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What The Market Says
Service and Shopping Experience versus The Deal
Thursday, 23rd May, 2013  - David Farmer

Farmer Bros opened its first liquor store in the Canberra suburb of Manuka in June, 1975. The store was long and narrow and was fitted out in the usual manner though in the middle was a square coolroom with glass doors displaying beer and wines. The idea was that when you walked beyond the coolroom, you entered a private area, full of fancy wines, like a cellar.

Brother Richard had an eye for the opportunity and quickly turned this tiny enterprise into a fast trading discount shop. This created problems in handling the quantity of stock and the flow of customers so a few months later I decided the new coolroom had to go as it was now an obstruction.

Sods law prevailed and the workmen arrived to remove the coolroom mid morning when trade was booming as the morning advertisement was full of very attractive offers. Could they come back later? Nope they were there to do the job. I wanted this coolroom out as it was a very big problem, so I gave the go ahead.

I did not mention that the floor of the coolroom was concrete about six inches thick and this required a jack-hammer. Well all hell broke loose, the cool room doors were ripped off, the noise of the jack-hammer was deafening and concrete dust rose in clouds.

To my complete astonishment the customer flow barely paused. Since that time I have been very sceptical about advice which sets out the rules for successful retailing and mentions the importance of service and the shopping experience. These to me are motherhood issues and are a given. What customers want in a discount store is 'the deal'. And that day taught me a great lesson; to get the deal, customers will put up with a huge amount of inconvenience.

I'm reminded of this whenever a colleague rings and mentions the latest marketing meeting he has attended. I have also sat in many of these and they are all the same as the latest Nielsen retail data is discussed in hush tones and then the conversation moves to changes that can be made to the advertising and marketing. Those with hands on the levers think trading can be altered by cosmetic changes such as altering the catalogue typeface, a tweak of the company logo, a change of background colour in the adverts and a plethora of side issues which are at best quaint. They believe that a sales trend can be achieved without heavy lifting.

So let me remind marketing departments what customers want. What they want is exciting, innovative products that are cheaper than elsewhere. They are not moved by cosmetic changes as they offer them no benefit.

Since 1977 I have made the writing and production of newsletters and the larger versions called catalogues my specialty. Thus I view with professional interest the catalogues that fall out of newspapers or I find stuffed in my letterbox and spend a lot of time reading the newsletters posted by retailers and wineries.

From this has developed my own pet hate which is the idea promoted by advertising agencies that catalogues should show groups of attractive people enjoying the type of product you are selling. This is said to connect with the customer. For liquor this means using pictures of models, eating al fresco and holding a glass of wine. Quite frankly any customer who is moved by this is a customer you do not want.

But the real problem is these pictures take up space which is best used to tell customers what you have for sale and why they should buy it. Pictured are some scenes from a Theo's Liquor Markets Summer Wine and Spirits catalogue from 1992. I worked at Theos from 1996 and removed the pictures of models and please do not get me started on the valuable selling space taken up with recipes.

This type of marketing to which the customer is meant to show empathy does not work as it depicts the obvious. It is also promoted by those without original ideas and, to repeat myself, the space is better used depicting hard hitting specials and copy explaining why the product should be bought. And yes I have conducted numerous tests which prove what I am saying. Consider the obvious; if 20% of the catalogue space is for non selling items what do you think would happen if that 20% was used to explain what you had to sell. I will tell you; the response rate goes up, meaning more sales.

The same agencies still promote this silliness 20 years on; just hoping that the nightmare they face, to be original and relevant, will go away. Though I must say, with Woolies running the show I would not put my hand up for the job of junior creative director as the horizon looks very foggy.

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