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.