The Primal Urge

It’s August and I’m shopping. Like a siren, the back-to-school shopping crave pulls me into Nordstrom.  But my kids are out of school and I’m not in school. I saw no ads, I have no flyers from the postman. I should resist the primal urge. But the bell’s ringing in my head and I want to be in the stores.

I have rationale, believe me! Industry conference season is coming up and I’m a consultant. That equals a need, but really, a desire to be in the stores browsing all the new arrivals is the real pull.

I have yet another rationale! This one involves upcoming  travel to the Caribbean and summer sale racks. This means nice clothes without sticker shock. Works for me, and is surely the reason the for a jam packed parking lot.

I know why July retail sales were up, and why Back-To_School forecasts f02 2012 are up. It’s just that we really WANT to be in the marketplace. It’s primal, and seasonal. Just like the urge to go to the farmer’s market for the late summer harvest, we are pulled to the mall.

For the sake of the industry of shopping, this pleases me.

So does this cute seasons’ hottest mustard skirt I bought.  And the shoes!  Nothing beats new red shoes!.

 

We are judging this man by his shoes!!

Meet Matt.

Matt’s looking all buttoned up this morning!

Yesterday some stranger took his bag off the train on the way to Newark Airport. As any traveler knows, Newark Airport can barely feed a traveler well, let alone replace everything Matt needed to complete his business trip to the Mosaic office in Chicago.

So Matt, while enduring the inevitable flight delay out of Newark, figured out a plan that would prevent him from wearing shorts and a t-shirt for three days. He called four Target stores in Chicagoland, and found one that stays open until 11:00 PM.

Landing at O’Hare, Matt jumps in a cab, arriving at Target only 15 minutes before it closes. Like the game show where one races through the store on a stop-watch, Matt tosses in the cart boxers, socks, shoes, jeans, two oxford shirts, travel sized shampoo, facewash, toothpaste…you get the picture.

This morning, he realized he forgot to buy a bag to take it all home. We think Target should donate a duffel bag!  Frankly, this group of shopper marketers are duly impressed with Matt’s initiative. So impressed that we are about to vote his $256 tab as “shopper research”. Plus, the women in the room love his new shoes!

You can always judge a man by his shoes!

My trip to the store….

Posted on my friend Bill’s Facebook status on this blazing hot 4th of July… enjoy!

My trip to the store.

There was a bit of confusion at the store this morning. When I was ready to pay for my groceries with my credit card, the cashier said, “Strip down facing me.”

Making a mental note to complain to my congressman about Homeland Security running amok, I did just as she had instructed.

When the hysterical shrieking and alarms finally subsided, I found out that she was referring to my credit card.

I have been asked to shop elsewhere in the future.

They need to make their instructions to us seniors a little clearer!

 

My Invisible Hand is choking me.

Last week I read about an extension for Google Chrome browser called Invisible Hand, which can inform me when items I am searching for online can be purchased cheaper on another site. Sounds like a good plan for a savvy shopper, right? I installed the extension and have been test driving it.

My experience in the first 48 hours was interesting. Without a doubt, Amazon is the winner of this shopping game. And most often, the lowest prices are from resellers that are in fact paying Amazon for the opportunity to undercut all the classic retailers websites. This is especially true in cosmetics and beauty care.  Note at the bottom of the picture below, the item is being sold by “BeingJoli” (WHO?) for $30.60 which is $7.00 cheaper than anywhere else.

 

Specialty beauty retailer Ulta has it online for $42.00, which is the same price as the Dermalogica.com website offers. Plus shipping.  I’m not sure of the in-store price at Ulta and the nearest Ulta store is a 20 minute drive from my house. My experience tells me the in-store price will not be less that $42.

My Amazon Prime membership offers me two day free shipping on everything I buy. I want this product, I use this product and I’m not really ready to pay $12 more.

But I’ve yet to hit the “1-Click” order button because frankly, because of my profession, I feel like I’m being choked by an Invisible Hand.

The traditional retail industry feels the same tightness around their throats. The time to solve is now.

 

Best Buy Trains Shoppers to Distrust Pricing

DID YOU KNOW….

…that 86% of consumers are somewhat or highly likely to move their business to another retail brand when they encounter inconsistent pricing across channels?

It’s true, and here’s the source: 2011 Shopper Preference Study, RetailTouchPoints Whitepaper, August 2011

One would think that major retailers would know this. Best Buy obviously doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. It’s no wonder the press is all over the stories of their imminent demise.

All I can say is this. Good thing I did my pre-store homework, researching for a portable phone to replace one that no longer works. On the Best Buy website, I put one in the cart, but decided to visit the store since I was going to drive by it anyway on another errand.

The online price – $24.99 – either shipped or for store pick up. The in-store price – $34.99

I expressed my STUNNED reaction to the $10 upcharge to the sales guy, who offered to price match. Then, I followed him around to not one, but two in-store terminals so he could verify the online price. He then walked me to the register with a price adjustment slip, but when I checked out,  I had to wait even longer for a manager to come over and approve the transaction price.

NOT GOOD.

When I asked the cash wrap guy why, in today’s age of transparent information, there could be a ten dollar discrepancy on a $25 item, he just shrugged and said  “that’s a good question” as if he could have cared less.

VERY BAD.

I think Best Buy has the power and knowledge to fix this problem. I also think ShopperAnnie is not unique in saying she might be done with Best Buy if they don’t.

Why is your refrigerator so empty?

I was asked this question by my 24 year old nephew yesterday.  It’s been bugging me, since just this week I made an internal promise to back off the amount of money I spend on groceries.

The easy answer is that I have a 48″ double wide built in refrigerator. It holds about as much as a small Kroger store.

But this morning I’ve been thinking about the real issue. And that is quality.

The four containers of yogurt are Fage greek, more expensive but more nutritious. The fruit and veggies are largely organic, and usually replenished at the farmer’s market. The eggs are Eggland’s Best, healthier, but pricier too. The R. W. Knudsen cranberry juice is pure, highly concentrated and mixed with water. The milk, however is Kroger’s new private label fat-free variety, which recently replaced Horizon Organic on the shelf, and by default, ended up in my cart. The meat we currently have on hand is fresh organic lamb from a local farmer friend of mine, Otto’s Chicken and some Boar’s Head ham.

You get the idea. I’m a label reader, and most of our food is fresh, healthy, low in sodium, fat and chemicals. It’s also budget busting, so we don’t really buy a lot of it.

And, really, even if I spent three hours a week (like most consumers in the country d0) looking for coupons online, I’m not likely to find coupons for the things I often buy. But in 2012 I’m going to give it a whirl.

It’s a conundrum, really. Am I a food snob living in an unreal world? Or am I faithfully watching the foods we eat to make certain they aren’t contributing to the load of disease-causing chemicals our bodies can’t process? The numbers of people I know with disease is slowly outnumbering those I know who are healthy, especially in the over 50 set.

So, while I do plan to cut food costs in 2012, I don’t plan to reduce quality. It’s likely my refrigerator is going to look even more empty the next time my nephew stops by. It will likely be minus a couple bottles of decent white wine.

 

 

My Missoni Mistake

I’m no rookie when it comes to shopping. This morning, while commenting on shopper behavior on the RetailWire site where I’m an “expert panelist” I made the decision to switch my planned grocery trip to Target (not Meijer) and go check out the Missoni apparel scene. The discussion topic was about the shopper quest for a trophy purchase, and I used the Missoni collection at Target as an example.

Before heading out, I browsed the collection on Target.com, noting a few sweaters I might consider as my personal trophy purchase.  The “out of stock” notices on much of the apparel online should have been my first clue.

Indeed, only one day after the launch,  every rack of Missoni at my local Target was already re-stocked with Merona, Xhiliration and Mossimo items. Even the kids area and the accessories areas were bare. The only Missoni item left in the entire store was a plastic headband, hardly the statement piece I thought I might acquire.

Target got an $86.00 basket ring from my journey for a fashion find. The closest thing to fashion in the cart, however, was Maybeline mascara.

Savvy shopper that I am,  I tracked down an “in-the-know” associate who gave me the story ( it ALL sold out in 30 minutes, she reported) AND whispered to me the date that the store will have more Missoni. That date is not advertised and will remain my dirtly little secret until I rectify that mistake and get my trophy Missoni sweater.

I can’t remember the last time a retail event made me note my calendar, set an alarm alert and will get me in the store the minute they unlock the door.

 

In need of an APP – Chicago Cabs Tops List

I’ve been in 4 cab accidents after 20 years of biz travel. Not bad, actually.  Three were in Chicago. At least the NYC cabbie cared that I hit the plexiglass with my face, which thankfully was not more than bruised.

I also have been abandoned on the freeway by a Chicago cabbie who spoke virtually no English. If not for cell phones (new at the time) my former boss KB and I would have been stuck. In July at 95 degrees. We, not the cabbie, saved ourselves by calling the number on the side of the cab, which the driver did not even know!

But never, until July 13, 2011, have I boarded a cab at a midtown Chicago hotel, (after the Shopper Insights in Action conference, no less), only to have the cabbie ditch us in less than five minutes!! This story is even funnier when you put it in context of the situation.

The SIA conference is over, and attendees are hustling to the luggage check out, and bustling even faster to the hotel cab line, which is long already and about to get crazy.

I ask the folks in line behind me “Who is going to Midway?” and thus share a cab with Brian Bennettes from HEB grocery.  As we’re getting acquainted, we are part of a rapid double attempt to dump us into another cab. It’s like a scene in a comedy. Talk about shopper rejection. We are acutely aware of the situation, and in fact, had to articulate the “real deal” to the second cabbie, who graciously took us on to Midway.  Our cabbie could not communicate in English, and I am being kind. Brian and I are by now talking about a case study of WHAT NOT TO DO to produce shopper delight. And we are laughing!

Of all things, it was the CLOCK that did us in. It reminds me of the night I was dumped by Northwest in Hartford, CT at because the crew time clock ran out at midnight

Our cabbie’s shift was over and he needed to clock out at ORD. Not MDW. And he was late. So we, the shoppers, were like smelly fish in his house. We were dumped like trash. Here’s the catch. Half or more people in the taxi line were headed to O’Hare.  We would have given that cab to an ORD bound friend in no time flat.

We have to ask – Why was there NO OPEN COMMUNICATION between the hotel doorman and the cabbie? When I was in the hospitality industry, the relationship between the providers was about the shopper. And the providers were more of a network to help not only shoppers, but each other. And Brian, a grocery insights pro, was stymied by the dysfunction as well.

It’s sad that we, as cab riders, have to break the language barrier for the hacks (I say that with respect) and moreover, to feel the “profound un-love” about a most basic form of transportation in big cities.

Why can’t hotel doorman and cabbies talk, or for gosh sakes, get an APP for that? Every cabbie has a smart phone, all they do is talk on the phone with their friend, while passengers pull up routes on GPS and tell the cabbie where to go.  Come on, Windy City digital gurus…. I’d use the “Open Table” model for cabs any day. I’d even check the driver references to avoid not only accidents, but the ultimate of insults, getting dumped.

For every shopper turn-off there is an opportunity to figure out the issue and fix it.

 

Shopper Evolution in the Garage

I’ve always been mystified by garage sale mavens. You know the type. Throw things on a table and $300 later, they go to the club and play tennis, then to Nordstrom for new sandals and a little Kate Spade bag. Total $300.

I, on the other hand, have to suffer through two days of pain for $50, waiting endless hours for a shopper, then getting one right in the middle of a business discussion. That one shopper will browse for ten minutes and leave with nothing. Not even my hand-me-down Kate Spade bag.

I’m left wanting to give each shopper something, anything, just to get my garage clean again. I should just post a sign that says, “Please just take this stuff somewhere, anywhere.”

But, in today’s world of garage sales,  even the browser is rare.  The garage sale shopper has evolved. Drive-by’s with rolled down windows and a shouted question  is now the norm – “do you have any (fill in the blank).” Be it golf clubs to power tools to kids toys, today’s shopper lacks the impulse to even get out of the car, let alone to fall in love with a vase I’ve had in the basement for four years.

Mission based, needs focused and clearly making efficient use of time, today’s garage sale shoppers could just as easily go to Walmart. And based on the drastic reduction in traffic at my recent sale compared to the one five years ago, that’s where they all must be. Although I suspect in my area it’s really Target that’s getting the shopping trips.

Despite Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist, plus the scale of many sales in a concentrated geography over a two-day period, the shoppers were scarce all over town.  Salvation Army locations made out like bandits taking the leftovers from weary sellers.

In my world, once items we no longer want or use make it to the garage, it matters less that they sell. It matters most that they exit the household for good. Decluttering is just as evolutionary for today’s seller as mission-based cruising is for today’s buyer.

And that’s why, next time I need to rid myself of superfluous stuff, I’m bypassing the signs and balloons and going straight to the Salvation Army for the donation. That feeling is the one that feels better than being a pop-up retail resale maven no shoppers any day.

Walmart activates Moms on Match It Program, but is it working?

When Walmart began airing it’s TV ads letting the nation know it will match prices, a little bit of chaos ensued. Namely, the sales associates wouldn’t match prices at the registers unless the shopper had the other ad in hand. Hmmm, not so good for the shopper, right?

After a few weeks of confusion, Walmart has taken steps to actually help the shopper get the deals. But shoppers must still ask. The good news is that Walmart is now training associates to be more responsible themselves to have other ads and flyers handy, and to take some personal responsibility to the mission of attracting more shoppers more often by being ready to make good on the national ad campaign.

Interestingly, the retailer has also activated the Walmart Moms to make and post personal videos on their blogs and on YouTube to help train shoppers how to navigate the policy and get the deal. I looked at some of these video’s and while they’re helpful, they’re not getting many views. One posted on April 12 had 87 views, another had 287. That’s not making a very big dent in clearing up the confusion.

Is Walmart too late? Is the price-matching campaign just another grasp for shoppers who have moved on and found satisfying shopping experiences elsewhere? I have to drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest Walmart supercenter, so this is a campaign lost on me, given the price of gas and about twenty other well-priced options I can shop without feeling very much financial stress. I also, just for fun, looked at the 18 coupons I could print from walmart.com and decided there wasn’t anything worth activating. If I had a pet, the best offers out there were from Purina, just in case anyone with pets wants to print them!

What about you? I’d love to share some experiences, so let’s hear your shopper stories and point-of-view on this effort.