HMV engages customers with in-store displays

When your sales staff consists of the laid-back, so-hip-it-hurts set, how can you be sure you're getting your message across at ground level?...

When your sales staff consists of the laid-back, so-hip-it-hurts set, how can you be sure you’re getting your message across at ground level?

Music retailer HMV turned to displays – listening posts, interactive kiosks and signage – which act as silent salespeople, helping to reinforce the brand experience and drive sales.

Listening posts have been a fundamental in-store component since 1988, when HMV arrived on the Canadian retail landscape. The chain doesn’t monitor sales of the CDs featured at the posts, but Andrew Pollock, vice-president of marketing at the company’s headquarters in Toronto, says people enjoy the service element: ‘It’s like trying on a shirt before you buy.’

About a year ago, the retailer also debuted interactive kiosks at two locations in Toronto – on Queen Street West and at the Yonge-Eglinton Centre – where consumers can research and order music online. According to Pollock, the interactive kiosks are easy to use: ‘They need to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The last thing you want is a kiosk that’s so complicated, you have to take sales associates off the shop floor.’

Although kiosk purchases aren’t close to topping the charts yet – likely due to the fact that most teens don’t have credit cards – they too enhance the customer experience. ‘People tend to investigate with them,’ he says, adding that sales associates can also use them to dig up obscure tracks for patrons.

HMV, which has worked with numerous kiosk suppliers in the past, is still fine-tuning the interactive strategy, but the company does plan to roll it out to other stores eventually. ‘There are 300,000 titles online and only 30,000 to 40,000 in store,’ Pollock says. ‘So you have a situation where the store is never out of stock when you have kiosks.’

HMV knows that the personality of its stores is crucial to sustaining its brand identity, but with varying store layouts – 70 of its 97 shops are tucked into malls – Pollock admits it’s a challenge to maintain consistent appearances across the board. ‘This isn’t McDonald’s or the Gap,’ he says. ‘You have to accept what you’re given.’ As a result, HMV has developed five ongoing wall display campaigns that help keep the HMV atmosphere uniform, develop the brand’s personality and, of course, push CDs.

‘Revive Your Drive,’ a recent national in-store signage campaign, is like a scene from The Brady Bunch gone awry. A couple sits on a black leather sofa, set against a bubble-gum pink backdrop. Aside from shoes and socks, her 1950s-type hair rollers and his Buddy Holly eyeglasses, they are completely in the buff, their private parts concealed by a garment the woman expertly knits. And, funnily enough, the guy needs a rather large cover-up to hide the family jewels.

Designed by Toronto-based agency Capital C, the displays hit stores in February, a month when sales are slow and there isn’t much happening on the music scene, according to Pollock.

‘There are only two things going on in February – people don’t have any money and Valentine’s Day,’ he jokes. ‘But we couldn’t make it about Valentine’s Day, because it’s only two days and a cloud of dust. We wanted to do something with love, but in our own way.’

HMV featured the cheeky couple in its windows – where the display was accented by silver tinsel – and in-store. The posters pushed two sales: one offering new CDs from hot artists like Nelly Furtado, Jennifer Lopez and O-Town, the other featuring the works of romantic, old-time crooners like Frank Sinatra.

While a typical national effort boosts sales by 12% to 14%, Pollock says ‘Revive Your Drive’ pegged closer to 20%, and increased profits 60% during Valentine’s week, compared to the previous year. (A campy TV spot by Toronto agency Acme starring a couple that played strip poker with CDs instead of cards supported the in-store effort. The commercial ran on youth-oriented stations like MuchMusic, YTV and Space: The Imagination Station.)

‘I think the campaign struck a chord,’ says Pollock, who adds that it conveyed the brand’s personality to a T. ‘It’s hip, irreverent, tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top,’ he explains. ‘It’s about music, not a cure for cancer. It should be fun.’

In addition to beating HMV’s sales target of $4 million, ‘Revive Your Drive’ also boosted the retailer’s market share of various releases, including Jennifer Lopez’s J Lo (34%), O-Town’s O-Town (26%) and U2′s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (29%).

The campaign also drew complaints, but Pollock, who acted as a sounding board for a handful of squeamish consumers, wasn’t fazed by the criticism. ‘If people aren’t noticing what’s going on in our window, then we have a problem,’ he says. ‘Given who I’m targeting here, if people call and say, ‘You’ve gone too far,’ that’s a good thing.’

Along with the national campaign, which changes its tune every five weeks or so, there are four other in-store signage programs at HMV: A secondary feature, an events release promotion, HMV Exposed and Best Music Ever. The secondary effort focuses on a particular genre of music, such as electronica. ‘Once customers come into the store, they trip over it,’ says Pollock. ‘They’ll have heard of electronica, but they won’t know anything about it. The graphics help educate the consumers.’

Similarly, the events release promotion highlights a new work by one of the music industry’s latest obsessions. In late January, for example, a push for J Lo gave away free catalogues and sold 6,000 copies of the title in one week. Meanwhile HMV Exposed – its sexy graphic portrays a young woman pulling down her black leather pants to expose a pink treble clef tattoo on her unblemished, white ass – spotlights ‘bands that are about to explode’ like the Dandy Warhols and Coldplay, while Best Music Ever sells the classic sounds of Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and the Beatles, among others.

Also in this report:

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- Teletoon draws kids with Animation Station: Travelling display let youngsters create their own cartoons p.B14