Archive for June, 2011

Drink the new ‘Cool-aid’

June 29, 2011

I’ve been a huge fan of Apple computers since I first started drinking the “Cupertino Cool-aid” back in college, but it’s only been since the company launched its retail stores that I completely bought into the Cult of Jobs. The App Store. OS X. iMacs. iPhones. iPads. I’m hooked.
Every time I have to stop by the Apple store for something, I’m not-so-subtly reminded just how great a retail experience can be. Apple’s customer service is now the standard to which I hold all other retailers, from powersports to gardening supplies, and most of them fail. (Trader Joe’s is the only other major exception.)

Like many budding curmudgeons, I find myself having less and less patience for poor customer service and rude or indifferent employees. I don’t expect to be pampered, and I know some retail stores by design cannot match Apple’s example, but how about offering just a smidgeon of help, with a smile? Owners and management, shouldn’t your personnel training be geared toward making your customers comfortable, maybe even happy, about spending their money with you? This doesn’t always seem the case.

Apple seems to have perfected the art of retail. Never in the history of spending money to buy goods has a company made it so effortless and downright enjoyable to spend money to buy goods.

And this is where Apple intersects with the powersports business.

There was a story in The Wall Street Journal in June talking about the success — and recipe behind it — of Apple’s retail stores. The story reports some incredible numbers: Apple’s annual retail sales per sq. ft. are $4,406 (minus online sales), and its 326 stores brought in more customers in a single quarter than the 60 million people who visited Disney’s four biggest theme parks in 2010.

An obvious aspect of this success, the story says, is the must-have clamor for Apple’s popular products. Seems these are items that people absolutely want to have. After all, does anybody really need an iPad? Likely a few, but everybody wants one.

The other instrument of this success, according to WSJ reporters Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ian Sherr, is that Apple is on the leading edge of customer service and store design. Jobs and company grenaded the idea of what an electronics store should be (think back to the days of CompUSA) and pioneered what would become the Apple layout.

A major point: Products are staged to highlight how they could be used, not just stacked on a shelf or hung from a hook.

A second major point: Sales workers are extensively trained not to sell, but to “help customers solve problems” by understanding their needs, even the ones they don’t know they have. They’re schooled on Apple’s principles of customer service and must shadow experienced employees before they’re even allowed to interact with customers. Even the hiring process is selective, often requiring two rounds of interviews with potential employees quizzed about their skills and passion for Apple’s products.

As the reporters point out, specialty retailers like Apple often invest heavily in training. What makes Apple different is that its employees are passionate about the company’s products and are willing to learn.

Hmm … let’s see, what other industry has retail stores whose employees are enthusiasts of its products, and are selling these same products to customers who are just as enthusiastic? And which industry is selling items that are more want than need to people who really, really want them?

Can’t quite get a bead on it right now, but I’m guessing it’s one that’s not exactly steeped in best retail practices and could stand to learn a thing or two from one that is.

Thinking, thinking, thinking …

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com

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Milo Fetch bridges gap between online and in-store

June 23, 2011

Dealers looking to branch out online may want to check out Milo Fetch, an eBay-affiliated company that helps small- and medium-sized brick and mortar businesses gain more visibility online. A bonus: You don’t have to have an online storefront to sign up.

Milo Fetch works like this: Retailers enter their store information and sign up, then install Milo Fetch on their main point-of-sale system computer. Milo Fetch automatically uploads the retailer’s inventory, adding it to search engines like those on eBay, Milo, RedLaser and other eBay-affiliated sites. Shoppers who search for items on these sites will be able to view not only national eBay-listed products, but items from local retailers, as well.

The online listings can act as referrals to the retailer’s store. Milo Fetch also updates the product availability in real-time, so customers can see whether a store has an item in stock at that particular moment.

We tried it out, and it seems to work pretty well — and we noticed that powersports products are few and far between. A quick search for motorcycle products near Dealernews’ zip code (92614) yielded only eight local results. Of course, Milo Fetch only has recently rolled out, so given time, more retailers will sign up and more products will be searchable. However, from a dealer standpoint, you could take advantage of this testing period to get a leg up on your competitors.

Currently, Milo Fetch works best with retailers who use Intuit QuickBooks. The service is free during this beta testing period, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Visit http://milofetch.com to sign up and to learn more.

TIP: Where to place your in-store pickup counter

June 17, 2011

While conducting her seminar at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition this week, RSR Research partner Nikki Baird made an interesting point about the dilemma of the in-store pickup counter. These counters, as you know, are for customers who purchase products from you online or over the phone.

So where exactly should these counters be situated in your store?

“Ideally, as a business you’d say, I want my pickup location to be at the back corner of the store because I want customers to walk through the entire store to get there,” Baird said. “That’s what Walmart has done. Unfortunately, from the customer perspective, the biggest draw [of online shopping] is convenience.”

So, in other words, if you force a customer walk through a maze of aisles and salespeople to retrieve their conveniently purchased items, they’re not going to appreciate it. Customers who shop online love the ability to effortlessly browse and buy merchandise, so making them wind their way through an entire store can defeat the purpose of online shopping in the first place.

On the other extreme end, placing the pickup counter at the very front of your store doesn’t serve you, either. Baird mentioned another retailer, The Container Store, as a business that places its pickup counter directly in front. “There’s not even impulse items there for customers to look at,” Baird said.

So depending on your store design, placement of your in-store pickup counter would fall somewhere in the middle of both extremes. You need to have this counter in an area where there’s a little bit of eye candy to catch a customer’s eye, but not so much that he may as well have bought the item in the store, instead of online.

Hip to be square: Demystifying the QR code

June 2, 2011

They’re called QR codes, and they’re seemingly everywhere these days — you may have noticed them in store windows, magazine articles, and other places where you’d usually find traditional advertising. But what exactly are they, and what function do they serve for retailers?

“By the book definition, they’re two-dimensional barcodes that can be scanned by a mobile device or camera phone, which would lead you to a phone number, SMS text message, or URL,” says Scott Bronenberg, regional sales manager for Advanced Telecom Services.

In newbie terms, QR codes are similar to regular product barcodes — only instead of listing a price at the checkout counter, they act as portals to a retailer’s mobile website or other information. Users scan the code, and in turn, the code sends the user to whatever the retailer has linked to the code — whether mobile website, coupon, or other information.

“Right now, people are using QR codes to [redirect] users to their websites,” Bronenberg says. “But what we’ve found is that there’s so much more we can do with further integrating that landing page. Be it Facebook, Twitter, an opportunity to download an app, watching a video, and live streaming.”

QR codes were first developed in Japan as early as 1994, when they were used to track automotive parts — sort of a mobile tagging system. It wasn’t until just about a few years ago that they caught on in the United States. “We’ve been working with QR codes for about a year and a half, and the growth is spiking right now,” Bronenberg says.

And, with mobile phone companies like Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile planning to offer phones equipped with QR scanners rather than have users download these scanners themselves, Bronenberg muses the interest in them will multiply — not fade out like other marketing fads. “Right now, they’re like the shiny object in the room — they’re new, and unique. But if people get more comfortable with them, their growth could be endless,” he says. “They’ve been in use in Japan for awhile now. If we as marketers can do a good job of executing what’s on the back end, they will be here to stay.”

Besides linking to a website or social media page, one could also run various promotions with QR codes. Frank Mazza, Advanced Telecom Services’ QR code production director, recently helped develop what the company calls a “scannenger hunt.” Retailers would place QR codes around their store, asking consumers to scan them to view and download exclusive content. Mazza also suggests that dealers place QR codes on showroom vehicles that link to videos of vehicle demos or customer reviews. “[Customers] can scan them, and they can see the vehicles in motion [in a video],” Mazza says. “They have all of the details they need on their phones. You could also tie the QR codes in with vehicle servicing.” The best part? Customers have access to all of this interactive content, all without having to leave your store to get it.

Advanced Telecom Services helps retailers build custom apps and marketing campaigns to link to these QR codes. The company offers customization, building, setup and development services that start at $500, plus monthly maintenance fees. Customized QR codes that are branded according to your business start at $100. Bronenberg and Mazza also run a website, QRcode2.com, where one can generate generic, black and white QR codes for free. “A lot of people who use the standard QR code just link it to their website,” Mazza says. “But the thing is, yeah, you can use them for free, but you want to brand it, from the outside and inside. That’s what we do. We’re creating a landing site for you. The works.”

New bike = New thrills

June 1, 2011

Recently I found myself aboard a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring, the über version of Duc’s über sport touring motorcycle.

There’s a very fortunate perk of my job, and the positions of many others working in the business, and that’s getting the privilege of riding a number of different motorcycles from a variety of OEMs. Quite simply it’s a motorcycle geek’s dream gig — even with the long hours of staring at words on a computer screen (that’s the writing geek’s dream job, a different story entirely).

This time around, thanks to Ducati’s PR dude extraordinaire, John Paolo Canton, I got about two-week’s seat time in the Multi, my first time on the do-all machine since its reincarnation as a superbike motor-powered touring bike.

The new Multi has more technical geekiness packed into than anything I’ve ever ridden. By comparison, my personal ride is a 2004 Triumph Thruxton: a carbureted motorcycle for goodness sake! Ride-by-wire throttle. Electronically adjusted front and rear suspension. Brakes that would stop the earth’s rotation. Ergonomics to die for. Four-mode engine mapping. Motorcycling by way of “Tron.”

When I picked up the bike from Tom Hicks’ Southern California Ducati in Brea, Calif., (home to Ducati’s press fleet) I didn’t know what I was expecting. I’d read about the four different engine modes but hadn’t given it much thought. Didn’t know I’d be giving it a lot of thought later. A brief run-through of features with a tech and away I went.

And that’s when I discovered something about the Multi 1200 S: That ride home made me feel like I was discovering motorcycling again.

Settling into the machine over the next many days, this feeling of newness grew more intense. Sport mode was way different than touring mode as was urban and enduro. Switching back and forth between the settings offered a new type of thrill each time. Just the feel of it. The upright and very comfortable seating on a bike that produces 150hp simply felt like a entirely different experience.
Freeway cruising (touring). Short trips to the store and around town (sport). Quick trips around the block (urban). Long rides through the twisties of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains (sport). Commutes to work and back (sport, OK, there’s a trend here). Each one a journey unto itself.
The bike’s been on the market for a while now, so I’m not the first person to ride it or write about it. I’m just one rider with an opinion which, when it comes down to it, that’s what we all are. One man’s hyperbole is another man’s yawn.

And with motorcycling, more than anything in life (save for your tastebuds or musical inclinations), riding is a singular event specific to one person at one particular moment in his or her life. That’s why each ride is an adventure. Why one bike that works for this guy might not work for that girl or the other dude.

In this case, riding the Ducati truly felt like learning anew the thrill of motorcycling. Alas, it soon was time to return the loaner and settle quite comfortably back onto my own Thruxton — like putting on an old, British, shoe.

This experience got me thinking about my current ride and my past motorcycles and scooters. How often do I take the time to rediscover the thing that’s in my garage? To make the changes and tweaks to make my next ride that much different? To make me feel like I’m rediscovering motorcycling? To be honest, not enough. It’s been a while since I uncorked the Thruxton’s motor, replaced mirrors, mounted a fairing or changed the suspension.

How often and in what ways do you help your customers rediscover their own machines? How often do you do the same with yours?

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief
dennis.johnson@dealernews.com