Category Archives: retail

A small treat with huge implications.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and therefore have become quite familiar with the countless and ever-evolving motorway service stations that span the country.  It would be easy to fill a blog just on the mixed experiences I’ve had in service stations alone, but today I’d like to focus on a more positive experience at petrol station in Strensham Services, operated by BP on the M5 southbound.

Empty fuel tank

Us humans are creatures of habit.  60% of our shopping is done in the same stores, visited in the same order, having parked in the same car park we did last time.  Petrol stops are no different, we are known to create ‘service station stop-off’ rituals on regular routes.  Today, I’m on a regular business trip to South Wales; this particular service station is just over a third of the way there.  I treat the stop as a mini celebration, having passed the worst of the traffic around Birmingham (route includes M6, M42, M40).  As you have no doubt experienced, many service stations adopt a policy of shamelessly extracting as much money out of their customers as humanly possible, seemingly on the premise that they are a passing customer and they are unlikely to see them again.  This manifests itself in terms of giant sized grab bag crisps, overly priced sandwiches and meal deals, plus other random impulse buys.  There is a mis-match here as we know from habitual and ritual behaviour that people often use the same motorway services time and time again.

This is perhaps lesson 1:  Do your assumptions about the customer you serve actually play out, or are you serving somebody very different? 

Back to my journey and sales tale experience.  It’s the 17th of December and I’ve stopped for a coffee to go, after a pretty gruelling 1½ hours of traffic around Birmingham.  The usual cashier isn’t in today;  an Eastern European girl who I’ve built rapport with over the many, many years of visiting.  Today a very bright and bubbly member of staff was working.  I exchanged some pleasantries and we shared a joke around whether I needed the receipt and if George Osbourne (UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) would contribute towards this working coffee, she responded, “Why not? Everybody else does.”  I do like to see staff confident enough to engage and show personality.  The service went without a hiccup and as she gave me my coffee, she did something seemingly incidental, that had a surprisingly big impact.  She gave me a small treat (a star-shaped shortbread biscuit), carefully wrapped and clearly designed as a giveaway, on the grounds that it was too small to sell, but a perfectly sized compliment for my coffee.  So, a coffee station in a petrol station has given me a free biscuit, Is that it – you may be thinking?  Yes, but let us consider the implications of the gift and possible outcomes.

Free CookiesI am unaware of the specific motives of BP and Wild Cafe and why they decided to give these cookies away.  Was it goodwill, or did they have a wider commercial objective?  What I do know is that whether the outcomes were intended or not, the likely impact will be three-fold and largely very positive.

  1. In all of the stores I’ve visited in the run up to Christmas, world class department stores, premium retail brands, numerous petrol stations and service stations and many well known coffee shops nobody has given me anything.  This is the first store to give me a Christmas treat.  It is therefore, going to stand out.
  2. A treat or a gift makes us happy.  When was the last time you entered a petrol station shop and was made to feel happy?
  3. I got to try something I don’t usually buy here.

I don’t normally buy treats with my coffee and as it turned out, this shortbread biscuit was delicious.  They didn’t give me a 10% off my next coffee voucher or similar future discount, instead they got me to try something that I don’t normally consume in the store. This is a technique that smart reward card providers need to think about. (See this popular article on reward cards for more on this: Loyalty Schemes)

Whilst I can only speculate at the percentage of customers that see the store as I do – a provider of petrol and coffee only; having experienced this treat, and recognising it was the perfect complement and sugar fix at this time of the morning, I might now consider Wild Bean Cafe as a ‘coffee and treat stop’.  If this becomes a new ritual for me and other frequent customers, this could convert into a significant amount of new turnover.  As a retail consultant, increasing average spend will always be an area I explore early in a business I am helping grow, the benefits are huge and typically increased costs very low.

Handing out samples is nothing new, in a visit to Costco yesterday I got to try noodles from one station and a pasta dish from another.  Large store sample stations are slightly different, they are designed to enhance the store experience and trigger customers’ desire to indulge.  The fundamental difference is that customers stay in the store after trying the sample.  In a petrol station you have left when you consume the sample or treat.

Whilst the experience as small and as simple as described was very positive, there is still a way the store may have improved:

The sales assistant could have made more of the treat by the way that she presented it.  As previously stated, the girl was great, bright, bubbly and witty and the only thing missing from the presentation was to say something like, ‘here’s a little thank you from us for your custom. Merry Christmas.’ This would have made the whole experience even more powerful, and put to bed any questions of their motives.

In summary, a simple and relatively inexpensive promotion from BP and Wild Bean Café has secured its place as my pit stop of choice on journeys to South Wales.  On my next visit I will be asking myself, “would you like a little treat with that?” Let’s hope they have something similar on offer for sale and not snap-back to type and offer only industrial sized 9 inch cookie as a side order!

What can we learn:

Focusing on lifetime value of customers is essential for most retail businesses – even if the assumption is the customer is passing trade.

Incentives should drive increased average transaction value, rather than discount existing shopping behaviour.

When you have a great message, story or promotion, plan carefully how it will be presented.

Last call for SAS sales crew.

Can team SAS wow me with their sales skills, or will I be looking for the exit, there, there and there.  Let’s find out…

I’m flying back from three days working with a retailer in  Denmark.  It is the first time I have travelled with Scandinavian Airlines and although my preconceptions were clouded by a troublesome iOS App before flying, the staff onboard both flights were very impressive.

Staff were friendly, bright, engaged and authentic.  An experience I am finding rare with European flights of late.

Whilst on my return flight, I am sat next to a snoring frequent flyer (irrelevant but amusing nonetheless) typing up my summary notes for the client.  The sessions had been on retail selling and key tips and tricks to impact business before Christmas.

I had just completed the paragraph on add-on selling when the cabin crew came through offering drinks.  “Do you have a beer?” I asked.  “Yes” said the crew member “I have this Scandinavian beer in blonde or dark, it’s a little more expensive, or Carlsberg”.

I thought the distinction between the ‘Scandinavian’ beer and ‘Carlsberg’ which interestingly is made in Copenhagen – Denmark – Scandinavia, was interesting.  More intriguing was the distinction between the two brands that centred only around price. Is that the only difference?  Is the ‘more expensive’ beer delicious, brewed in a unique way, Scandinavia’s most popular?  Perhaps, but all I know is that it is the most expensive.

Lacking a sound motive to spend more than I needed to, I opted for the Carlsberg.  As the cabin crew member prepared my over priced can of beer and tiny plastic beaker, he played a brilliant card. “Would you like some cashew nuts with your beer sir?”  Absolutely I did.  I hadn’t realised before, I hadn’t considered what snack offering they had, it’s not even a snack I eat very often – but it was instantly the perfect match to my cold beer.

As small an add-on sale cashew nuts are, they are still an add-on, an extra bit of turnover that maximises my spend during this relatively short flight.  It made my beer more enjoyable and no doubt made me a little more thirsty thanks to the salt.  It didn’t annoy me, as most attempts to add-on sale do, and enhanced my experience.  That was a brilliantly simple and relevant add-on sale.  Although this appears so basic, I cannot remember the last time a bar offered me nuts or snacks with a drink.

Cabin crew selling

Like an inverted feedback sandwich of good, bad, good – the interaction did take a turn for the worse again when I asked if I could pay in sterling.  “You can but the rate is terrible”.  Ok a few things here, twice he has made cost assumptions, despite no indication I have any issues with cost.  Secondly, why are SAS knowingly offering terrible exchange rates?  Wishing not to dwell on either, I paid on a card in the local currency and ended the encounter.

Whilst enjoying my beer and cashew nuts he completed his walk through the cabin and made an announcement, promoting the duty free offering.  These scripted sales pitches are typically distracting, irritating and weak, and most of the pitch did the same, he did say a one thing that caught my attention however.  “Our best sellers are…lipstick, candy…all with a Scandinavian twist”. This felt less scripted, in fact I could see him riffling through his trolley to decide what was tonight’s best sellers (presumably based on which had been the least best selling items, left on the trolley). Best sellers plays on a core psychological driver known as ‘Social Influence’. We take comfort in following the crowd, the group or the majority when making decisions. It reduces risk and is deemed more trustworthy.  Whilst his delivery was a little clumsy and insincere, I was impressed to hear him use the technique, one I haven’t heard used by the incessant efforts to sell duty free on flights across Europe.  The Scandinavian twist was also very clever.  A Friday evening flight may well have Brits returning home to loved ones or visitors from Scandinavia about to descend on someone – both have grounds to bear gifts with a ‘Scandinavian twist’.

What we can learn?

  • Always look for opportunities to sell add-ons, in a relevant and timely way. With a little thought they can enhance the customer experience.
  • Find a distinction between products/services that actually represent value to your customer.
  • Use the power of social influence to guide customer decisions and reduce the perceived risk.
  • Consider likely motives a customer may have to purchase your products, and include where you can.

Well done SAS, whilst not faultless, better than most!

Proactive retail selling.

Location: Carphone Warehouse, Selfridge’s London

I’m a big fan of Selfridges London and a moderate fan of Carphone Warehouse, who are one of the better all brand mobile phone retail chains.  So when Carphone Warehouse opened a concession in Selfridges, I had the perception that the experience would be pretty impressive.

“Can I show you this case” the sales assistant asked rhetorically, as he started his demonstration.  Like a market trader in a holiday resort, the concession’s idea of increasing footfall appeared to centre around accosting unsuspecting browsers to endure a silicon case demo.

“The skin comes in 4x colours” he went on to say, seizing the opportunity of my politeness choosing not to ignore him.  He gestured in the loose direction of his concession, that was hidden behind the computer concessions display of Apple MacBooks.  Having recognised from my body language that I wasn’t heading in that direction, he decided to demonstrate how effective the phone ‘skin’ was.  Peeling it back from the phone, he showed me a crack on the top right hand corner of the screen.  “I’ve dropped this phone lots of times” he confessed, “and I only have this small crack, if I didn’t have this case, I would have probably broken my phone”.

Broken phone, better sales approach would have worked

I smiled; for two reasons: firstly I was amused by his sales pitch, and secondly based on his sales pitch I suspected his conversion rate was relatively low and some encouragement would probably be welcome.  “It’s ok buddy” I said “I’ve got a case, but thank you”.

It wasn’t clear who he worked for at that stage, he was wearing black and a Selfridges badge, but was clearly employed by a concession – although most customers would be unaware of this until they got to the till.  I took a long walk round to his concession, to realise it was indeed Carphone Warehouse.

OK, so what can we learn from this brief encounter?

1: I’m not sure we should be jumping on customers unsolicited in this manner.

Shopping would be very tiresome if every brand or seller jumped on us as we passed their stand or shopfront. The exception to this would be when we have something incredibly new, amazing, ground breaking or interesting to share, which may enrich my life or make me a little more interesting on the next outing with the guys.  In this instance, I question whether a silicon skin/case meets this criteria.

That said, with some preparation and theatre we could have made the case demonstration more exciting and interesting.  If as I walked passed, he placed the phone on the floor and stamped on it, or invited me to hit it with a giant mallet it would grab my attention.  He may have gone on to demonstrate that the device still worked by asking me to enter my email address.  Had he, a number of things would have ensued:

  • I’d be entertained, the novelty element of my brain would have lit up like a Christmas tree.  This isn’t something you see every day!
  • I’d be impressed, he let me hit his phone with a mallet and it still works
  • I’d start to like the salesman, he let me hit his phone.  He trusted me, now I am more likely to trust him.
  • I’m involved, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.  It was now my demo, not his, and we know involvement is also very persuasive.

2: Showing or admitting to minor flaws and addressing them with practical compromises or rationale can be very persuasive.  For example, at Kerching Retail we are only a small team, that is a perceived weakness.  However, this means you always get our best consultants working on your business, not the intern.

Demonstrating that the phone cracked it’s screen whilst in a protective case is not a minor flaw, but a fundamental one.  I’m not in the market for a case that limits damage, I need it to eliminates damage.

3: Qualifying customers.  Did I have a need for this case? Perhaps, or I may have needed it for my girls or wife.  A couple of questions may have changed the entire dynamic of the interaction.  “Can I see your phone please sir, and your current case?”  He would have immediately seen I use a Tech21 Impactology case, to protect against frequent and frustrating habit of dropping my phone whilst multi-tasking, typically – in my office, in shopping malls, and more often than not – on a Shopfit site.  “I see your phone’s safety is important to you, are there any other phones in your household?…” Its easy to see where the conversation may have led from this.

In Summary: Although a pretty ineffective demo, there is scope to create a memorable and engaging experience with a little practice, preparation and theatre.

When is selling add-ons pushy sales and when is it great service?

A popular way to  increase sales in retail is selling extras, attachment sales, accessories or linked product.  We know that, but it can often feel clumsy, pushy or a little awkward.

I though I’d share a Sales Fail of my own in terms of add-on selling and what can be learnt from it.

In 1996 I was working as a sales guy in a retail store and mail order telesales team.  I received a call in the morning from a guy 2 hours away who wanted to try a product.  It was a Synthesiser costing £2,595.  We arranged a demo time and I got everything set-up before he arrived.

The demo went well, it was rehearsed so I could respond to the needs and questions of the customer – but still ensure my party pieces and wow-factor features could be demonstrated.  Suffices to say, he bought the Synthesiser.  So far so good.

I processed the invoice, carried the product to his car and waved him on his way.  A job well done I thought.

3 hours later I get a call from the customer, naturally I assumed he would be gushing with how fantastic the experience was and how great my customer service was.  I couldn’t have been be further from the truth…the guy was furious.

Angry Customer Sales Fail

What you may not realise is that a professional synthesiser does not come with speakers, cables, pedals, headphones or a stand.  You might expect a professional to have these, or at least some of them.  In this instance, the customer had none of these, and had arrived home with his new investment and couldn’t even hear it.  To be precise, he’d done a 5 hour round trip, spent £2,595 and couldn’t play a note.

It was at this point that I realised that selling add-ons and accessories does not have to be perceived as being a pushy or greedy sales person.  It can be exceptional customer service.  IN fact, not selling this customer the extras to go with his product did him an injustice.  From this day onwards, if I hadn’t raised the topic of essential accessories or perfect partner products before we got to the counter (which we should do where possible), I would at least ask the question…“Can I check you have everything you need.  I would hate you to get home and not be able to use this?”

Presented is this way, the question feels like great customer service rather than a sales pitch.

Car dealerships go further, often completing a sign-over document to ensure you have been offered everything.  Is this in the interest of the customer or a prompt for the salesman?  When presented well it can work for both.

Tip: Never let a customer leave your store with a purchase, until you have “checked they have everything they need”.

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