It’s a Small World…of Line Management

When a business has the audacity to call itself the happiest place on earth it has some serious standards to uphold. So when reports are that Disney World is studying how to better manage customer flow—especially lines—it probably means that it’s a story worth listening to.

If by some chance you have managed to avoid Disney World all these years there is simply no way to easily describe the massive theme park in Orlando. It is a mix of business, recreation, entertainment and spending unlike any other place on earth. Apparently it is also a marvel of how to use technology to improve the customer experience.

The challenge Disney found is that on busy days the lines get out of hand, forcing park attendees to spend most of the day waiting. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the average Magic Kingdom visitor gets on nine rides during the course of a visit. That’s out of 40 total rides in that park alone.

The Disney folks see a couple of problems in that, but two stand out. First, the lines diminish the experience that is the core of the Disney brand. And secondly, people standing in lines aren’t in restaurants or shops buying all the goods featured at the park. Neither is good for business.

Now you could look at this as unique problems for a theme park that hosts nearly 30 million visitors each year or you could look at it for the relevance to your stores and shoppers who are the very same people, albeit in a worse mood than while on vacation in Florida.

As the Times reported: “Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more.

“A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.”

Suddenly it all sounds more relevant. Because those same impatient shoppers cursed with what seems to be societal attention deficit disorder are also in your stores. So just like Disney, you need a strategy.

The Disney story offers some interesting ideas. For some rides, Disney has the ability to pick up the pace of customer movement. (At Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, more boats are put in use.) In other cases Disney runs “Move it, Shake it! parades to pull shoppers toward less crowded parts of the park. Some line areas now feature video games to distract the waiting masses, while in other areas costumed characters are dispatched to entertain the crowds.

And there’s more. Disney is developing a mobile app to help visitors locate anything from the location of a costumed Cinderella or the hamburger stand with the shortest line. Other technological experiments to improve the customer experience are also in the pipeline.

The bottom line is that Disney understands the value equation of its visitors and is using technology to better manage even the most difficult situations and the ideas provide interesting discussion for any retailer. How can we better manage lines; how can we improve the experience in a way that is both enjoyable and profitable; and what can we do about better using our data?

After all it’s a small world and those same customers who get delighted at Disney World would love the same attention when they leave Fantasy Land and return to reality. And that’s where you live.

It’s Not About Where They Shop

Last night I was at a local Target store to pick up some last-minute gifts for my family, along with a few other folks doing the very same thing. The store was packed, and shopping carts were filled with video game systems, clothes, toys, and housewares.

And food.

I was impressed by the number of shoppers picking up groceries along with their holiday gifts. In the old days, we fought the crowds at the mall, then drove to the supermarket for our holiday dinner preparation. Times have changed. Whether retailers want to believe it or not, shoppers aren’t concerned about whether to buy their staples at the grocery store or Target. Or maybe even Best Buy some day.

For the shopper, it’s about making their lives easier. Saving time, and finding good value. Retailers like Target are smart to get in on this since they’re already well-known for value.

This clip from the NY Times article reinforces that, for shoppers, it’s not about where they shop (you, retailer), it’s about making things easier for themselves.

“We focus on mom,” said Tim Murray, the creative director at Target. “She’s quite busy, dinner is ticking in the back of her mind every day. We can also offer her things to plan ahead for that next day as well.”

While the fresh food offerings will include items similar to what a customer can find in a grocery store, “The concept is built around the notion of fill-in trips and convenience trips,” added Will Setliff, the vice president for marketing at Target. “There’s a real need for convenient and affordable grocery options.”

Shopper’s Mobile Wish List for Retailers

Some things are so simple that they become overwhelming. And you know what happens then. Nothing. Priority projects don’t move forward because they appear to be “ginormous”.

But some things are simple, because they are, and should be embraced for their simplicity. Like a mobile strategy. The simplistic way to approach to developing a mobile strategy is to look at what your shoppers want from you on their mobile device – both in the store as they’re shopping, and before they get to your store as they’re planning and preparing for a shopping visit.

As purchases of smartphones increase across all shopper demographics, it’s important for retailers to understand what shoppers want from them in a mobile application – thankfully, this fall 2010 study from Accenture reveals some of those insights.

As they’re deciding where to shop, what to buy, and thinking about how much they’ll be spending, they want access to key pieces of information to help direct them, like:

What Shoppers Want Before They Shop

What Shoppers Want Before They Shop

Once they get to your store, they have different needs. They want help making informed purchase decisions (sound familiar?).

What Shoppres Want Inside Your Store

What Shoppres Want Inside Your Store

From today’s eMarketer article on this:

“Companies need to use all of their customer information to better understand how and when their customers want to engage with them, ask them questions or just check some basic product details,” said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s Retail Services, in a statement. “Only then can they deliver a personalized and enjoyable experience, while lessening the risk of alienating customers through unwanted approaches.”

Here at Aisle7, we’re enjoying smart discussions with retailers and brands ready to take on this strategy and empower their shoppers with information in the palm of their hand. The possibilities are endless, which can seem overwhelming, but looking at what content, features and functionality will really matter most to your shoppers moves you to a mobile strategy in a simplistic way.

Using New Media

As Michael Sansolo pointed out in Unseen Competitors, the way we receive and seek out information is changing each day. How we consumed media,  researched new products, or sought solutions, just last year, involves news sources and technology this year.

One thing that hasn’t changed: consumers want information. They want information on the solutions you offer to the problems they face. Depending on the product, or the need it satisfies, they may also want to know what their friends, or experts, think about this product too.

Earlier this month, Whole Foods caught my attention with this podcast on their blog about a topic important to us at Aisle7: Choosing Supplements for Kids.  Like our own content, they share an expert’s perspective on when a child might need to supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals, and how to go about selecting the right ones. While the content was insightful and potentially helpful, there was not much stated that offered a new perspective on the topic.

But, it was delivered in a new, unique way.

And that’s why it caught my attention. And I bet their customer’s too.

There’s a long list of benefits from using new media that go beyond cutting through the information clutter we see out there – building loyalty, enabling sharing of your branded content, supporting purchase decisions, reinforcing post-purchase decisions…the list goes on.

The question for retailers is: how can you help your customers find answers to their questions, or information that adds value to your relationship by utilizing new media?

Value and Values

Standing in the aisles of a price oriented supermarket in California, I thought I heard the best definition of value.

Now this was no average store. This was Grocery Outlet, a company whose stores will never get compared to Wegmans or Whole Foods. The stores are extremely simple, with small selections of self-service fresh products almost included as an afterthought. The bulk of the store is dedicated to the most ordinary center store products in crude, low-cost displays.

What’s most striking about Grocery Outlet is some of those products themselves. This is one of the few stores around where you can find (as I did) adjacent displays of private label applesauce from both Kroger and Albertsons. If Grocery Outlet can get it cheaply, they do it.

But that’s not the story. What caught me on this little visit was an announcement “from aisle three” as the in house audio explained. The ad reminded shoppers why they were at Grocery Outlet and why they should come back before they go to any other store. Simply put, it’s to check out the cheap prices. By purchasing some products at these cheap prices, the ad said, shoppers could save money to spend elsewhere on the products that are really important to them.

There it is, the meaning of value. Spending money where it matters most and spending less where it doesn’t. Grocery Outlet knows who is it and understands why its shoppers are in the store. Sure it’s not pretty, but it’s a heck of a message.

The key to any message is actually telling it clearly and simply. Elsewhere on the same trip I got two reminders why Fresh and Easy, Tesco’s concept store, may just make it yet. F&E is finding its voice and its message in ways others should consider. In one store I saw a simple frozen food case with a very interesting message. The sign above explained that a case with a door saves 45% in energy costs over an open-air case. And F&E passes those savings along.

Later I heard an F&E radio ad with a similar reminder. In that ad, a customer talked about his experience at F&E, obviously praising the store. Nothing special to that, except the announcer explained that by using real customers F&E saves money and that saving is passed on in lower prices.

Now, quite honestly there is nothing especially groundbreaking or radical in either the F&E ad or the frozen case sign, but that doesn’t matter. F&E’s stores still need work, but the messages are getting there: we find ways to save money to help you save money. Years from now those messages may explain why F&E took hold.

Of course, not every measure of value is in price. Some comes from the caring of staff, which I saw briefly at a Stater Bros. store. An employee chatted with me briefly while she repaired a “no soliciting” sign outside the supermarket. As she explained, the sign was positioned perfectly after her last shift, but then someone messed around with her sign. And she wasn’t happy about it.

If a staffer cares so much about a sign, I have to believe she cares an awful lot about food and customers. That too speaks volumes about value.

The Beautifully Boring Games

Okay soccer/football fans: prepare to get angry. Like the vast majority of Americans I would describe the World Cup in South Africa with one word: Dull!

I’m one of those people who prefer American football, despite it capturing the two worst elements of life in the US—sporadic violence and frequent meetings. Soccer just doesn’t do it for me, even though I actually played the sport in high school. Any chance of my watching the World Cup is being killed by a combination of the strange crowd noises and the complete lack of scoring and shooting.

By now, some of you are seething and are set to pound out a note telling me what a fool I am. You’ll tell me I simply don’t understand the “beautiful game.” You will tell me that I don’t appreciate the nuance, the passing and the intricacy of the entire event. Trust me, I’ve heard it before.

Save your anger: I fully accept and agree with all your criticism. You are totally right. I just don’t get it.

But here’s the funny thing: my favorite sport is baseball, which moves slower than soccer. (Much slower if the Yankees and Red Sox are playing.) However, I know baseball really well and I totally appreciate the nuance and intricacy and can watch it endlessly. So my problem isn’t patience, it’s education. If someone taught me soccer I might find I would like it much more.

And in that we find a great lesson in marketing. Too often products are displayed, advertised and merchandised without any thought to consumer education. If we don’t take time to educate the shopper, we completely miss the opportunity to raise them from observer to buyer.

Today’s stores increasingly have new and different items. In food stores there are countless products – from cheese to produce and artisan breads to balsamic vinegar – that consumers won’t appreciate unless they are taught how to use them. This problem is hardly limited to supermarkets. Electronics stores feature the never-ending parade of new technologies that many consumers barely understand. There are new features in cars, sourcing issues on apparel…well, you get the picture. Complexity keeps growing and the problem is the education of the shopper is lacking if not completely absent.

We need to think about product marketing in the way World Cup fans need to think about their beautiful game. Don’t assume the rest of us get it and don’t scold us for what we don’t know. Instead, try to educate and lift us up. Help us understand what we should know and you may be surprised. If you take the time to teach us the complexity and the nuance, we can learn to appreciate it. In short order, we could become fans and customers.

Once that happens, we might actually start talking to others. And that is the best form of shopper marketing for any product, store or even the World Cup.

Everyone Wants To Know: Where Are You?

Since we wrote about Location-Based Services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt last week, more news around these programs have been announced, potentially indicating the growing popularity with both users and brands. Here’s a recap of some of those stories, to keep you up on the news and provide some food for thought as it relates to your own business.

Twitter Announces They’ll Add Places to Its Posts:  This brings new offerings for those using Twitter for data mining.

Forsquare to Open Online Store: Foursquare users get their wishes granted for real “offline” badges and merchandise to display their status.

Forget the Major, Gowalla Focuses on Serendipitous Deals for All: Everyone gets a chance to win cool offers just for checking in where they already are.

Brightkite Launches Location-Based Photo Tips: Imagine your shoppers letting their friends know that they’re at your store, and the season’s first strawberries have arrived, proving their ripeness with a photo.

Which Startups Will Bridge the Physical and Virtual Worlds? And have the sticky-ness to provide long-term value for consumers and brands?

Frequent Foursquare Miles? Topguest Checks In: For the travel industry, Topguest allows users to gather their “check-ins” from any of the LBS services out there and trade them in to their preferred travel partner of choice for reward points.  Could TopShopper be next for grocer retailers?

PlaceBook Bets on Privacy: While the exact purpose of this yet-to-be launched application is unknown today, it’s poised to address the big hurdle facing many who’ve not yet jumped into Foursquare and other LBS apps: privacy concerns.

What’s Next for Location Marketing? And how will these apps deliver value beyond the “I’m here” announcement?

Facebook Location Features Confirmed and Coming Soon: No details yet, but watch your local twitter stream for news.

What are your thoughts on this fairly new, yet popular tool? Are you thinking about location-based marketing tactics for your brand?

Connecting with Shoppers in New Ways: Location-Based Services

Remember the day you launched your first loyalty card program? It was likely based around a rectangular, credit-card sized laminated plastic card that identified shoppers at the checkout. You could track and reward purchases, and if you were fortunate enough to convince customers to give their real contact information, you could send special offers their way.

While some of us were trying to figure out how to get smaller loyalty cards onto our key chains, some really smart folks brought fun elements of gaming together with mobile and GPS technology to the market in a way that could quickly replace those plastic-covered cards.

Location-based service (LBS) start-ups like Loopt, Foursquare, Shopkick and Gowalla have developed new ways to use mobile phones to bridge the digital and physical worlds, turning the tasks of everyday life, like buying coffee and running errands, into a game for customers.

Customers are increasingly using their mobile phones to let their friends and network know “I’m here” which allows them to receive awards and recognition by the retailer they’re visiting.  This new technology opens up interesting marketing opportunities for retailers as they can now be alerted when their most loyal shoppers arrive at the store and engage with them in unique ways.

For retailers, these programs allow them to learn more about who their customers are and how they behave, and engage with them in ways never before imaginable. Today you can not only identify who your most loyal shoppers are, but encourage them to let their friends know what they love about your brand.

Word of mouth advertising that used to happen when Mary and Joe met at the coffee shop now happens online when your loyal brand advocates publicly announce “I come here often” and is encouraged with mayorships, special offers and invitations. Special events bring a long list of opportunities to interact with brand advocates in ways that allow them to participate and share with others.

Here are just a few ways that some retailers are using location-based services to engage with their shoppers:

  • Gap sends customers a 25% discount coupon after they check in twice to a Gap store.
  • Burger King is offering a soda with a sandwich or a coffee with a breakfast sandwich to people who check in three times.
  • Universal Music will send five free songs to people who check into any bar along with two friends.
  • Starbucks offers a barista badge on Foursquare, where people compete to become “mayors” of places, and the coffee chain is giving mayors $1 off Frappuccinos.

While these are examples of large, national retailers, the very nature of location-based services bring new marketing abilities for smaller retailers to stand out in their local market. The start-ups mentioned above are increasingly bringing new offerings and technologies that enable and empower small retailers to have impact with their shoppers in ways that build greater loyalty, and long-term sales.

I’ve been playing around with Foursquare and proudly wore my Aisle7 Major badge for about a week until I was dethroned by one of my own peers. By exploring the capabilities on my own, I can definitely see the potential for retailers to connect with me once I’m in their store. The possibilities are endless.

Creating a Sensory Rich Experience

Also at FMI last week, Kevin Kelley of Shook Kelley, shared an interesting research finding: consumers ranked grocery stores in the top 3 “places I hate to visit” along with the DMV and post office. This is not good news for grocers.

Not most, anyway. He went on to talk about something he calls a “sensory rich experience” in the retail environment where shoppers have a connection with the store, the brand, the products and the people. He mentioned brands like Whole Foods and Trader Joes as creating those emotional connections with shoppers through their store environment, their people, and truly, their brand essence.

I remember conducting research almost five years ago where people would talk about “the kind of grocery shopping I like to do, versus the kind of shopping I have to do” and they mentioned Target, Trader Joes and Whole Foods. They talked about the shopping adventure they’d find in these stores…always a new experience, new products, new tastes, new ideas.

These brands are still getting kudos and credit from shoppers for connecting on an emotional level, five years later. In today’s tough economy, they’re not always the low-cost leader, yet these brands are growing. Their secret? They know what shoppers want. They know that shoppers will buy more when they’re engaged or when their life is enhanced by a brand or product.

How are you engaging with your shoppers? How can you help them enhance their life or solve a problem? Can your store provide a sensory rich experience?

FMI Recap: Shopper Insights on Sustainability

This is first in a series recapping thoughts, ideas and questions that I walked away with from the FMI 2010 conference in Las Vegas last week. Overall I thought it was a great event and I’m looking forward to continuing conversations with the many great people I met who are also passionate about helping shoppers make smart decisions in the store. I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts as well.

Shopper expectations. Sometimes a tough one to put a finger on and clearly identify. How definitively can you answer the question: what do our shoppers expect from us?

Linda Povey at the Natural Marketing Institute shared research last week with FMI attendees answering just that question from a sustainability and social responsibility perspective. Some of the insights are new and intriguing. But it’s the tough questions they lead to for grocers who want a deeper relationship with customers built on trust and loyalty that will determine who wins here.

So, what do shoppers want? The common theme you’ll see in my notes and thoughts is authentic transparency. When companies are authentic and transparent with their employees, their shoppers and the media community, they build trust.

Some of the highlights include:

Consumers want the companies they do business with to:

Be mindful of the environment                         38%

Have similar values                                        35%

Donate to good causes                                  29%

They want to know what companies are doing about sustainability topics such as the ingredients they use, whether they support fair wages from their suppliers, how they’re addressing sustainable packaging, how they minimize their carbon impact, etc.

These aren’t just the LOHAS consumers…sustainability issues have gone mainstream.

Have you seen the new SunChips compostable bag? Moms have. And moms have a different perspective on the environment. They believe that steps towards taking care of the earth mean that they’re taking care of their children, grandchildren and future generations. Moms tend to care the most about green issues and make green changes that start in the kitchen with the food she serves her family. And she’ll buy SunChips over another brand because “it makes her feel better”.

Other headlines…

  • Environment friendliness has gone mainstream. We need to deal with that reality now.
  • Pure and Simple are important. Consumers are simplifying their life and they want their products to help them.
  • Minimalism is back. Shoppers have an increased interest for ingredients they can pronounce and recognize…and less of them!
  • Not only do they want to know what they’re avoiding in foods (hormones, pesticides) but the positive attributes about their food (free-range, grass fed, etc)

So, what are the tough questions for your organization? Are you authentically transparent on sustainable topics? How are you helping customers address these emerging values and beliefs with products and services you offer?