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What If : Search in Retail

Brands that operate in the b2c space typically have 2 bricks and mortar retail strategies.

The first is the solus store. This is a store that they either own or franchise and only has their own products. This is typically treated as their flagship store. Most big brands have this channel. Be it Nike, Calvin Klein, Apple and even some FMCG products.

Usually this is where the entire range of products is available. Latest and greatest products are displayed here. This channel is not just for selling products but also plays a big role in brand perceptions. We all know about Apple and its manic focus on retail, and it’s impact on, both, the bottom line, as well as the brand.

Clearly having solus stores is not enough to reach out to the consumers. This channel only addresses those already predisposed to the brand. Additionally, this channel is expensive to set up and maintain, so has limited reach.

To overcome this, brands also adopt the ‘shop in shop’ approach. This typically takes the path of having their own section within a larger department store. Anyone who’s been into a store anywhere in the world would have seen this in operation. On a floor catering to, say, clothes multiple brands have their own corners where their merchandise is displayed. Again, key here is not just sales, but also brand impact.

From my experience this weekend, in addition to several over the years, this is a very inward out approach and is extremely customer unfriendly.

This is the problem.

Say you want to buy a T shirt. Say you have also decided that what you wanted was a full sleeve, white T shirt. This should make for a simple purchase process. But this is the problem. You arrive at the men’s clothing section and will find that clothes are distributed by brand. So each brand will probably have their own white full sleeved T shirt. If you don’t have a brand in mind, this makes shopping very unpleasant. You are forced to go to each section, examine their selection and compare it to what you’ve seen previously. Perhaps, there is a brand you prefer and you make a beeline to it, and find their white full sleeves are out of stock. etc.

Not a happy experience.

Now I take you across the line to the World Wide Web. Go to the world’s favorite store amazon.com and type in white full sleeve T shirt and it throws up an array of options. You can then sort by brand, material, price etc till you get just what you want.

What If this experience can be transplanted to the real world?

In most modern stores, inventory management, billing, warehouses etc are all connected with a strong billing/ERP system. Stores know exactly what is in stock.

So What If stores had Search enabled terminals where customers can key in what they are looking for. The terminal throws up same options as an on-line store would. Customers whittle down their choice and are told which brand, in which area of the store has the T shirt they are looking for. It makes shopping easier. And doesn’t interfere with any existing merchandising plans.

This also doesn’t affect customers who come in to browse. So impulse purchases will continue to occur.

In much the same way many book stores allow you to search for books and tell you if they are in stock and where they are. We still buy more books than we intend to.

Retailers can be creative with the Search options they put on the terminals. While it can have simple ‘store stock’ based searches they can also enable search by occasion (birthday suggestions), ‘what’s new’, ‘special offers’ etc to incentivise customers to explore more parts of the store.

What If the line between off and on-line shopping could be blurred, if not removed?

 

 

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Changing shopping behaviour

When I was a kid and lived in a small town in India. There was a Saturday ritual. It was called ‘marketing’. That’s when we went to the market!!

First would be grocery buying. I remember groceries were broken into weekly and monthly lots. There was a logic for the break up but the next result was that we would be stocking up.

Next was vegetable buying, which perforce had to be weekly due to its perishable nature.

One of the things we’d end up having always stock of was toothpastes, toothbrushes, soaps and the ilk.  Always it would be replenished faithfully.

Even today when I go visit my parents I can bet they’d still have the same shopping pattern and the same kind of stocking pattern.

I contrast it to my home now, where it is a just in time pattern shopping. I get stuff when what I have is over or about to. Hence there is a continuous shopping pattern. It is a mind set that works around getting things when it is needed than a planned process.

Maybe the fact that the shop keeper calls every day asking if we need something contributes to it.

Maybe it is like what they say about mobile phones. That it has pushed decision making farther out. You can plan to meet for a meal and decide where 5 minutes before the time. Where as in the olden days you needed to plan every detail of the meeting.

Maybe the mobile phone generation lives just in time.

Or maybe it is just my house.

How about you?

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