combat a growing problem. The National Retail Federation, recently mentioned theft as one of the top problems retailers face, so worth checking out, and assessing the tools that you have at your store to address this bottom line loss.

What "the Muse" is hearing:

1. Sirius / XM Radio. Although "the Muse" has had satellite radio for a couple of years, it never ceases to amaze with what interesting, and fascinating, radio shows can be found. For $10 a month, "The Muse" gets access, not only to a wealth of music, but a huge variety of compelling talk radio. NPR is the favorite, with interviews by Bob Edwards, CarTalk, This American Life and more. Business programming covers the gamut from Wall Street discussion to fascinating topics on the business of Entertainment. All for far less than a cable subscription. Once you get hooked, it's hard to give it all up.

2. Miles Davis / Sketches of Spain. You can buy it still on vinyl, CD in multiple formats, and it remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the last 50 years. A giddy blend of jazz trumpet with orchestra, this disk continues to be a "spa treatment on disk". The perfect antidote for preparing for, or recovering from, the upcoming semester start.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Muse Holiday List

It's almost Christmas! Now should be the time to think of gifts for those hard to get people, like "The Retail Muse"! Here's the list of some of the items "The Muse" would like to find under the tree this year:

Vinyl Love
It's official. Vinyl records are completely back in vogue again. Now the sales are still small, but all those geeky audiophiles out there would love a new nifty Pro-Ject turntable to play all those old dusty records boxed up in the basement. Once "The Muse" obtains one, out come the Miles Davis and Hawkwind Vinyl! Ah the warmth and pops and scratches of our youth!

An Anniversary worth celebrating
1969 Seemed to be a year of Change. Woodstock and the Moon Walk. But most importantly, the dawn of Sesame Street. Now who can't love the Street? This year, a beautiful 40th anniversary coffee table book has been released, highlighting all the adventures of Big Bird, Oscar and Miss Piggy. Includes a bonus DVD of the very first Sesame Street episode!. "The Muse" looks at it as a great item to channel his inner child.

Looking through a Green Apple
Any Beatles, or pop culture freak, would get a kick out of the complete Beatles catalogue stored on a USB drive within a bright green apple. Can you think of anything more iconic and future thinking than all the Beatles songs, stored on a 21st Century USB Drive. I wanna hold your USB!

Color your world
With a million iPhone apps, there's a fair bit of choice. Yet nothing beats the Pantone Color app that is now available for a reasonable price. Every Pantone color on your iPhone, scroll through and choose complementary colors, try colors out as a background on your pics, and email true Pantone color choices to your favorite designer, visual or graphic artist. anyone who loves looking at color will find this application a true gem and color their world for years to come.

Blowing in the Party Wind

Christmas parties are fun right? Especially the dreaded staff Xmas party. But nothing beats an Xmas party with Bob Dylan! Check out this video for Dylan's "It Must Be Santa" - It's weird and wonderful and slightly disturbing. Check out the wig! But. isn't it a great polka fused festive song for the season?

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Black Friday Sojourn

The Retail muse headed out on Black Friday, looking to see, amongst all the hype and excitement, is the experience of a Black Friday shop-a-thon worth it? Is the experience remarkable or just another example of consumer madness? Are there any good retailers out there? Is anyone standing above the fray? Why on earth do we do this?

Hanging out at one of the world's largest shopping malls, the whole media frenzy of Black Friday appears to "The Muse" as almost warrior like. Early morning, and consumers stand in tight bundles, clutching flyers and lists, pushing gently against the doors, waiting for the mall to open. They are ready for battle. Determined and focused. The credit card as their weapon.

Security Guards (If you can call them that - they look to be either 17 or 71), stand inside the doors. Deer in the headlights eyes, glare back at us, as the guards check their watches every few seconds, anxious fingers at the door locks. It's the Berlin Wall of Retail. A stand off between the shoppers and the keepers of safety. The seconds silently tick away.

Outside, the shoppers are anxious. Everyone has a different time, the pushing and shoving becomes more prominent. There is a thirst for deals, The smell of discount in the crowd. The shoppers push forward, bursting through the open door and filling the mall instantly.

The noise level raises as the shoppers converge on the retailers. Wal-Mart, the choice of many, seems almost bursting at the seams, as shoppers rush the aisles. One wonders how cash registers could be ringing so quickly after opening, but is confirmed by the customers grabbing tchockys and toys from the main aisles and racing to the tills. SALE SALE SALE, screams the store banners. $40 toy now $14.96!!, as customers grab brightly colored plastic, made in Taiwan, items from the displays.

The shopping process has a military single mindedness to it. Customers with lists and crumpled flyers. Carts slipping down the rows as shoppers throw goods into the basket. Penciling through the Christmas list in 15 minutes flat, and then a mad dash to the register to complete the invasion.

The Staff are already gloomy. Already fearful, and ready to run to the closest hiding space. To save face this year, Wal-Mart has security everywhere. 17 year olds marching down over-merchandised aisles looking for shoplifters, while 71 year olds check bags as shoppers leave with their discount prizes. The sound of children crying raises above the din.

It's 9:15 am.

This is enough for "the Muse" and we leave Wal-Mart, wondering if Black Friday is just a huge version of a College Store at Rush time. Toys instead of textbooks. But not really well organized. Half the registers down, the self scan barely working, the staff unprepared, and still under the influence of yesterday's tryptophan. So we head out into the mall, walking through the crowds, looking for something to inspire us. A retail inspiration in a sea of luridly colored bargain boudoirs

It doesn't take long for disappointment to set in. For all the money and effort that retailers spend on Black Friday promotions, the message doesn't seem to make it to the sales floor. Most stores seem caught off guard, (or more likely purposely under staffed). Posters of "crazy" deals hang limply from the windows. Sticky tape abounds, an air of carelessness seems to permeate the retailers preparations.

Half empty boxes of Black Friday merchandise are scattered across the retail floor. Staff try to empty them, but customers are quicker and more eager. They grab and throw, barking out size demands and clutch their finds, as if they are an extra in an Indiana Jones movie. "The Gap" and "H and M" seem especially lost in the madness. Control has gone out the window. All that careful folding, and hanging, and wrapping, is reduced to a pile of mismatched finery by 10 am. We feel like vultures in "H and M", picking at the cotton blend carrion of the display table.

It's almost lunch time, and we haven't seen anything that screams remarkable. It's a big mass of discount and discontinued. All wrapped up in quasi holiday retail cheer. Santa looks weary. Even the "Old Navy" mannequins have lost their perky edge. And then, out of the mass of shoppers, amongst the bland cookie cutter retail promotions, we find a couple of retailers that make the trip worthwhile.

"Bath and Body Works" is the first. Although packed with women grabbing hand sanitizers in every scent imaginable, and a feeling that you are trapped in a world of scented candles, the atmosphere is positive and friendly. Shelves and fixtures are well stocked, and where they are not, staff are busily restocking. Merchandise is well positioned and everything is clearly priced. The wooden slatted floor is clean, and musician Sting, crooning about winter, adds a relaxing ambiance to the hectic madness.

How this retailer stands apart from all the others though, is the staff. From the moment you walk in, the staff is helpful, friendly, and ready to provide you with a tote bag for all your purchases. They scramble up the shelves to get items down from the top shelf, they rummage around in nook and crannies finding more stock, and above all they are "there" for you. By the time you hit the fast moving payment line, you realize what a pleasant, and yes, how remarkable visiting this store is.It might be the biggest rush of all time for "Bath and Body Works", but this store know how to prepare, how to train their staff and above all, how to make the experience for their customers memorable.

Finally, a Black Friday sojourn can't be complete without a stop at the Apple Store. Here again, no matter how busy, this store knows that they are in control. Friendly Apple boys and girls greet you at the main entrance. They position themselves for maximum visibility, exuding a curious mixture of calmness and enthusiasm. The store itself, all white and minimalistic, offers adventure - even when you need to push your way through the teeming throngs. Sales staff wait patiently. When three or four customers corner a Apple Sales rep, they work systematically and quickly through the questions. Imagine this process anywhere else. The clerk would leave screaming and sobbing in the staff room. At Apple they are in control. They know their stuff and they have been well trained. Very little fazes them, and when the grubby 8 year old child runs his ice cream stained fingers over all the Ipods, they patiently smile and show the child the kids programs. A response that is a bit anathema for "The Muse".

After a couple of pleasant retail experiences, "The Muse" felt a little bit better about the state of retail. There is so much that can be improved, so many opportunities for excitement, and remarkable experiences. But, as we stood in the mall, late afternoon of Black Friday 2009, it seems like there might be a glimmer of hope left in the consumer circus.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great Ideas from the world of Retail

Here's a few ideas "the Retail Muse" found while trolling the vast cyber space of general retail. All are simple, effective, ideas that can be modified for any campus store, or used to inspire campus retailers to improve their businesses.

Clever Levis Tag

Levis jeans has developed a clever and inspiring clothing tag called a "care tag for our planet". that will be on all products beginning January 2010. The tag encourages shoppers to donate their old jeans to goodwill as a way of caring for the planet, and "giving back".

It's a simple, yet effective campaign, reminding people that little actions can have big results. Designed by BBDO West, this idea could easily inspire campus stores to try something similar and perhaps partner with campus student groups.

Charitable Giving.

Although there is always the risk of "fundraising fatigue" with shoppers, an interesting article in the Tennessean talks about the success retailers have had by pairing charitable giving with purchases. Right now customers are responding to the idea of helping others while they make purchases. Maybe it's that season for giving, or the economy, and unemployment numbers, but there clearly is a opportunity for retailers to help out, and give back.

Is there a campus store angle here? most definetely. The ability of campus stores to reach a large audience, and promote a worthy campus cause is significant, and worth exploring.

Outside / Inside Marketing

Have you looked at your in store marketing lately? What is the experience that shoppers encounter when they visit your store? Are your shelf tags easy to read?
According to a new survey called "the Elements Report", the in store marketing and store experience is critical to shoppers. 69% of customers responded that the in store experience was "a make or break scenario" and that in store marketing was far more effective that outside advertising.

Watching TV
Checked out the new retail reality show from across the Atlantic? "Mary, Queen of Shops" is an hour long show, hosted by a caustic Brit, who visits flailing retailers and tries to put the store back on track. Although a little bit too focused on fashion trends and garments, she makes some interesting observations about store purchasing decisions, the need for community events, and levels of customer service. All points for retailers to keep at the forefront of their minds.

From the BBC, it is now showing on BBC America - check your local listings, or this link for viewing times in your area and maybe watch an episode or two, wondering what it would be like to have her come through your store!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Research Edition

Each week brings a new round of surveys, reports and research on retail and consumers. Wading through all the paperwork, "the Retail Muse" stumbled across these three studies that campus stores can glean some insights from.

Happy survey notions!

Impulsive Millennials.
Brandweek carries an interesting summary of a new report, called "Winning with Millennial Women Shoppers" In the report, and survey, they found that this demographic tends to shop less, buying more on each trip, and prefers the "supercentre" experience of Wal Mart and Costco. Other findings included a need to "get the job done", instead of focusing on price, and a interest in healthy, and good for you food alternatives, providing the price point was reasonable.

Gen Y tracking
Chris O'Brien, with the Mercury News, writes a fascinating article on his trip to the suburban shopping center, in search of Generation Y shopping habits and interests. Joined by Kip Yarrow, he visits MAC Cosmetics, Lids, and Forever 21, and learns a great deal along the way.

A highly recommended read for anyone retailing to Generation Y, and of course a reminder that sometimes the best lesson for retailers, is to go shopping in the mall and watch what their target demographic is up to.

Cold Hard Concrete
A Marketing professor has found that products look more inviting, and you are more likely to purchase them, when you are standing on concrete floors versus carpet. It's an inverse relationship, and counter-intuitive, but the study showed that when customers have a slight level of discomfort under foot, they view the products much more positively, which converts to sales.

It's not just the floor though. Professor Joan Meyers-Levy has also studied ceiling height, discovering that high ceilings make consumers look at the bigger picture, while low ceilings make shoppers focus on details.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Wild Rumpus Edition

While The Retail Muse was glued to the tube watching the increasing bizarre saga of "Balloon Boy", a riot broke out at the Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart starts a book price war, Kindle comes up spades, and, with all the pomp and circumstance of a visit to the Magic Kingdom, Disney might actually get their retail presence right this time.

All this, including ER Iphone apps, and of course, Maurice Sendak and the Wild Things Let the wild rumpus begin notions!

There's a Riot Going on.

Another one of those "you can't make this stuff up" articles, concerning one Columbus, Ohio Burlington Coat Factory, a stretch Hummer limo, a lottery winner, and a riot in the racks.

Showing up in a giant stretch Hummer Limo at the Burlington Coat Factory, Linda Brown walked into the store, telling the shoppers that she had just won 1.5 Million in the lottery. To celebrate, she was buying everyone in the store a coat - up to $500. Naturally, bedlam ensued with 500 customers lining up at the registers, cashiers ringing up sale after sale, and another 1000 customer waiting outside to get in and take part in the freebie winter wraps.

Brown, who it turns out had not won the lottery, had her limo driver take her to a bank machine, and then returned to the store empty handed. admitting she had no money to pay for all the merchandise.

Customers acted in the most sensible manner possible, grabbing merchandise, demanding their free stuff and throwing merchandise on the floor. Store employees called in 2 dozen police officers to handle the crowds and restore order. Too late. As one Detective commented, "it was like Hurricane Katrina had swept through the store"

Talk about crying wolf coat.

How low can you go?, drove new book prices down to $8.99 for upcoming hardcover releases. Amazon matched the price point, and an all out price war hasdeveloped, driving hardcover books down 50% to 70% off the publisher suggested list price.

Publishers and booksellers responded that this price dumping wasn't good for the industry, and puts some publishing houses and authors in peril. Other industry observers noted that this price discount model on new titles rarely works, and only further erodes a fragile industry.

Kindle on campus? The results are mixed.

Two hundred students, who received free Kindle book reading devices from Amazon this year, have less than stellar reviews for the device. Many mentioned that the traditional textbook still seems to work. While the Kindle was praised for being a light and handy device, many students found the highlighting and note taking features to be lacking, confusing and not necessarily a good format for learning information.

Still, one student pointed out that using Kindle to listen to her textbooks while sitting in a traffic jam was a great feature, raising the possibility that Kindle could play an important role for students with disabilities in accessing and understanding material from textbooks.

While the jury is still out on the effectiveness on Kindle in the classroom, Amazon plans to use the information culled from this trial for further enhancements and modifications, with an eye of making Kindle an essential part of the student learning experience.

Disney Does Retail (again)

Been to a Disney store lately? No we didn't think so. Once profitable and engaging, Disney stores have fallen on bad times. Poorly and cheaply merchandised, and lack of customer service, the chain has struggled to regain its footing in the malls of America.

Now, with a little help from their Apple friend, Steve Jobs, Disney has launched a new prototype store called "Imagination Park" Gone are rows of merchandise. Instead, a new entertainment theme has been developed. Children can now watch movie clips, chat with Disney stars live via satellite, and sing along to their favorite Disney song.

Microchips in products would unveil hidden entertainment within the stores, fiber optic trees would come alive through the space, and cashiers would be equipped with handheld wireless devices to ring up purchases on the sales floor.

A dramatic change? For Disney retail, definitely a new outlook. Inspired by Jobs comments to "think big", access to Jobs wildly successful Apple stores, and a desire to re emphasise entertainment within a traditional store setting, Disney is setting it's sighs high.

With each store costing a reported $1 million to create and overhaul, it's a big risk for Disney, but has been met with overall enthusiastic response from industry watchers.


Apple Store sales average a whopping $4,700 a square foot. By far the highest for a chain retailer. By comparison, Best Buy clocks in at $1000/sq foot. How does your store compare?

Doctor Doctor, Give me the news.

If you are driving down the freeways of Florida, and wondering how long it would take a doctor to see you at the local ER, well you are in luck! Hospital Corporation of America (East Florida Div) has installed large billboards which include an RSS feed showing the estimated wait times at your ER. (Hmmmm says the Muse.....Didn't we talk about this as a good idea recently?)

The company has developed an iphone and texting app (called itriage) that allows you to send a request, and receive information on the closet ER, access to a ER nurse and of course the estimated waiting time.

This is not going to work when you are having a heart attack! The company is quick to point out that 911 should be your first call in critical situations. Yet, it is an intriguing and smart use of technology. Dancing on the line between brilliant and gimmicky; which all great marketing campaigns are made of.

Wild make my heart sing.

Offer a children's literature course on campus? Then time to head to the textbook stacks and brush off your copies of "Where The Wild Things Are", Maurice Sendak's Caldicott award winning book. Considered one of the finest children's picture books ever, (although the Muse has a soft spot for Brown's Goodnight Moon"), Sendak's magnum opus is getting big press as the movie adaptation opened in theatres this weekend.

It's a curious amalgamation of the best in children's literature, one of the best directors in the country (Spike Jonze), and a script penned by McSweeny's founder and "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" author David Eggers.

Reviews have been lukewarm for the film, but displaying the book in your store along with a few plays of the Troggs hit "Wild Thing", and you are sure to attract attention and re-live those moments when you wanted to be just like Max.

Happy campus rumpus!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Halloween Horrors

Potato chips, candy, dressing as vampires! Has The Retail Muse gone all Halloween three weeks early? Seems like it, and as the muse gorges on salty snacks and tightens his cape, he checks out student bloggers, Vooks, silly walks and "who loves yeah baby". All this and more in the Muse's personal Zombieland.

The economic pillar of salt.
Presumably, an indication of how bad the economy is, can be measured by the quantity of potato chips consumed. Not an economic theory yet, but salty potato chip snack sales have risen 22% since the economy tanked. As the economy recovers, sales will rise a modest 4% per year.

Why? Experts say it's because salty snacks are a good value (which The Muse thinks means "filling"), and a growing trend to chop down on chips between meals. Although 2/3 of shoppers say they want healthier alternatives to chips, with over 300 new salty snacks hitting the market in the last year, it's clear that wants, and needs are not translating into increased sales.

Candy Land

If your idea of a good time at the store is slipping into a diabetic coma, then Dubai is the place for you. Candylicious is the name of the worlds largest candy store, recently opened in Dubai, UAE, spanning 10,000 square feet of sweet fun. Pillars embedded with candy and a candy airplane flying overhead are just two of the out of the world experiences at this candy haven.

The Twilight of True Blood

Even if consumers are going all frugal this Halloween season, Vampires are the #1 choice for adults as a costume. The success of True Blood, and excitement building for the new Twilight movie, have made vampires a must costume this season. Pirates, costume choices. Nurses and politicians have fallen down on the list of most popular.clowns and the Muses' favorite, - Wenches/tarts/vixens, round out the top five Health Care Fatigue?

Recruiting Student Bloggers

MIT has ramped up the blogging of students, encouraging enrolled students to blog on anything and everything about their campus experience. There must be a few good nuggets about campus retail in these blogs, one guesses, but recruiters are using these blogs to appeal to High School students, and prospective recruits to show the
human fun side of college life. MIT has grasped it in a big way, but Amherst, Yale and Vasser are all seeing these blogs as an effective recruitment tool for new students.

When panic sets in

Book publishers, checking out their financial statements, are developing multi media applications for popular ebooks. After years of trying this with college textbooks, publishers are embedding video, charts and music within popular fiction and non fiction titles to ride the Kindle craze. The moniker for all this multi media mania is "vooks" (Video Books), one of the most unpleasant product names of all time.

Silly Walks.

It"s been forty years since the first episode of Monty Pythons Flying Circus sketch show, but interest and enthusiasm still runs strong. New documentaries, a stage show with the 5 remaining cast members, and a host of products are hitting the bookshelves and theaters in the next month. Interest in Python has never waned, with 12 year old to college students still reciting the lines of "bookshop" and "dead Parrot" and "ministry of Silly Walks" to anyone that doesn't roll their eyes in tedium. Still, a great and fun product line to sell in many a campus store.

Who loves yeah?

According to Internet Retailer the most talked about companies online include Amazon, Target and Ikea. The new survey tracks references to the retailers name over 100 million blogs, including analyzing the tone of each reference. Other most talked about retailers, include discounters like Wal-mart, Costco and Kmart. Other top fifty references include tech retails like BestBuy, and fashion depots such as H&M.

Pop up in Airports.

Campus retailers can always look to airport retail as a good example of what might come their way some day. In Glasgow, Scotland, pop Up retail has taken on a new form with the company Planeshop. This company is setting up pop up retail sites throughout the airport with the intent of changing the brand and product selection on a regular basis. A carousel of ever changing products for consumers. Customers can vote for the brands they would like to see in the store for the future, and as each brand "pops" up, the outside graphics change to lure new shoppers in.

Walgreen's Basics

Rather than roll out more locations, Walgreen's is taking a new tack, renovating existing stores and reducing inventory. Many of the nations Walgreen's will be renovated to update the in store experience. Additionally, Walgreen's is reducing the amount of products they carry, reducing a typical 22,000 item Walgreen's by some 5000 items. The hope is to make products more visible, weed out slow selling products and make the shopping experience more worthwhile for the customer.

Now, when was the last time you thought a campus store could take a page from Walgreen's?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Hair Metal Edition

The Retail Muse spent most of the week indoors, clipping coupons, stocking up on hand sanitizers, and listening to records by hair metal band Dokken. When the Muse did venture out, it was only to try out the new sub zero customer experience at the nearest shopping mall.

Happy Hair Metal Notions!

A coupon saved, a penny earned.

Remember the heady days of the early nineties when redeeming coupons were all the rage? Recall the coupon queens paying $12 for $160 in groceries? Well the coupon cutting and redeeming craze is back. 3 Billion coupons are projected to be redeemed by recession proofing shoppers this year. While well off the peak coupon year of 1992, when 7.9 Billion coupons were handed in, but a strong 23% increase.

Paper coupons, within stores and in newspaper flyers, still make up the vast majority of coupon redemption. Electronic and mobile coupons still have yet to catch on, accounting for less than 1/2% of all coupons redeemed. Consumer psychologists suggest that one reason e-coupons are not popular, is that paper coupons take time and work to acquire them. Coupon clippers feel they have outsmarted other shoppers.

Cleaning up on the flu

With fears of H1N1 virus, and flu season just around the corner, hand sanitizers have become the big break through product for 2009. Sanitizers are now a 112 Billion industry in the US, with sales of hand sanitizers rising 19% from a year earlier.

Health experts remain divided over the effectiveness of sanitizers. Many posit that washing hands effectively is still the best way to stay healthy. However, some experts point to growing evidence, that hand sanitizers might work more effectively, since individuals tend to use them more frequently, and more thoroughly, that hand washing.

Whatever the case, The Muse has noticed the increase in hand sanitizer centers at many businesses recently. The Bank has yet to install one, and with all that dirty money you would think this is the first place for a giant hand sanitizer center.

Dokken and Norton

What do you do if you are a company like Norton, and you are faced with selling an uber geek software package like Norton Internet Security 2010? Well hire a hair metal band, like Dokken, that's how. Members of Dokken - An 80's hair metal band when hair metal ruled the world, have been hired, along with a chicken, to promote the Norton software. Will Dokken hurt the chicken? will the chicken be saved? Watch and decide the chicken's fate in this well designed ad campaign going viral.

Baby it's cold inside

The Retail Muse is not known for his love of Sub arctic temperatures, so it was with some trepidation and fascination that the Muse stepped into the new Mark's Work Wearhouse, on the Southside of Edmonton, Canada, to try out their new customer engagement experience.

Off to the side of the massive work super store is the $35,000 customer cooler. Looking oddly like something from an episode of Sopranos, the cooler simulates -40 temperatures and adds wind chill simulation, giving the Muse the sensation of standing in his backyard any day in February.

The idea behind this customer cooler is not simply deep freeze masochism, but rather to sell coats. Jackets with names like Arctic Defender are the selling point and trying each style out in the freezer certainly does give you a sense of how well the winter jacket will work in the outdoors.

After trying out three arctic coat combinations (along with matching gloves of course), the Muse discovered, not surprisingly, that the best coat for the cold was also the least fashionable. Bundled up like a woolly Mammoth standing in a stainless steel cold wind tunnel, the Muse mused that this indeed was a clever customer experience.

After stumbling out and unwrapping in aisle 3, Trevor, the pleasant and knowledgeable staff member commented that management is thinking of adding a water "feature" to mimic icy conditions. The Muse will pass.

So is this Disneyland for work wear profitable? Accordingly to Trevor, sales have been amazing on winter coats, even with winter a distant thought. Plus, commented the happy clerk, customers bring their friends to try out the cold factor, and many purchase coats or gloves as well.

The Muse left with a new pair of gloves. If only to protect his hands when he goes back for the icy freeze up water feature experience.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Autumnal Equinox Edition

The official first day of fall, and The Retail Muse grabs a Jamba Juice, stumbles across a popped up toy store, finds the nearest blockbuster closed, and joins the injured while trying to open packaging.
While the leaves turn and the days shorten, The Muse considers great customer service and Amazon's pursuit of world domination.

Happy autumnal notions!

Juicing for campus

Jamba Juice continues to focus attention on campus and airport locations. Recently they opened their ninth location for 2009 at Northwestern University. It is their 30th campus location since 2007. Touting the "good for you" Jamba Juice product, coupled with the convenience "quick serve" factor, Jamba Juice has also focused on sustainability when building on campus.

Campus locations are built with recycled materials, Meet LEED certification, and are designed with a focus on reducing heating and air-conditioning costs.

Toys Popping Up

Toys R us is rolling out 350 pop up temporary stores, in an effort to boost sales and increase market share during the holiday season. The temporary toy stores and boutiques will mainly be set up in empty retail mall spaces. For Toys R Us, they hope to get their name out there in a big way this year, and combat continued price pressure from competitors such as Sears and Wal-Mart.

Recession killed the video store.

Less than a week after we told you about Redbox expansion plans for DVD rental kiosks, comes word that Blockbuster plans to close as many as 960 store locations. Blockbuster plans to shift focus into the DVD and Game rental kiosk format as a store replacement. 2500 kiosks are planned to be opened this year, and 10,000 by next year.

It is a sign of the recessionary times, that Blockbuster is making this move. Almost slipping into bankruptcy last year, this move is aimed at improving liquidity, and eliminating the 18% of stores that are not profitable.

Maimed by Packaging.

Have you ever been frustrated, angry, or injured while trying to open that hard plastic clam shell packaging surrounding your latest purchase? You're not alone. In a report from an NBC Dallas Fort Worth affiliate, Scott Gordon reports that 6000 people a year are injured while trying to open the common packaging. Retailers are starting to respond. Best Buy is planning to phase out the packaging in their stores, and Amazon is shipping items wrapped in cardboard.

Presumably the handy tip to open this packaging is "kitchen shears". The Muse does not own such an item, instead using the tried and tested method of rusty blunt scissors and teeth.

Service is still the old stand by.

Retailers cost cutting, layoffs and closures might save some dollars, but is comes at the expense of customer service. In an article for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Laura Baverman asked a number of businesses, and consultants about declining customer service. All the individuals said the same thing. Service is paramount, especially during tough economic times. One consultant noted that companies who have cut staff, or reduced services, are struggling to keep customers happy

It's a good reminder that when times are bad, don't focus on cutting the front end of your business. Keeping the customer happy, and providing a positive experience, still is the way to keep your business afloat and profitable.

Amazon and world domination.

For 15 years, has been the scourge of independent booksellers and music stores. Now add a growing list of general merchandise retailers fearing Amazon, as world wide sales of non book items will be surpassed by sales of other general merchandise this year.

Amazon is becoming the world's general store, says Brad Stone, from the New York Times. It's not all books, CDs and DVDs. Now the focus is on Lego, diapers, big screen televisions and sporting goods.

The key to Amazon's success rests with an impressive and efficient inventory management system, a highly advanced management system, that sells the goods to customers before the bill from the supplier is due, and of course customer service. Fast efficient service, backed up by free shipping promotions to loyal and "prime" customers.

Major retailers and independents are scrambling to respond, much with limited success. Independents focus on the tangibility of being able to touch and feel a product before buying, as well as knowledgeable service staff. Major retailers, such as Target and Wal-Mart, are looking to revamp their web site offering in an effort to create "Amazon lite" sites, and preserve market share.

Jeff Wilkie, Amazon's senior VP of North American retail sums it up best; "we are becoming increasingly important in the lives of our customers, which has been our mission from the beginning"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sometimes a great Notion - September 14

This week the Retail Muse talks marriage. The marriage of IPhone and textbooks, DVDs and vending, smart screens and shelf tags, billboards and tote bags, and of course, dollar stores and wedding vows.

Happy wedded bliss notions!

There's (not) an App for that.

Randall Stross, Business instructor at San Jose State University, took a hard cold look at reading textbooks on the apple Iphone. Using the apple Iphone app etextbooks, developed by CourseSmart, Stross found that reading a traditional textbook, on a small six square inches of display, was tiresome and tedious. The traditional paper book still wins in his eyes. While he sees some benefits of Kindle applications for textbook reading, until the price drops, he doesn't see students swooping into ebooks in big numbers.

Publishers who founded CourseSmart, sell up the convenience factor of etextbooks, but Stross points out that as a practical application, there is not an app for the textbook / Iphone marriage.

Cranking out the DVDs

Every few years in the retail landscape, someone comes up with a new vending machine that will change the world. Most fail or never live up to expectations, but Redbox might be changing that. Redbox is an Illinois company that rents DVDs through a fully automated vending machine, charging $1 for the rental. By the end of the year, Redbox plans to have 22,000 machines placed in supermarkets, WalMart and convenience stores.

Redbox is not the only player in this opening market. DVDPlay and MovieCube are two others, with Blockbuster, about to launch their own version of vending movie rentals. Citing convenience, ease of use, and a wide range of popular titles, consumers are gaining acceptance of this fast form of rental. Retailers see this service as a way to draw regular traffic into stores.

Seems like campus stores would be a great place for a Redbox or two.

Epaper Shelf Tags.

A Seattle natural food market will begin testing the latest invention, the epaper shelf tags from ZBD Solutions. Instead of paper shelf tags, the tags utilize small LCD displays to broadcast price, description and promotional information. While the company is touting this technology innovation as an environmentally friendly solution, the other major benefit is the ability to update information quickly and easily. The tags are clear, easy to read and a size that is perfect for all that textbook course information. Something that most campus retailers pull their hair out trying to manage.

Tote a billboard

Target is always a clever and ingenious retailer with an artistic flair. Pairing up with designer Anna Sui, Target plans to reuse their Times Square billboards into trendy exclusive tote bags. Certainly a great recycling of otherwise disposed of advertising material. The totes will be sold in target stores nationally, beginning January 2010.

99 cent vows.

The Hollywood, California (well where else?) Cents Only dollar store wins the prize for best in store promotion ever, inviting nine couples to be married in their store for the princely sum of 99 cents. After the 5 minute wedding ceremony, behind dented cans of chicken noodle soup, the newly married couples attended a reception, entirely made up of 99 cent lunch items, and then were whisked off to a luxury hotel for the honeymoon.

Over 500 entries were received for the promotion, so it seems that the pursuit of frugality knows no bounds these days. No comment on what exactly the buffet was with 99 cent luncheon items. We'll leave that to your imagination.

Friday, September 11, 2009

She's Leaving Home (clutching a cell phone)

What happened to make back to school shopping the second largest retail event of the year? Just six years ago, college spending on back to school (excluding textbooks), was $16.7 billion. Now in 2009, spending is estimated to almost double, $30 Billion.

One suggestion for these huge increase in numbers, is that the Back to School season speaks, not only to the practical need for items to get students through the school year, but of the emotional, and psychological need of parents, as their children leave home for the first time.

Ken Nisch with brand and design firm JGA is quoted in a recent USA Today article that "back to school has become a little bit like a Hallmark holiday". The need of parents to control the transition to college, along with a desire to share in the student's campus experience, has created this emotional need to embrace the back to school shopping experience.

This is the emotional side of shopping and purchasing. The need to be part of a major life event. Shopping calms parental anxiety as young ones head out the door, while at the same time, evoking warm fuzzy feelings of their own school or college bound experiences.

These are powerful emotional triggers. It is no surprise then that the focus at this time of year is less on the practical and more on the connectedness between parents, sons, and daughters. Communication devices such as cell phones are the primary purchases as parents adjust to the anxieties of staying in touch with their loved ones.

All this anxiety shopping speaks, as well, to Generation Y, and their relationship with home. Generation Y wants to stay connected to the family unit. Conversely, the Gen Y "helicopter" parent is more than happy to stay knitted into their children's life.

Those retailers that serve the campus back to school crowd can speak to parent's emotions by considering them as a vital and different sales channel. Supporting and speaking directly to parents when they are shopping in the campus store, opens up many possibilities to increase sales, and connect with a new customer group.

Gone is the concept that Back to School shopping is a function. Now it's role is that of emotional fulfillment. Which does, at the end of the day, means that line of Hallmark cards marking the occasion can't be far away.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Sept 7. 2009

Oh the post Labor Day malaise! After laboring all weekend, The Retail
Muse dons his mop top wig, sings Christmas with Dylan, gets tangled up
in blue receipts, checks out the lost symbol, gets blinded by OLED lights, and channels his inner Steve McQueen.

Happy Musical Notions!

Labor Day 2009
Nothing like the Labor Day weekend (or Labour Day for those north of the 49th). The unofficial end of summer, and packing the school, and
college kids back to school and academia. Did you know that Labor Day was actually started in Canada? In the 1870's in Hamilton and Toronto. Noticing a good idea, and dropping a vowel, the first Labor Day rally was held in the US in 1882. To celebrate, The Retail Muse listened to cheesy 80's song's from Loverboy, especially "Working for the Weekend". You can check out the video, and headbands, here.

Can't Buy Me Love.
It's time for the 21st century Beatle mania this week, as a host of products hit the shelves starting September 9. (9/9/9 - get it?). All the Beatles recording are being released on CD, re-mastered with new
liner notes, videos, and exceptional sound quality. Considering that the last releases on CD, sounded like the Beatles recorded the tracks
in the back garden loo, Beatles fans young and old, are eagerly
awaiting the new releases. Box sets, including a true mono set, are being released, along with the new Beatles Guitar Hero where you can channel your inner Beatle and rock out to"Octopus Garden". Now doesn't this sound like a fun lunch time activity on campus?

Pundits are betting on the Beatles single handily reviving the CD format, and boosting CD sales for the first time in years. Seems like a tough order to save free falling CD sales, but the Beatles still have legs even 40 years later, and expect these products to be must haves from now, through the holiday season.

Little Dylan Drummer Boy.
In the, "you can't make this stuff up" category, the latest news from the Bob Dylan camp is the October release of his first Christmas Album! Yes that's right, Dylan will growl, grumble, and mutter his way
through a host of traditional Christmas classics, all in the name of raising money and awareness for Feeding America. A guarantee to provide 4 million meals to families in need, is included in the press

It's such a strange item, for such a worthwhile cause. The Retail Muse is hoping stores will look into stocking this CD, with proceeds going to support student food banks this holiday season. After all, If there is one item to buy for the Christmas season, this is it!

Tangled up in Receipts
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the growing length of customer receipts. Buying a pack of gum these days, seems to generate a novella of information.Everything from bar codes, product descriptions, return policies and feedback opportunities abound.

Customers seem a little disenchanted with the lengthy paper trail, questioning the value of the information and the waste of paper. On the flip side though, Customers respond to comment requests and coupon offers on receipts at a much greater level than traditional comment cards and mail outs.

A Lost Symbol?
Next week is the big Dan Brown, Lost symbol week for booksellers.
Brown's follow up to the Da Vinci Code, hits the street September 15, with a 5 million copy print run from Knopf. Amazon and Barnes and
Noble are going gangbusters with early orders, with independent booksellers concerned about price discounting and the book available everywhere. Booksellers are looking for ways to market the book, including giving it away with a $100 in store purchase.

Blinded by the OLED Lights
OLED Lights, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes, are being touted as the next great environmental lightning solution with a wide range of
applications. These new lights not only exist as one single light, but can be manufactured into large sheets of light for use in commercial and retail applications. Although the cost is high, the price will come down as designers and manufactures begin looking to this new technology as a viable and illuminating solution for environmentally sustainable lighting solutions.

Steve McQueen and the Fast Machines
Sheryl Crow crooned a few years ago about being "like Steve McQueen,Needs a fast machine". Now the fashion industry has caught up, and
Steve McQueen is the new icon fashion face for a number of designers.
Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, and Michael Kors have all launched menswear items featuring, or inspired by, the long lost "king of cool" Although aimed at the over 50's crowd that remember McQueen, the designers see
the actor gaining traction with the 20 something crowd.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tweeting Value

Marshall MacLuan wrote that the medium is the message. If this is true, then new social networking applications, specifically Twitter, should be the holy grail to market and promote products to wayward customers.

Companies, (and specifically their marketing departments), have wasted no time jumping on the twitter bandwagon. It's free, easy to use, and blasts simple marketing messages out to a wide range of users with rapid speed. But with all these positives, do customers really want to know about pizza promotions and free coffee?

If there is a place for this marketing angle, then surely there must also be a place to use twitter as a tool to engage customers, add some value to your business, and create opportunities to enhance your service. Checking this idea out, The Retail Muse found a few great ideas that make twitter an effective, and powerful online medium, especially for the campus market.

Clever Customer Service
Large companies such as Comcast have found that twitter is an effective way to respond to customer help queries. Other companies, both large and small, have also used Twitter as a way to reach customer comments and complaints in record time. For campus stores the ability to respond quickly to student questions is a huge benefit. Imagine how swiftly you can respond to student complaints, solving the problem in a proactive manner, before they have told 10 friends.

Feedback and Focus Groups.
Every business wants to know how they are doing, but struggle with the machinations of creating, compiling and analyzing surveys and focus groups. How about using twitter to get simple immediate feedback from your student customers? Simple questions such as "did you get what you needed?" "What would you like to see in store?". Consider also watching discussions about your store on line. As one company spokesman said, "twitter is the canary in the coalmine". Watching for customer discussions about your store is a good way to hear feedback and quickly respond to it.

Customer Expectation Management
Jet Blue tweets flight delays. Comcast used twitter to inform subscribers that a lightning storm knocked out transmission, and approximately when service would be restored. United Linens advised customers by twitter that deliveries would be delayed after a major snowstorm.

Thinking about these ideas, it seems like the campus store could utilize twitter very effectively, to keep students in the loop, and informed. Tweet how long your rush lineups are, or how ling the wait time is. Tweet when the store is N|OT busy at rush. Let them know the best times to come in. Use twitter to let students know when that back ordered textbook finally arrived, or that you are sold out of a specific title,and the approximate delivery date. How bought tweeting the top titles needed for buyback? Reminders about your return policy deadlines? All these and more are a simple and effective way to provide valuable real time information to your student customers.

Employee Recruitment
Sodexho, a food services provider on many campuses, has been using twitter as an employee recruitment tool. Simple and effective, Sodexho sends an automated message out to prospects whenever a position opens up. The messages are opened 30% of the time. What a great inexpensive way to recruit casual and student employees for your store.

And More
Do you have other ideas? how have you being using twitter in your store? Tweet "the Retail Muse" and let us know! Good ideas are just a tweet away.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Aug 31, 2009

The lazy, hazy, last days of summer. The retail muse relaxing in a deck chair, watching the sun set, and musing on the future. Will the fashionista tween boys of 2009 be the college students of 2018? Will guerrilla McDonalds marketing campaigns take over the hallowed halls of academia? How will customers respond to more soap box marketing? All these  are on the Muse's mind as he sleeps single in an Ikea bed and reads, that no matter what is happening in the economy, the class of 2013 is heading to school with full wallets and optimism. 

Happy back to school notions! 

Sometimes a great notion - Week of August 31, 2009 

FASHION (turn to the left) FASHION (turn to the right) 

Every fashion manufacture and retailer worth their due has been chasing the tween girl market for a few years now. But what about those 11-14 year old boys? Is Mom still dressing them? According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, the answer is a resounding no. Tween boys, saturated by skater culture and videos, are breaking out in record numbers, looking for branded, trendy clothes to wear this back to school season. Citing Lacoste, TNT, and Diesel, these boys are looking to stand out and dress well, even at 11. It's an interesting trend to stay on top of. No sweatpants and grubby Ts for this group. Rather, upscale, branded, cutting edge fashion. 

They think about their wardrobes, plan their outfits, and want to represent a social strata. Still, they are not completely without words of wisdom. One tween says that the one thing he would NOT wear is a thong. Words of fashion wisdom for any age. 

When Marketing hits the classroom. 

Students at a recent Boston University marketing lecture, experienced a bit of real world marketing, when their class was interrupted by perky McDonalds reps, handing out free coffee drinks to the class. But the students, happy to get a free mcLatte were the unknowing stars of a new national commercial that McDonalds plans to air nationally in the next two weeks. Hidden cameras recorded the event, editing it into a full blown commercial with the surprised students. Marketing students later did have the opportunity to spend time with the advertising agency, learning how commercials are developed, implemented and edited, but it raises a big question. If this something that campuses will embrace to solve budget shortfalls? You can see the rough cut video here: 

Stand on the soap box. 

Retailers, have for many years, embraced social and charitable issues as a way to resonate with customers. This has not always been successful, when you consider the "green washing" and now "pink washing" comments directed at some retailers and manufacturers. Now, The Body Shop, has launched a campaign to raise awareness and halt global sex trafficking. It's an important issue to be sure, but will customers want to hear about sex trafficking while shopping for aloe? According to Simon Houpt the jury is still out, and Body Shop is taking a fairly soft touch with their awareness campaign. 

Sleeping Single in an Ikea Bed. 

If you ever have rolled your eyes at students sitting around and sleeping on your furniture, then this article is for you! The LA Times recently wrote an article about how much Beijing, China likes Ikea. But, not in the way you think. Instead of sales, Ikea in China (there are 7 stores), has encountered most of their customers visiting the store to hang out and sleep. Customers arrive with a plan to spend 5 hours or more in the store. Snacking at the restaurants, bringing books and stuffed toys for their kids, napping in the beds and generally using Ikea as a vacation site for a Saturday afternoon. Ikea hopes eventually that all these napping  customers will translate into sales, but until then they are letting the sleeping experience continue. 

Confident Class of 2o13 

A recently released Alloy College Explorer survey found that the class of 2013 was heading back to school more concerned, and conservative, than ever before. But, more positive about their personal impact and the future of the economy. 

The survey goes on to mention that while their may be an economic downturn, the 2013 class still has to have it, has the money to pay for it, and wants "it" to evoke "happy" and "trusted" feelings. They see Apple, Target, Sony, and Wrigley as meeting their "happy" needs, while they trust brands like Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, and Dell. 

Are they happy with your store? do they trust your store? 

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - August 24

With Fall 2009 back to school rush hitting campuses right about now, The Retail Muse stands in some lineups, reads the NYT, wonders about those new discounts at Abercrombie, thinks about the campus tour, and pauses to consider voice recognition for finding textbooks. 

Shuffling through the long line, The Retail Muse practices some shadow puppets, to lighten the mood and keep all amused. 

Happy lineup notions! 

The waiting is the hardest part. 

You don't have to tell a campus retailer that the biggest challenge during rush, is managing the lineup and wait times. Still, according to the Wall Street Journal, the biggest, ongoing checkout lineups  continue to be with your local grocery store. And it's driving customers nuts. The biggest complaint mentioned by customers, outside of waiting time,  is fairness. No matter what line you take at the checkout, you will end up in  the slowest one. 

Now retailers are moving from individual checkout lines, to one large line. Just like banks, airlines, and College Stores! 

Buffing the price. 

After insisting that they would stand firm on  their pricing strategy, no matter what the economy was doing, retailer Abercrombie and Fitch has finally blinked. After a recent quarterly loss, Abercrombie is revisiting it's retail prices, and looking for ways to add value, and appeal to cost conscience buyers. Not sure if this is too little, too late, but desperate times calls for desperate measures, even in the buff world of A and F. 

Backwards, forwards. 

Colleges are looking at ways to improve the college tours says the New York Times. Besides focusing on more dialogue with the attendees, the biggest change for college tour guides is to walk forwards! That's right, auditors of college tours noted that being a tour guide, walking backwards all the time, resulted in a rather challenging conversation, and the risk of hitting trees. 

Sensible markdowns. 

BusinessWeek has an interesting article on the perils of discounting, focusing on the top three rules of sensible markdowns. Discount briefly, discount credibly, discount creatively. An excellent article for all buyers, merchandisers and managers to consult before slashing prices. 

The death of the textbook. 

It must be August, when the media goes to print with the latest and greatest ideas to avoid purchasing textbooks. The New York Times has an exhaustive article on publisher direct textbook rentals, while a recent article from canwest news service voices enthusiasm over the virtual textbooks as convenient as a students' iPhone. 

Speak to me. 

If customers are getting lost in your store, searching out the required titles for this fall, then this might be for you. Ace Hardware is rolling out a pilot program to tell customers where in the store items are located, via their cell phone, and voice recognition software. The customer says the name of the product, and then, the system tells the customer where the product is located in the specific store. Presumably this will make shopping for nuts and bolts that much easier, but imagine if this worked for your textbooks! 


Only the cold hearted dislike bunnies and shadow puppets. US Cellular has just launched a new ad that has nothing to do with cell phones, but everything to do with charm. you can check out the video below, which should put a smile on anyone's face. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Frugal Notions

 Sometimes a Great Notion             Week of Aug 10 , 2009                                                

Ah the discount days of summer! With overall retail sales slumping in July, the trend to follow right now appears to be frugal shopping. Back to school season is all about savings, discounts, and cutting back on the BTS budget. Cheap is the new black.

Amongst all the doom and gloom, THERETAILMUSE checks out at the latest in restaurant trends, orders a coffee from McDonald's, tries to use the laptop in NYC, and hangs out with Sears (Sears?!), to choose some new dorm room accouterments.

Happy frugal notions!

Getting Chopped

A Tuscon, Arizona couple have opened a new restaurant concept called “chopped” . With two locations in Arizona, the couple hope to take their concept nationwide through franchising. The concept is pretty simple. Fresh, big, made to order salads, with fresh soup and sandwiches. Customers can choose from created salads or create their own by filling out a card, and ticking off their favorite ingredients. Salads range from 6.99 to 9.99. It’s a healthy, leafy version of 31 flavours ice cream. A perfect fit for campus food services.

A Cup of McJoe

McDonald's Corp should be happy these days. While all their competitors try to ride out the recession, McDonald's global sales have increased 4.3% in July. Most of this increase comes on the back of McDonald's coffee sales, including the espresso and latte’s, under the new McCafe banner. This low price, coffee alternative, is pulling people away from Starbucks and other premium brands, making a simple inexpensive cup of coffee a consumer delight.

Not always welcome.

Coffeehouses in New York City have had enough of people using their restaurants to dwell in, and use the free wireless service. Stating that customers take up tables that are needed for lunch rushes, one coffee shop owner has stopped offering wifi service in the café, and others are following suit. Although this appears to be happening only in NYC, it is likely to spread as owners and operators look for ways to maximize their investment. It reminds me of the trend to put chairs in Bookstores, then take them out, then now bring them back again. Keeps customers guessing I guess!

Radio Waves.

Presumably Radio Shack is still in business! To celebrate this fact, and to remind customers that they are still around, Radio Shack is re-branding as “the Shack”. Well, sort of. Word from Radio Shack CEO is that “the Shack” moniker will be used in marketing and branding statements, but the stores will remain as “Radio Shack” for the time being. Will this change confuse people, or just seem be ignored?

Old School Marketing

Since all the marketing money these days seems to be spent on E pursuits, a new study suggests that old school newspaper insert marketing may be just the way to go. According to MORI research, 59% of adults use newspaper inserts to review, analyze, and make purchasing decisions on products. Certainly bucks the conventional wisdom. Wonder if this holds true for the 18 to 25 year old crowd on campus?

Booksellers Unite.

Barnes and Noble has purchased B and N College Inc for 596 Million. The college division was separated from B and N in 1986. Interestingly, while B and N store sales are down 3% this year, the college division have seen sales increase averages of 6.2% over the past three years.

Powell’s City of Books is revamping its website to stay competitive, and remain a force within the online book purchasing world. Although significantly smaller than Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Powell’s attributes 25% of their yearly 45.2 million revenue through their online site. Plans to revamp the site include adding new product categories, and have resulted in new store positions, including an e-commerce store manager, an e-commerce marketing manager and technology specialist.

Dorm Room Chic

Sears has entered the dorm room business in a big way with a facebook application called “campus ready”. It  includes, among many things, an interactive dorm room design tool  that allows users to drag and drop furnishing into the space, getting a chance to see what their selections will look like in their new dorm. Of course, they can then choose color combinations, order online, and pick up from the Sears store nearest their campus. Smart idea, if somewhat utilitarian.

If Sears is not for your customers, check out an interesting article from the Hartford Courant: Dorm Décor on a Dime. The article describes a number of strategies students are using to ensure frugality (there is that word again), is not frumpy. Students are loading carts at dollar stores, checking out discounts on facebook and twitter, and browsing








Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Blink or miss it Notions

Remember last week when tales of retailers gearing up for BTS was all the rage? This week the mass merchants are price slashing deeper than ever before. Seems pretty difficult to compete on pricing right now, so The Retail Muse” searched out some weird and wonderful products, which might distinguish your store from all the rest. In the process, we found a few interesting tidbits on pop up retail, and how to keep up with changing trends.

 Blink or you’ll miss it notions!

 Sometimes a Great Notion                         Week of Aug 3, 2009                                                

  The $300 laptop 

Both Wal-Mart and Best Buy have launched major back to school laptop promotions, breaking the $300 retail price point. Best Buy is offering an entry level laptop at $299. Not to be outdone, Wal-Mart started offering its laptop this weekend, at a price of $298. Both companies are offering national branded product, although the laptops are definitely entry level, with low levels of RAM and Hard Drive size. At $300 though, customers will be giving some serious thought to these offers, and might have some trouble understanding the large price difference between these models, and laptops needed by college students.

 Weird and Wonderful 

Looking for products and services that make you stand out? Here are a few weird and wonderful ideas for the upcoming sales season: 

  • Web sites promoting handmade and unique items are gaining in popularity., Etsy, and Silkfare, are three web portals linking local artisans with interested buyers. As customers search out new and different products to buy, these sites have gained rapidly in popularity. Etsy, saw sales rise from $166,000 in their first year of business, to now over 87 million. Opportunities for retailers to hook up with these sites are growing. This allows stores the chance to stock, and sell items that customers can’t find elsewhere.
  • Harry Potter is so July 2009. This fall it is all about Twilight, as the second movie of the wildly popular book series hit the theatres this October. There are many opportunities for selling Twilight merchandise, including of course, the books! Nordstrom has just launched a new fashion line in their stores inspired by the movie, called Twilight: New Moon collection. Except every other retailer to ride the Twilight bandwagon in the fall.

  • Mosquito repellent as the big seller? How weird is that! The new Proctor and Gamble clip-on mosquito repellent has become the must have item this summer. According to P and G, sales for the plastic clip-on mosquito repellent fan, sold under the “off” brand name, have exceeded sales projects by 400%
  • Stores are sold out, customers are searching far and wide for one, and P and G can’t keep up to the orders flooding in for this $9 geek clip on fan. Sometimes you got to wonder what grabs the attention of people.

 Pop goes the Store 

Pop up retail is back. The action of setting up stores in un-used spaces for a few days or weeks has had some success in the past. Now retailers are back to experimenting this summer, opening in old museums, abandoned store fronts and other, unused buildings. The key is to create excitement for the customer and emphasise scarcity. Buy it today or we are gone tomorrow.

 No word on retailers considering college campuses, like they did in some places last year. But, worth keeping an eye out on your campus in case the big Target bulls-eye is suddenly draped across your campus commons.

 Track it all 

Now you can track everything in the world of trends through it’s a free service that bills itself as a real time social and digital media tracking service. You can track up to ten trends from all the top social networking sites, and track twitter searches to see what is hot, and not,  every hour of every day. It’s an interesting site, proving again that mass culture trends come and go in the blink of an eye.