Posts Tagged ‘retail’

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

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.”

Are Consumers Getting Ready To Buy Bikes?

March 3, 2010

Pent Up Demand May Be Stronger Than We Thought.
Is a Bike Rebate Program Necessary?

Is there enough pent up demand to push consumers into buying a bike this spring? Maybe so, based on what happened with the government’s appliance stimulus program this month in Minnesota and Iowa.

But it may take an exciting promotion from OEMs to prime the pump.

In the last 18 months, consumers have been busy paying down credit cards and building up savings accounts. The savings rate has been the fastest in a decade. And January was a record 16th consecutive month of declining credit card debt; it dropped $1.7 billion to $864.4 billion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Now consumers may be ready to take a break from that fiscal conservatism and spend a bit of money.

Look at what happened in Minnesota and Iowa this month:  The two states ran through almost $8 million in government appliance rebate programs in less than a day.

Minnesota consumers were so excited about the retail program launched March 2, that they flooded the state’s dedicated phone lines and swamped its website. More than 25,000 persons signed up for the $5 million program in less than two hours, and by 10 am on the first day, there was a waiting list of 10,000 persons, when the program was shut down. That’s 35,000 persons jumping on the program that offered a $200 rebate on the purchase of an energy efficient major appliance such as a refrigerator.

I really can’t believe that 35,000 Minnesotans suddenly decided they wanted a new refrigerator or washer. I wonder if it’s more a case of WANTING a new appliance, rather than NEEDING one, and using the rebate as an excuse to dig into that fat savings account. And it’s not a freebee,  give-away program.

In Minnesota, a qualifying refrigerator is going to run you more than $1,000, so a consumer is still on the hook for close to $1,000 after sales tax, even with the rebate. Minnesota’s top rebate of $200 was much higher than many other states.

An energy-efficient refrigerator qualified for only a $50 rebate in Georgia, $75 in California and $100 in New York. Nearly $300 million in rebates will be available to consumers across the country through April.

The Minnesota story was much the same in Iowa where its $2.8 million program was exhausted in the first day.

Not all consumers liked the program, though, perhaps an indication of tight cash in some regions. New York had to extend its $18.7 million program and Michigan used up only about half of its $9.5 million in the first month of its program. Because of the state’s weak economy, it’ll take an estimated four months for Michigan consumers to sign up for all of the rebate money.

More Good News

Here are another couple of bright notes for retailers: Most retail sales reports improved in February over February 2009, despite heavy snowstorms for much of the month throughout the country. (Okay, February 2008 wasn’t such a hot month and it didn’t take great numbers to beat it.)

Another positive sign: the pace of home foreclosures slowed in February; it grew only 6% for the year, the smallest annual jump in four years, and was down 2% from January.

If the recent appliance rebate program was any indication, perhaps we’ll see consumers parting with some of those savings dollars and popping for a new bike or ATV soon. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

I wonder, though, if the OEMs will have to prime the pump a bit to get consumers excited about spending money for a bike they way they were spending for appliances.  JD

Contact me with story ideas and news tips. You can reach me
at 952/893-6876 or joe@powersportsupdate.com.

Going Retail: Creating a Real Store

December 1, 2009

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews December 2009 issue.

Dictionary.com gives the following definition for the word retail: “The sale of goods to ultimate consumers, usually in small quantities.”

But of course we all know what retail stores are — they’re the ones in the mall, the Banana Republics, the Nordstroms, the Apple stores. They’re all retailers, right? What about your store? When was the last time you considered your motorcycle shop a retail store? You sell goods to consumers, often in small quantities. That pretty much qualifies you.

Since I started at Dealernews, I’ve had the “retail” conversation with countless people — dealer principals, OEM employees, sales reps, folks from the big distributors — and we almost always come to the conclusion that too many powersports dealers and dealer employees see themselves as running bike shops and not retail stores. As such, concepts inherent to retail like merchandising and marketing are placed on the back burner.

This is not necessarily a good thing. You’re competing for customer dollars against the Banana Republics and Best Buys of the world, large retailers that spend millions of dollars each year on in-store merchandizing and marketing programs built around seasonal and promotional changes. Often these promotions and efforts are backed by studies of consumer behavior and specifically target buying habits.

As the products change in these large stores, so does the retail landscape. How often do your apparel displays change? Is your P&A department (more…)

Suzuki’s Mueller Moves to Glenn Roller

May 19, 2009

Hey, Suzuki dealers, been waiting to hear from Bob Mueller? Mueller was – until recently – sales development manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp. The key word here is “was,” as Mueller was caught up in Suzuki’s recent employee downsizing scheme.

But Mueller isn’t finished with the motorcycle industry. In fact, you can now find him working with Glenn Roller at the Glenn Roller Institute. You may recall The Educational Program, Roller’s comprehensive sales training program, offered through Suzuki, that promises to take any salesperson – if they are willing to study and learn – from a basic to a highly advanced level of sales competency.

The Educational Program takes the salesperson to a higher level of understanding of the sales process and teaches a sales system that raises sales efficiency (average amount of time and effort it takes to close sales). This system is so efficient that within seven minutes one can establish customer trust, discover what is most important to them and determine their financial parameters. These levels of understanding are incredibly successful because they are simple and can be applied with any personality style. This program includes a 400 page sales book, a 12 CD audio book, 190 que cards for practicing your lines, on-line exercises, and on-line results reporting to management.

I’m currently taking The Educational Program training course, a process taking four to six weeks to complete at 30 minutes a day. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

ABA, NRF Expect Economic Rebound Late in 2009

January 27, 2009

The economy fell at the sharpest rate in nearly three decades in the fourth quarter of last year, and the Economic Advisory Committee (EAC) of the American Bankers Association says it believes the economic downturn will continue through the first half of 2009 before rebounding in the second half. It’s a perspective the National Retail Federation (NRF) apparently shares.

Bruce Kasman, EAC chair and chief economist for JP Morgan Chase, New York, says the committee believes the first half of ’09 will be marked by consumers continuing to retrench, saving more, spending less, and further weakening demand for goods and services.

The NRF, in its 2009 economic forecast released today, says it sees more challenges ahead as consumers continue to shift their spending priorities.

Read a full report here.