Retail wisdom: why is it almost an oxymoron?

Retail wisdom: why is it almost an oxymoron?

In their ongoing e-brainstorming re: strengthening the role of Canada’s marketing industry, Queen’s prof Ken Wong and Capital C CEO Tony Chapman identify retail intel as an underused advantage. To join the exchange, just email Ken, Tony or Mary with your ideas.

From: Tony Chapman

[tchapman@capitalc.ca]

To: Ken Wong

cc: Mary Maddever

Subject: Who owns retail?

We have heard all the stats – 70% of purchases are made on impulse; mass advertising recall is at its lowest level ever. If both hold true, why is retail, which should be the last three feet of a marketing plan, often disregarded as a place to build brands?

From: Ken Wong

[kwong@business.queens.ca]

To: Tony Chapman

Great point. I suspect it is the same reason why people struggle with new media. We know it matters, but there’s precious little research on how to do it right or even on how consumers act at the point of purchase. I tell people, ‘Park yourself in the aisle and watch people buy your category.’ Those who take the advice come back and say, ‘Wow…did you know…?’ Those who don’t will usually respond, ‘That’s hokey,’ or ‘That’s not what marketers do.’ Silly me…I thought marketers looked for consumer insight.

From: Tony

To: Ken

LMAO. Too many marketers use trends as insights, and beautiful research decks as their justification. The only way you can hope to uncover a killer insight – one that provides your brand with white space – is to roll up your sleeves. To get to know how your consumer thinks, feels and behaves means observing them in store.

Sunsilk’s ‘Wig Out’ viral is a great example of using an insight – the extreme emotional reaction that woman have to a bad hair day. To determine whether this insight has any market power, you need to spend time in the shampoo aisle observing how women continuously shop this category, looking for the miracle hair product. That spells opportunity.

From: Ken

To: Tony

And the opportunity doesn’t stop with the consumer. Every retailer wants to max out their sales per square foot and every supplier wants to find some way of cementing relations with retailers. But you can’t do that by simply fighting with other reps to see whose computer-driven planogram is used. This is especially vital in an era when even the big-box stores recognize the need to be neighbourhood- and often ethnically focused. Do Asians shop differently than Europeans? I’m not sure, but I’d really want to know depending on my retailer’s store location.

From: Tony

To: Ken

I couldn’t agree more. Commodification is rampant in the marketplace, and the middle ground has collapsed, leaving the consumer to trade down to price or trade up to super premium. This consumer behaviour isn’t just affecting brands, it’s killing retailers – the dollar store is the fastest-growing category in North America.

The retailer’s response is to lower prices, squeeze vendors and hope for differentiation through private label and loyalty cards – all mass strategies. Instead, why don’t these retailers fish where the fish are? Identify the appetite of their shoppers, on a store-by-store basis, and bait the hook with the right message, product and service offering.

Is this possible in an era of driving ‘efficiency’ and a one-size-fits-all approach to a marketplace?

From: Ken

To: Tony

We’d better make it possible, or we’ll find a greatly reduced appetite for marketing services, especially in Canada. We may not like the globalization of positioning, but it’s hard to ignore the reality that it’s here. If we can’t find a way to localize around the point of purchase, why wouldn’t any right-minded company do the same with their merchandising: we’d know it was wrong, but in absence of a capacity to do it differently, why not take the efficiencies?

Sometimes we get a persecution complex in marketing. We think everyone’s out to deprive us of our ‘right’ to do our job. But in the end, it’s all about the money. If we can’t provide evidence to the contrary, why shouldn’t businesses – which have a responsibility to make money, and not to do great marketing – take the efficiencies? This brings us to the measurement and ROM issue. Anything shaking there? Email us.

Ken Wong is a career academic at Queen’s School of Business, where he’s obsessed with practising what he preaches. Tony Chapman is an entrepreneur/career brand guru and founder of Toronto-based indie agency Capital C. Both are inductees to Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends.