Carry on shopping

June 17, 2012

An interesting article was circulating this week about the impact of the recession on shoppers and hence how their behaviours had changed.  This got me thinking, always a bit dangerous, but isn’t it a case of the more things change the more they stay the same?

My take on it is this. 

Yes, we are still in recession and yes it has had an impact, but at the same time the same basic challenges still exist for marketing people.  It is still so much about Product, Price, Place etc, but not only are we having to work in more challenging times but then there’s also this thing called the internet. 

What that means is that a) people, and this is all people, have to some extent or another felt the impact of the recession and have therefore adapted their buying behaviours and b) the internet has been a catalyst for those changes. 

If anyone thought that the internet was going to make things easier for everyone then think again. For some maybe it does (make things easier) but for an awful lot of us it actually make things much more complicated.  We’re seeing that more and more with retailers being unable to effectively integrate their online and offline operations.  The internet has given huge power to consumers in their ability to research, compare, review and purchase.  Add in the economic downturn and this has given them real reasons to do more researching, comparing and reviewing.   Then we can’t forget of course that for conventional retailers it is not only about getting it right online – you’ve also got to get the basics right in store too – witness Tesco’s £1bn investment in its store portfolio and customer service!  And then it’s not just about doing that in a vacuum, you’ve got your competitors all experiencing the same pressures and looking to be more competitive themselves. 

So in short you’ve got a perfect storm being brewed up with consumers having to react to the economy combined with this great tool (the internet) to help them react more effectively.  But my point is this, despite the internet, and despite the economy, it still comes back to the obvious fact that success still derives from getting the marketing mix right.  The world has changed, but ultimately isn’t it still the same?


A (half) day out at the shops

June 9, 2012

It’s not often that I get a day out, or to be honest in this case a half day out, but with research taking place close by I had the opportunity to visit Stratford City, the new(ish) Westfield scheme.  And how interesting it was, I really should do it more often.

Approaching the centre from the train station, Stratford City is much more understated than its sister over in White City.  There is no grand entrance from the direction I walked and therefore the sense I got was of entering some huge space but having no sense of the scale.  Thankfully a printed mall guide was available which folded out into something larger than a sheet of A3 paper, the store list alone filling half of one side but despite that the font size was tiny that I don’t know how many people will actually be able to read it.  The challenge is that with so many stores and restaurants how on earht do you put it all down on paper – or alternatively why bother – or maybe just use electronic guides? 

First port of call the loos.  Always a good place to start since they are often indicative of a centre.  Wow!  Were they smart, clean, no spotless, and I guess they would be described by some one more poetic than me as elegantly modern.  This gave out all the right signals and even better, they were free!  (Always a point of much debate, “to charge or not to charge”, but in my mind anything that promotes dwell time is a good thing and with all these restaurants around you need to feel comfortable).

Walking around I was struck by the clever use of the overall space.  Hats off to the designers, it must have been tricky building around a major transport interchange, but the use of multiple floors gives it scale without giving the impression that you are walking miles and miles.  

You really will not starve in Stratford City. The food and drink choice is quite frankly both exciting and dare I say it baffling.  I can only believe that either a) the high footfall will allow every outlet to get its fair share or b) the winners and losers will be clear very quickly and we will see some rapid changes in the catering line up quite soon.

The fast food court was not open fully when I arrived, but McDonald’s was serving breakfast.  What I was struck by however was the number of tables laid out in 4s.  This is interesting since I cannot believe that the party size at Stratford City is significantly different from the average of less than 2 people. In short poor use of the available tables and chairs.

Despite the amount of catering I was slightly surprised by the lack of seating in the open areas.  There is nothing like a quick re-cap of where you are and where you want to go – even struggling with the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map of the centre – and you don’t always want to buy another tea/coffee/smoothie just to sit down.

Whilst covered centres are extremely popular for all the obvious reason to some they are almost claustrophobic.  Westfield have tried to alleviate this with an outdoor area they have called The Street.  This is great idea and since you can loop out and then back into the covered malls it gives a sense of ‘getting some air’.  Unfortunately on the morning of my visit The Street was acting like a wind tunnel so I suspect few people would want to stay outside long.

What did strike me however was the sense of lack of maintenance.  The leather chairs and sofas were already looking tired, but more concerning was that several internal (yes internal) signs were missing letters so rather than giving directions to ‘the Street’ what I read was to ‘he treet’.  As ever even in such a huge scheme it is the little things that matter, the attention to detail that makes the difference, and shows your shoppers that you care.

All in all a great centre, in all senses of the word.  Some parts still to be completed I know, but I look forward to returning again to see not only what it looks like completely finished but also to see if the maintenance teams have been a little more active.


No such thing as a free coffee?

March 17, 2012

 Now I like coffee. To be honest I am much more of a coffee person than I am a tea person, so when I heard about the free latte offer in Starbucks I was certainly going to make my way to the local branch.

I was somewhat fearful of a queue stretching half way down to the Steine, or perhaps the memo from head office has not actually reached/been sent toBrighton. But my fears were unfounded, the experience was better than expected. I was met by smiling staff who knew exactly what was going on. There was no embarrassment on my part asking for a FREE coffee, and I announced my name clearly – it’s not difficult to say, it’s Paul. I shuffled along the counter and when it appeared to be my turn the young lady serving called out for ‘Latte for Rail’.  Now that was me, I boldly announced it was my free coffee, despite feeling a bit foolish somehow and also slightly sorry for the assistant who could not get my name right.  But, what the hell it’s a free coffee.

The thing is it got me thinking about coffee. Yes really. To be honest I rarely find myself in any of the branded shop nowadays unless I am out of the office and in need of a coffee fix. In Brighton making a coffee in the office seems to be the obvious thing to do!

Firstly the cost. For the price of a take away I can buy a jar that does numerous cups – OK, so I also have to buy the milk too.

Secondly the quality. Naming names, Starbucks in Victoria station has to be the worst. If it isn’t cold, it’s all frothy and half full, so passing by always reminds me why I try to avoid them, Starbucks in particular.

Third the wait.  It’s only a coffee, OK it’s a cappuccino, or it’s a latte or a flat white (who named it that?) or some other poncy name, but it’s really a white coffee.  It seems to take forever to a) get served and then b) actually to get your drink, unless I’ve got a good half hour to spare I usually walk away.

So where does that take us?  Well it seems that the Starbucks offer generated simply huge numbers of twitter page impressions so I suppose the PR team are happy – even if like me quite a few noted the inability for those serving to get customers’ names right.  I’m slightly more positive towards Starbuck now after all they did give me some 50% off vouchers too.  But is this the start of the UK coffee wars?

I suddenly realised how many branded coffee shops there were in Brighton!  Costa alone has so many that it actually double-counts them on its own website!  It looks like there are five or six in Brighton, not including another in Hove. 

So how many more can they all build?  They all seem to stock the same range of drinks, I think they all have flat whites these days too.  Maybe growth now is going to come from stealing share.  Which may mean more loyalty cards, more price cuts and maybe with any luck more freebies. 

If you are asking, the name is now Rail, and anything with a silly name as long as it is full, and tastes of coffee will be just fine by me.


Don’t just do it

July 30, 2010

I read with interest in Retail Week a piece on B&Q and how they had embraced the internet for their on line research.

Using their own social media application ‘B&Q Voice’ they had generated their own panel of 80,000 customers which had allowed them to generate 2-way dialogue with their shoppers in the form of both quant surveys and through focus groups.

It is encouraging to see the research aspects of on line communities being made use of in addition to the ‘one to many’ broadcasting which seems to be the norm from many retailers.


False Positives

July 27, 2010

In a recent piece of research amongst shopping centre managers, we found that all the centres we spoke to are tracking footfall as part of measuring the performance of their centres. Footfall is useful figure  and a common currency that everyone can understand as it gives a broad indication of how a scheme is performing, so we weren’t that surprised by this result. What did surprise us was that less than 15% of centres were measuring their conversion.

Knowing footfall has gone up would lead you to believe that your centre is performing better, but if your conversion has dropped, you may actually have less people spending money than you had before.  So the centre may actually be performing worse in financial terms, but someone only tracking footfall may well believe that their centre is actually improving, and the root of the problem will never be looked in to.

By measuring other metrics such as conversion and party spend you can get a more accurate picture of the health of your scheme.


Designs on the future…

February 1, 2010

An interesting piece in this week’s Retail Week from Martha Lane Fox (subscription required). I quote from it here:

“I think stores, especially flagship ones, will not stock so much product and instead become a showcase for the brand with the opportunity to offer experiences and events to shoppers – a way of connecting customers with their values. Customers will then be able to order products via the web and collect them from local depots or central collection points.”

I happen to largely agree with this vision, but the big question is where does that take us? And following on from this, what does it mean in terms of store design and layout? Will shop units need to be so large, and if so what is to be done with all the space that will give us?

All good questions, I trust someone somewhere is looking for some answers.


Whatever next? It’s PyjamaGate

January 29, 2010

In amongst all the doom and gloom in our world it is great to see we still have a sense of perspective and the ability to focus on the real issues.

It seems that the wearing of pyjamas has become a hot topic for one supermarket in South Wales where customers have been pushing their trolleys dressed in their finest sleepwear. This of course raises a good question. Should shoppers be able to dress as they like or does Tesco have the right to dictate what their customers do or do not wear? Where does this lead on to? Banning football shirts but allowing rugby shirts, allowing jeans but not if they are too low slung?

Thankfully once again research comes to the rescue with the clarification that footwear must be worn and and nightwear is not permitted – a decision arrived at (according to the Tesco’s spokesperson) by “listening to customer feedback”.


I can really recommend Whatsisname.

January 28, 2010

Business Blueprints recently conducted a national survey of respondent’s views and aspirations on buying legal services.

Of those who had taken legal advice from a firm of solicitors in the last 3 years, only two thirds could recall the name of the solicitors that they had used. How scary is this for a brand?

Interestingly only 2 in 5 would definitely recommend the firm that they consulted, which may also be swayed by the fact they couldn’t remember the firm in the first place…


The Power of Facebook

December 21, 2009

Anybody who had any doubt of the power of marketing on Facebook has had an object lesson this week from a couple from Essex. Jon and Tracy Morter successfully campaigned using only a single medium, gathering nearly half a million fans on their Facebook page. Taking a song originally released 17 years ago and beating the 4-month long marketing campaign driven single from Joe McElderry shows the real power of reaching people. Taken in conjunction with the fact that this campaign was only one week long, and had no budget at all the results are truly remarkable.

This may now mark a true shift in UK businesses perceptions about online and social media. As we’ve already said in other blogs, more and more companies are using social media to reach and understand their customers. This is what research has always been designed to do, but the advantage of social media is that it enables the possibility of personalised two-way feedback between a brand and their customers. 2010 will be a year that using social media will become a mainstream business strategy, with more brands realising the huge potential that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter bring.


It’s Cyber Monday

December 7, 2009

For those who didn’t already know it today, Monday 7th December, is set to be the biggest day for online shopping this year. Obviously many of you won’t actually read about this until Tuesday since you will be busy elsewhere in the internet!

Apparently we are likely to spend around £350m, according to IMRG. Interestingly our own research into Christmas shopping showed exactly what we will be both researching on the internet and actually buying this year.

The most popular product categories for ‘researching’ on the internet will remain CDs/DVDs/music (52% of those researching online will look at this category), ahead of books/stationery/cards (43%) and toys and games (40%). However electrical items (43%) appear set to be much more popular for internet research this year compared to our results from last year.

Items that will actually be ‘purchased’ on the internet are again headed by small entertainment goods such as CD/s and DVDs (54% of those who will buy on line will buy within this category), ahead of books/stationery/cards (43%) and toys and games. Internet clothes shopping appears to have fallen back vs. last year, whilst electrical good have held their own. The former may represent the best opportunities for off-line retailers, however we also know that this is the most popular product category for holding back on in anticipation of sales!