'Green should feel good
' appeared in the January 17-31, 2011 issue of Floor Covering Weekly
Although focused on sustainability, the article relates green to the retail experience and the marketing of flooring.
Green Should Feel Good
By Christine B. Whittemore
In the midst of the ongoing economic doom & gloom, what has inspired me most is Green. I’m entranced with Green roof and Green wall buildings, GeoHay protecting the Gulf Coast from oil devastation, community-based stewardship of critical waterways such as the Conasauga River, and witnessing my child learn about Green at school as she eagerly participates in community garden projects.
Green is innovative, creative, collaborative and beneficial. It produces tangible results: energy savings, better insulation, diminishing greenhouse gases, protecting the shoreline… It’s a positive journey toward a better world. Green makes me feel good.
So why doesn’t buying green make me feel better?
In the marketplace, I’m intuitively skeptical of green claims. I assume it’s all or mostly greenwash; I resent being fed a mound of green gobbledygook, signifying nothing, which leaves me feeling that I’ve been had. Combine that with the complexity of the flooring purchase process sans green, with seemingly thousands of shades of beige to wade through, and I’m stressed before even reaching a decision!
I want to feel good as a result of my purchase decisions. I don’t want to feel stupid and too many aspects of buying – whether green or not – make me feel stupid.
I’m not alone.
According to MSNBC, 15 retail practices really annoy customers! From up-selling, bait and switch and too much fine print, to rebates and constantly rearranging shelves and a few more in-between. These practices make customers feel stupid, which in turn makes them angry and unlikely to buy.
Many of those irritating retail practices parallel the ‘Sins of Greenwashing’ described in Terrachoice’s 2010 “Sins of Greenwashing” Report. These include: hidden trade-offs, no proof, vagueness, irrelevance, the lesser of two evils, fibbing and worshipping false labels… The report states that “more than 95% of consumer products claiming to be green were found to commit at least one of the “Sins of Greenwashing”.” Interestingly, Big Box stores were almost twice as likely to offer legitimate green certifications as either specialty stores or green boutiques. That means that Green is more likely to feel good for customers shopping at Big Box stores…
Imagine banishing the reputation-damaging claims of Greenwash and embracing instead the positives of Green: sincerity, authenticity, transparency, intense customer focus, fierce refusal to misrepresent and a desire to involve your constituents in this Green journey.
Here are tips for ensuring that Green Feels Good for you and your customers.
1. Embrace transparency. Jack Laurie in Ft. Wayne, IN deliberately replaced all product labels so they transparently stated pricing to establish trust with customers. That was in November 2008 when I visited. Don’t deliberately obfuscate. When in doubt, simplify and clarify.
2. Assess how green your green products are. Understand your green claims. If they aren’t fully green, be realistic about what benefits they offer. When in doubt, banish Greenwash!
3. Participate in your community’s Green programs and activities. Go help clean up your local river. Donate dated carpet samples to community gardens to keep weeds down. Offer your store as a community meeting place. Green is social; it’s about community. Be part of it!
4. Review your own business’ energy practices. Are you energy efficient? Do you recycle? How well do you and your business associates practice Green? If you look at your processes from your customers’ perspectives, might you uncover improvements that also support your customer-focus?
5. Make your store more efficient for customers. Time is our most precious resource. Can you rethink your store so it resolves the frustrations customers experience when they shop? Can you edit your store selection so that the options make sense for your customers? Can you make better use of the various communication tools available to listen to and communicate with customers?
Green should feel good. Are you ready to make buying Green feel good, too? Do you want to sell Real Green? Or are you just going to slather on the Greenwash?
An article in VMSD titled Soul Searching: How to trigger an emotional connection with your shopper bemoans the lack of theater and excitement at retail. Excessive focus on cutting costs to increase profitability has taken the magic out of the retail experience; no magic means no connecting with customers.
Better to "be investing in the creation of a shopping experience that engages consumers emotionally to create a competitive edge that ensures long-term financial success.
The secret is to involve as many senses as possible – sight, hearing, smell and touch – in a very holistic and coordinated approach. Then you create an experience that converts a potential shopper into a loyal customer, while your brand distinguishes itself from the masses of ordinary retail operations without a soul."
Here are specific recommendations:
Using Sight for Connecting With Customers
I love this suggestion: your store is a stage; customers are the actors; your products are the stars and your visual merchandising is your scenery. Change it frequently and don't forget to add surprise. Start with your store windows and integrate every element of your store into the performance. The Apple Store comes to mind [as well as the Disney Times Square Store].
Using Sound for Connecting With Customers
Sound supports your performance. It shouldn't be too loud. The article refers to Hermes including the sound of birds and galloping horses in the background.
Using Smell for Connecting With Customers
Scent reinforces the overall performance in a subtle way [think how evocative that 'new car' smell is]. "Less is more". [Read Scents and Sellability.]
Using Touch for Connecting With Customers
Testing products, touching them, feeling them - these are all ways to engage customers and connect with them [and even moreso if the test products include evocative scents e.g., hand lotions].
The benefit in using senses for connecting with customers is that you give them reason to relax, to linger and get lost in your retail experience. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to buy...
As I head off to Las Vegas, I'll be on the lookout for examples beyond the visual stimulation of wild carpet designs [see Vegas Carpet: Surreal, Intense and Addictive?].
Which are your favorite examples of using senses for connecting with customers at retail?
Let me know!
I'm off to Surfaces 2012 [see Surfaces 2012: Getting Found Online, Social Media, Marketing To Women] next week. It takes place in Las Vegas which tends to be a wild place for retail experience ideas. Wish me good inspiration!
In the meantime, here are links to stories I found intriguing this week relating to Retail Experience in the News for 1/20/12.
Let me know what you think!
Retail Experience Ideas
Target Aims To Regain Cachet With Unique Boutiques
What can retailers learn from Amazon, Groupon and eBay?
The Future of Retail Depends on Today's Policy Decisions
Retail Experience and the Consumer
What Consumer Culture Will Look Like In 2020 (And How Brands Can Adapt)
NRF Retail Predictions 2012
Integrating Offline/Online Retail Experiences
For previous issues of Retail Experience in the News, click on this link [and also this one].
Consider subscribing to Flooring The Consumer Blog!
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
Have you heard of Uniqlo? I hadn't until I visited the Uniqlo SoHo store in June 2010 with my friend David Polinchock.
Since then, Uniqlo has opened a Fifth avenue and 34th street stores. I've encountered bold advertising in midtown Manhattan and in the NYC subway system touting Uniqlo's minimalist and 'made for all' [i.e., uni -clothes] philosophy.
Here is a radically new retail model [Uniqlo wants you to think "Apple for retail"] that offers two major small business marketing ideas worth implementing to effectively get more business.
1. Design your entire store and business around customer service
2. Offer remarkable and useful products of the highest quality at affordable prices
Intense focus on customer service
According to Can Uniqlo's Clever Clothes Refashion the U.S. Retail Market?, Uniqlo is "also working to upgrade shoppers' customer service expectations from a U.S. mass retailer... To that end, the 64,000 square foot 34th Street store boasts 500 store associates, as well as 83 fitting rooms and 36 cash registers so that shoppers don't have to suffer those dreaded long lines." Wow!
These store associates [i.e., customer advisors] are trained and tested regularly. How many retail businesses do you know of focus customer-facing employees on "six standard phrases" to use? Read more in Idea : Uniqlo’s Six-Phrase In-Store Strategy.
Per Uniqlo keeps checkout line moving with queuing system, even technology gets deployed to enhance the customer service experience and eliminate typical retail pet peeves!
Highest Quality Products at Affordable Prices
From a product perspective, Uniqlo is about "component wear" with "no logos... so they can mix with other brands easily... the highest quality products at accessible prices" per Uniqlo's 'made for all' styles makes its way to Fifth Avenue. Not only are the products of high quality, but they also are smart. Per the article above about 'clever clothes', you'll find heat-generating clothing [i.e., Heattech] and 'Japanese engineered denim' which "reflect the touch of Japanese takumi masters." Here's more:Fashion for the People: Uniqlo’s New York flagships offer high-tech clothes at affordable prices.
Visit Uniqlo's website and Facebook Fan page for a firsthand taste of the innovativeness of this company. What do you notice?
Then, think about these two marketing ideas applicable across a range of businesses: Intense customer service. Highest quality products at affordable prices. How would you apply them to your organization?
So, you survived the holidays and the associated retail frenzy while maintaining the spirit of the season! How did you do it? Was it all mellow and relaxing? Or, did you encounter retail experience horror stories? I did... in the form of eMail messaging on steroids - a barrage of them attempting to convince me to spend more and generate more retail business.
Did you notice the same?
No wonder, then, that Stores Shower Procrastinators With Email caught my eye. According to the article:
"...stores are a little desperate themselves, sending a record number of emails, reports Responsys, a marketing software company. Tracking 100 of the nation’s top retailers, the company says that the average retailer sent subscribers 5.6 promotional emails last week, an 8% jump week-over-week, and a 26% hike year-over-year."
- Excessive emails will ensure that your brand becomes a commodity. It will no longer be special. Rather than being valued, it will be viewed as clutter and tagged as 'junk mail.'
- Too many email sales pitches create feelings of regret, particularly if your customer has already purchased from you. She will worry that she paid too much and feel like a fool for having bought too early.
- If your shopper hasn't bought from you, these excessive sales pitches will be sure to paralyze her into permanent inaction. Perhaps the next email will feature an even better deal.
- Excessive promotional email messages cheapen the brand and call into question the reasonableness of profit margins. If everything in your store is 40% off for the holidays, then the rest of the year your prices must be 40% too high.
- Emails bombarding the recipient with constant deals communicate that the retailer doesn't listen well to customers. If s/he did, the messages would be different. They would acknowledge previous purchases and suggest relevant news ones and offer related information to add to the value of the original purchase. They would make the recipient feel special.
- Excessive retail emails create 'noise' that recipients can easily ignore. They even become grateful when the holidays end and they stop hearing from you! If you're lucky, they might even never notice that your emails are no longer coming in.
- A senseless onslaught of retail emails creates bad karma: customers will stop sharing their email addresses. You will have lost the privilege of communicating directly to them because you abused them.
Have you traveled yet via the reinvented express bus service experience that BoltBus, MegaBus or Vamoose offer? I do so regularly and am in love with the convenience and practicality of the customer experience. I've even written about it on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog! See Reinventing Bus Travel: Clean, Convenient & Connected. I wish, though, that communication were more consistently embraced.
Over the holidays, I rode MegaBus from NYC to Washington, DC. My daughter and I had the best seats in the house: front row, top level of the double-decker bus with our own power outlets and working WiFi. After waiting an hour and a half outdoors in a downpour [we had arrived early, hoping to get on an earlier bus], we felt we had not only earned our seats, but also reached nirvana. We were warm, dry, comfortable and connected. Rain, holiday traffic, rush hour - we dealt with those happily.
Until we reached a rest-stop and learned we would stop for 30 minutes [most rest-stops last 10 minutes at most].
And discovered that our bus had stopped not at the special express bus area that offered easy and safe access to Delaware House, a really pleasant and clean Airport-like rest-stop, but instead at the truck-stop area where we had to dodge trucks and traffic to reach either a convenience store or Delaware House itself.
And found out after our 30 minutes turned into 60 minutes that a passenger had been lost... [we eventually got her back].
Our trip was originally scheduled to last 4:30 hours. It wound up taking over 6:30 hours.
Now, stuff happens - especially during the holidays, during rush hour and in the rain. However, what this Megabus customer service experience highlighted was that the following really matter! More specifically,
- Owning the communication process. Think how an airplane pilot always welcomes passengers on board and sets the stage for the trip. Doing so conveys authority and competence. Our driver never did so.
- Setting expectations for customers around the trip [including a 30 minute stop], from the driver [focus on safety, consistent communications], for passenger responsibilities [respect fellow passengers and driver request to return to bus], and implications [if you miss the bus]. Doing so conveys ownership and competence.** Our driver never did so.
**NOTE: This parallels how important it is to set expectations online via social media and comment policies on blogs, house rules on Facebook fan pages and rules for LinkedIn Groups.
- Ensuring that drivers are equally trained, not just to drive the bus, but also to pilot it and guide passengers safely. This means that they feel comfortable communicating consistently, they understand the benefits of doing so and they fully understand that safety extends to every aspect of the customer service experience: from the drive, to where passengers get off the bus at a rest stop. Our driver didn't know where to stop at Delaware House. Others do.
Although I described this as a "Megabus trip from hell" on Twitter, my daughter and I made it to our destination safely. We were appalled at the lost passenger situation and the truck stop experience - both unprofessional.
In contrast, on our return trip back on BoltBus, the driver welcomed us, stated there would be no stops other than to our final destination and asked us to be considerate of fellow passengers and deposit trash in specific bags.
This reimagined form of travel is still evolving. We used to be picked up/dropped off from specific city street corners. In DC, these buses now do so from Union Station. As UrbanCincy reports in The time is ripe for a central intercity bus terminal in Cincinnati [from which the image above comes], cities [including New York City and Washington DC] are realizing the benefits of intercity bus travel - as well as interstate highway rest stops [such as Delaware House].
That means more focus on delivering consistent customer service experiences from Megabus and other bus services, starting with better communications, training and consistent guidelines.
As you deliver your customer experiences, how might you ensure better communication, training and guidelines? Have you come across some good examples to use as models?