26 Jul the power of face-to-face marketing
One of the great ironies of our time is that the more we surround ourselves with information, the less trust we place in the data we read. This is especially true when we consider the growing power of the Internet and its effects on our shopping habits. Where once we would gather advice from friends and family, nowadays our first stop is usually to read reviews of products and services we are interested in buying, but often that’s not enough. Most of us need to enhance the raw data with real life experience, and as consumers, that means we want to touch and feel the product in a store before we make that final commitment.
Of course, not every sale is accompanied by a personal store visit, but it is definitely a major part of any higher ticket items or those that have more personal impact, such as smartphones, home entertainment products or digital cameras. We need that last line of reassurance.
so how can retailers and brands take advantage of this need and ensure they extract the maximum potential out of every customer engagement?
Brands and retailers with more forward-thinking ideas have realised that by incorporating multi-channel strategies, they can benefit from consumer uncertainty and step in to build a solid customer-brand relationship which cannot be replicated via an online shopping cart.
It is no longer unusual for consumers to be invited to enjoy extended ‘playtime’ with complex personal products such as action cams, tablets and smartphones, and where the product demands, even lifestyle oriented experiences which offer up a vision of how compelling a brand or model can be under the right circumstances. Small pop-up stores and booths now dot the shopping mall landscape, each one offering expert and enthusiastic sales staff who are trained in encouraging visitors to enjoy what the product has to offer.
Where the product is more complex, such as with PCs and even cars, it is now commonplace to find expert sales consultants on hand who can act as trusted advisors to help buyers make an informed and considered decision at the point of sale. These sales personnel are not there merely to help with the basics such as colour and features, but also to help suggest the optimum alternatives for each customer’s needs, whatever they may be.
Comparison-oriented displays are just the start of the story, as these brands and retailers deploy more expertly-trained personnel who can help consumers understand the implications of new technologies and standards in a non-threatening and comfortable environment. Again, this attention to detail which the clever brands and retailers employ is in stark contrast to the generic broad-brush information that a typical web shop offers, and customers respect this difference.
At the heart of this bricks-and-mortar retail fightback is the human touch, and this is where a fully engaged experiential programme can reap significant rewards.
Consumers enjoy the attention they receive from enthusiastic, well-trained sales personnel, and if that is combined with intelligently structured routes to the sales desk, readily available stock and a willingness to provide a measure of price equivalence with online offerings, then there is no reason why the sale should not be instant.
Experience shows that consumers are willing to pay a little more in return for the reassurance which comes from expert guidance on options and brand benefits, especially when they’re not subject to ineptly-trained sales staff. More than two thirds of consumer spending still goes through shops, and despite the difficult trading conditions many retailers find themselves facing, there is no real sign that the consumer intends to forgo the opportunity to play with the products, and compare brands before they buy.
The core need is to ensure that the sales staff are trained properly before being deployed, and not just in the details of their product mix, but also in the contextual reality of the market sector as a whole.
By demonstrating an understanding of which technology features work best for different needs, the sales staff can engender trust in the customer, which again empowers more critical brand engagement.
While it’s obvious that not every customer engagement on the shop floor is going to result in a sale, this kind of interaction can still have a powerful effect on how the consumer perceives the brand in the future, which opens the door to increased trade-up and replacement business when the need arises.
The success of retail giants such as Apple and John Lewis demonstrates that consumers will respond to well-designed and more importantly, well-staffed high street stores even when there are clearly many online alternatives available. The fact that many tech products are highly complex, and the range of accessories can be confusing and at times intimidating, helps drive this need for sustained face-to-face contact pre-purchase for most technically-naïve buyers.
This need also extends to general consumer electronics, as they increasingly become more complex in function and features. Smart TVs, multiroom music systems and the overall smart home market have become fashionable but fast-moving arenas where various technologies combine to deliver new digital services. These are not easy things for many consumers to understand, which makes the experiential aspects of demonstrations and sales consultant advice even more important.
The retail market is changing rapidly, and the most intelligent and insightful brands and retailers are taking the opportunity to change up a gear to meet the challenge. Instead of relying on old school shelf stocking, these operations are investing time and money in delivering a more engaging and exciting experience to customers at the point of sale, and by so doing, they are delivering value to the brand which will create long-lasting loyalty and repeat business.
In a similar fashion, instead of trying to fight the online stores on raw price, these brands and retailers are offering something their online competitors cannot, a chance for the customers and sales staff to engage in a dialogue which delivers value and trust right where it counts.