Marketers understand the emotions that drive the human animal to indulge in retail excess. As such, the subliminal messages that fill the digital world of television and internet, supported by the plethora of catalogs, all reinforce the experience versus the item. And this is supported by the fantasy world of the holiday shopping mall.
January is what I think of as retail research month. Actually, the retail process starts in December—shopping suicide month! Driven by the knowledge that this year's must have gift item is flying off the shelves, that your relationship with your siblings and offspring depends on your ability to "bring home the goods", we dedicated shoppers throng to the malls—even though a trip to the local shopping emporium is even more challenging than herding cats!! Lines of shoppers extend out the doorways of certain stores, anxious to obtain the hot item of the season. Complete families throng the corridors, laden with items purchased at premium price. The cacophony of holiday music blends with the hysteria of infants and toddlers, dragged from store to store. Joy to the World! Retailers rejoice as the statistics reflect that this will be their best December ever (until the unhappy returns and after season sales reduce the numbers and deflate the enthusiasm).
The Calm after the Storm
In the aftermath of the "retail storm", I begin my "un-shopping"—returning those impulse buys and unwanted gifts that are part of the season to be jolly. Although little is externally apparent, I find myself in another world. The shopping mall is reminiscent of the silence and desolation that follows a hurricane. The corridors echo my footsteps as I embark on my quest for understanding of retail challenges. There is no sign of Santa and his little elves, bell ringers, or other evidence of the past season. Holiday decorations in the stores are grouped pitifully together, bloodied with the tags of multiple mark downs. Clothing items are heaped on tables, picked over by retail scavengers, unconcerned about buying last season's items. The same sales associates who were conspicuous by their absence in the halcyon days of December hover at your elbow, anxious to respond to your every need.
So what is the reason for this retail bizarro world?
My personal theory is that this is the result of a disconnect between the twin worlds of marketing and sales.
"The goal of marketing is to create the desire to possess."
This mantra was imbedded in my brain in my early days as a marketing student. Marketing campaigns emphasize the experience that will be possible once you are the proud owner of the new car, the intoxicating perfume, or the latest digital gizmo. Marketers understand the emotions that drive the human animal to indulge in retail excess. As such, the subliminal messages that fill the digital world of television and internet, supported by the plethora of catalogs, all reinforce the experience versus the item. And this is supported by the fantasy world of the holiday shopping mall.
So where is the disconnect?
In his book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray redefined the gender gap. Similarly, the dark art of marketing is light years away from the dollar and sense world of sales.
Sales is about merchandise. Moving it in and moving it out. Clearing the shelves and filling the till. The revolving door of retail turned by the anonymous consumer. Not much there about the customer experience—one customer at a time. This disconnect is reflected in the unwanted goods, in the frantic marking down of merchandise in preparation for the next marketing-induced shopping extravaganza. (Watch out—the cupids and chocolate bunnies are already coming in the backdoor at the shopping malls).
Bringing Back the Magic
But all is not lost—the digital technology that is responsible for creating the purchasing promise can be harnessed to deliver and delight. Auto identification technologies, radio frequency identification (RFID), sensors, and voice activated technologies can be combined to create a fulfilling customer experience. Loyalty programs, coupled with profiling and preference-driven software, are already being piloted in certain retail environments. An example of this is IMX Cosmetics, which is using a combination of RFID and customer preference data to create a unique "digital customer experience". Consumers can create their own cosmetic concoctions, locking the "secret recipe" in their customer profile, accessible through a digital keychain wand imbedded with RFID. Like pre-teens playing dress-up, consumers can play with the product, enhancing the customer experience while ensuring a repeat performance (after all, this is their unique version of the product—they will certainly be back for more).
This concept can be extended into other vertical sectors—my senses reel at the prospect of personnel at any Starbucks in the world handing me my own preferred brew, spurred by an electronic signal as I enter the door. Another dimension is the potential interaction that can be facilitated by this digital domain. Video monitors (already a feature in many locations) prompted by a signal from my "loyalty tag" could appeal to my heartstrings, showing the growing process of the brew of the month, tantalizing my senses with visions and verbal prompts.
A Group Hug for the Supply Chain Community
And there are bi-directional benefits—having access to "up close and personal" customer preference data would enable the magicians of marketing to approach the reality of their target demographic—versus the conceptual consumer that most programs are geared towards. And more importantly, they would include sales as part of the total customer experience.
And as they say in the commercials—there is more! Technology is available today to share the marketing promise with the extended community of the supply chain. Imagine the growers of the cotton, the sewers of the cloth—all sharing in an understanding of the consumer that will sport the fruit of their labors, and what is required in order to get them to buy more of the same!
- With technology available to all, technology could provide the tools to transform a global landscape
of single entities into a closely knit digital community.
- It could put the focus on a better emotional experience—from concept to consumer.
Perhaps it could even reduce the distance between Mars and Venus—it's a small solar system
This article is from Parallax View, ChainLink Research's on-line magazine, read by over 150,000 supply chain and IT professionals each month. Thought-provoking and actionable articles from ChainLink's analysts, top industry executives, researchers, and fellow practitioners. To view the entire magazine, click here
About the Author
Carla Reed heads ChainLink's Global Logistics and Distribution practice. Ms. Reed brings deep hands-on experience, having design and managed numerous global distribution networks and warehouse facilities around the world. Before joining ChainLink, Ms. Reed founded New Creed, a business process and enabling technology consulting group which focuses on the global supply chain, linking evolving technologies and concepts to global business issues in existing and emerging markets. Ms. Reed was previously Director, Logistics Solutions for Sterling Commerce, General Manager, Sales and Marketing for Premier Freight, Johannesburg, South Africa; and has held various other positions in the international freight management area.
ChainLink Research is a bold new supply chain research organization dedicated to helping executives improve business performance and competitiveness.