How important are running sales vs. building your reputation for service & selection?
After last month, the telephone rang and the fax flowed. Apparently, some people were struck like a thunderbolt with what they read regarding the type of advertising messages that persuade women. It became immediately apparent that many dealers were not including children or using humor in their advertising.
As promised, this month we will delve into the influences of what makes a woman choose one store over another. A recent survey asked female shoppers what influenced their choice of stores they shopped in most. Here are their responses: Sales, 62%; reputation or great service, 61%; great variety of merchandise, 60%; product exclusivity, 21%; Promotional events, 6%. It should be noted in this EDK Forecast, 1994 survey that respondents could choose more than one answer.
Certainly, the magic word in English is SALE. It has an almost magnetic affect which attracts the electronic strip of nearly any credit card in her purse. Even the American lexicon has changed. ("Do you like the dress? And I got it on sale. It was originally only ..."). SALE means everything in today's aggressive retail environment. And to no one's surprise, the fact that a store is having a sale is the number one reason why women shoppers say they are influenced to buy from a particular store. But as strong as the word SALE is, there are two other great big reasons why women shop where they do. As indicated in the survey, "Reputation" and "Great Service" are neck and neck with SALE. It seems funny that today people respond to the same things as our ancestors. The word reputation had gone out of favor with Americans during the past decade. In the high flying '80s, reputation was a five minute burst on the scene. But today, after an economic upside down turn, where today's worries are as basic as keeping one's job, reputation is suddenly back in fashion. And for good reason. During the past decade more furniture stores have gone out of business than new ones have appeared. Many people have been caught with deposits on special orders or deferred deliveries lost or seriously delayed. People don't want to be burned again. It may not have happened to today's shopper, but nearly every shopper knows of someone who has had this experience. Reputation is a conservative word for being cautious. And it has again risen to one of the most important criteria in creating an inviting atmosphere for the woman to visit your store.
Several years ago, dealers stopped using a portion of their advertising space to say they were founded in 1915 or 1947. It appeared to be out of fashion...out of step. "Who cares anymore?", some said. "Nobody gives a darn about how long one has been in business. All they care about is how much are they going to save.", they said. "Nineteen Fifteen, Nineteen Smifteen. Who cares?".
It appears today that the serious shopper indeed cares, because business longevity is a badge of courage, honesty, integrity, dedication to service, loyalty to the public, substance in the community, stability, caring for other people and building a tradition. Remarkably, the word civics has reappeared. That is a word that was thought to be retired from Webster's Dictionary. There has definitely been a reemergence of past values.
Perhaps there is a Frank Capra emerging on the scene who will take advantage of this sentimentality that appears to be reemerging. Disney will surge back and the children will be able to play with their favorite characters, molded out of plaster of Paris, right in their own homes, and painted with the colors that come in the box...official Disney colors.
Even in Capra's time, windows in the stores of the make believe world of Bedford and Uniondale had the word SALE in them. It was as much a part of that generation as it is in our own. And that appears to be the key in analyzing today's trends. If you tear away all the fancy words and phrases, throw out all the psychological studies, it appears that a return to values is upon us. A return that most of us have not yet seen or fully understand.
Don't fight it. Rejoice. Sure, running sales are still part of the answer. But reputation and great service have emerged from the deep sleep we put them in years ago.
And look what is right behind these standards of excellence... Great Variety of Merchandise. Can you believe it? People are actually becoming exactly the type of customer our Econ books spoke of... the customers we learned we must attract in order to stay in business. Remarkable. And of course, we have been encouraging this message during our entire business lives.
What? You've missed the boat? You haven't been telling the potential customer that you have a great reputation, you've been in business since 1915 and that your most important asset is great service? You mean you have not been telling the public that you have great merchandise variety and that you have more than just that one line you always seem to be talking about rather than your own store name? You mean you have been building a product name, and the real product is your store's name? This isn't a Capra story! It's an Oliver Stone film.
Maybe what all those manufacturer's were telling you about product exclusivity is not that important after all, because your reputation is the most important factor influencing your customer's buying decision. What she really wants is honesty, integrity and great service, along with variety and a SALE.
Perhaps when you plan next year's advertising schedule, you will put more emphasis on commercials that talk about your store's dedication to service, it's people and how important they have been in helping you stay in business over these many, many years. You might also talk about your store's commitment to preserving it's reputation. Sure, you will have sales. But the image advertising you do merely sets the table for the sales events to follow. As good as we paint the picture of ourselves, it is just the first step in making the potential customer believe.
The more you tell customers about who you are, what you are all about, how long you have been in business to serve their needs, the greater the chance that they will actually believe what you say. In your advertising and in your public relations efforts, the more said about your good points, the more other people will refer to them as gospel.
The old saying goes, the more paint you throw at the barn, the greater chance that it will someday look as though it has been painted. And whether you are from the city or the country... be it a barn or garage, the adage still applies.
As previously noted, the EDK Forecast survey asked female shoppers what influenced the choice of stores they shopped in most. Here were their responses: sales, 62%; reputation or great service, 61%; great variety of merchandise, 60%; product exclusivity, 21%; promotional events, 6%.
Sometimes it is good to repeat what one says at the beginning. Maybe it will reinforce what has been talked about in the middle. Because many in the magazine reading world today never heard of Capra, or experienced the thrill of plaster of Paris. For those of us who do and did, it is remembered as a more simple time, a time of hope, not despair. It was a time when whatever our career, we needed to do our jobs in the best possible manner, for our betterment and the good of all around us.
If you haven't checked lately, the public's attitude is shifting. There's a new group in the nation's capital. There was an outpouring of support last November. There is always lots of talk about what will and will not be accomplished. But one thing is certain. They are in power because the people voted them in. And before that, the people voted others in. Why?
Maybe there is something to this throwback attitudinal adjustment. Maybe this is a time of change. Maybe we should tell people about our ability to serve their home furnishings needs. Maybe we can even use television to tell the potential customers all about our store and our people and our pride of being in business to serve them since...television really does work after all.
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.