We were interviewed by Ian Mylchreest, Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Business Press!
'Tis the season for the retail tribe
BY IAN MYLCHREEST BUSINESSS PRESS
Shopping ranks with visiting the dentist and cleaning bathrooms as three of the least pleasant, least interesting and least rewarding ways to spend time. I love family and friends like the next person but joining the rest of humanity at the mall in December leaves me cold.
Still, as a fearless reporter, I'm obliged to investigate one of the latest trends in the shopping business -- retail anthropology.I know. Anthropology once meant the religious beliefs of Trobriand Islanders or the kinship patterns of Bedouins. Now it also involves studying the way people actually shop; how they move around the store, and more particularly, what will get shoppers to buy. If you thought a store was a store was a store, listen to what Chicago-based retail anthropologists Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender have to say: "Women," says Bender, are "phenomenal impulse shoppers ... I hate to stereotype anyone but we're trained to be shoppers from the time we're little kids going to the supermarket with mom." Now that's a whole new spin on kinship patterns.
That impulsiveness, say the anthropologists, is a big factor in laying out store displays. "At Christmas, stores will have all their best-sellers out on tables so you have to pass them as you move through the store Š they're speed-bumps," adds Kizer. "You'll find those displays every 10 feet."The pair liken the layout of the best chain and department stores to supermarkets that put necessities like milk at the rear of the store. They put the stuff you come for at the back so that you'll have to pass by all those things that you might be seduced into buying as you make your way across the floor.
And how do men shop? "Oh, they're completely different," says Kizer.
"Men come to the store knowing the specific thing they want to find, and if they don't find it, they're likely to leave." So men's stuff has to be laid out so they can see the things they want so they don't leave empty-handed.
The Thanksgiving/Christmas period is the biggest retail time of the year and a lot of energy goes into planning what will work and what won't. Bender says the recent mania for ridiculously cheap products being sold in the middle of the night to kick off Black Friday needs some tweaking.
"It will backfire on them," she says, citing Best Buy's offer of "not less than 15" laptops on sale for under $400.
One Chicago-area store decided to hand out coupons rather than make people wait overnight in the sub-zero temperature. But there were only 14 coupons for the line. One of the store clerks had already bought one of those precious loss-leaders. That made for one angry crowd, laughs Bender."There will always be people who line up in the middle of the night for those specials, but it's much better to offer people a coupon that allows them, say, 50 percent off on any one item. That way they're much more likely to come in," says Bender.
Even though final figures won't be available for some time, Kizer reports that big stores are doing as well or slightly better than expected and that smaller stores are at or just below target with Christmas sales.
The big changes this year will be in the post-Christmas sales. Kizer remembers one store that refunded so much the day after Christmas that it had a net result of "minus one dollar." And that despite the big bundles of advertising and the mania for the day-after-Christmas bargains.
Good stores, he says, are going to make a concerted effort to make sure that doesn't happen. And, he says, the stores will look completely different."
Lots of stores this year will be offering gift cards or store credits rather than cash refunds," says Kizer. And they have trained staff to make sure the first words out of their mouth are not "cash refund."
And to profit from that shopping impulse, notes Bender, you can expect to see plenty of shopping opportunities right where you're standing on the line to get that gift certificate or store credit or, if you must, a cash refund.
And even though the stores tell the reporters their numbers won't be complete until well into the New Year because so many gift certificates will not be used until well after the holidays, there is a big "but," says Bender.
The stores love those certificates because they usually get to sell a bit extra. Many shoppers cannot resist the temptation to add a little bit more of their own cash to get something bigger or better than the original gift value. ValueLink says 56 percent of people spend more than the gift card denomination, and some 4 to 6 percent spend double the card's face value. The very fact that the card brings people into the store is a plus.
The survey says 61 percent spend the whole amount in the first month, and if the store appeals to them, they'll be back. And making sure they come back is the whole point.
Kizer and Bender say they are big fans of the Las Vegas retail scene. "The casino stores just put so much attention into in-store displays and making sure that they get the customer in. We come to Vegas when we need to get some new ideas," says Bender.
And the proof of the success of Las Vegas retail can be found in malls like the Forum Shops and the Grand Canal Shops, says Kizer. That's where the most expensive and exclusive stores are.
"But," says the retail anthropologist, "everybody seemed to be carrying a shopping bag. You can have a busy store, but you're not making money if people are looking, not buying."
No doubt those are words to shop by. I'm still not sure, though, that I want to be like all those other Romans at the Forum Shops.