Monday, 14 December 2009

Jimmy Choo's or Shoe Zone?

We’ve had the Kate Moss collection at Top Shop , Lily Allen for New Look and recently H&M featured a special Jimmy Choo’s selection.

Seduced by a lower price tag for one of Britain’s best loved designers, I popped into a London store to take a look. (It was limited stores only and lowly Peterborough didn’t make the grade).

Of course I wasn’t expecting to find much left over after the initial rush but there were a few pairs. I was surprised however to see how awful they were. Not the design so much as the quality. They would have fitted in nicely into the Shoe Zone’s bargain basement range. With a £50 price tag these I thought that they could at least have used leather, not plastic.

So what does this say about one of the hottest brands out there?

I understand that high end fashion has to reach down to the masses. It’s a financial reality with rising costs at the supply end and a recession that is hitting even the richer end of the customer spectrum. However, where Top Shop got it right, Jimmy got it wrong. The Kate Moss collection starting at about £120 and going up well over £200 is pricey for Top Shop but you’ve got to give the public something to aspire to. Too affordable and it just isn’t desirable.

Your average Jimmy Choo’s are about £300 a pair, so if H&M had priced their collection at £120 for example and used some decent quality materials, I would have said that would have been a better choice.

Yes I am sure they sold well and some members of the public are chuffed with themselves but what about the core customer? What about the ones that pay £300? Do they really want to see a Tesco checkout girl sporting plastic Jimmys with the same label as them? I think not.

Luxury branding is about aspirations. As the recession continues to bite I wonder if more brands will let the prospect of good sales figures turn their heads and stamp on their core customer?

If anyone has seen the current Sonia Rykiel collection, let me know if it is any better.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Wot no toilet?

On a recent trip to London I was reminded of that annoying concept that only seems to appear in London, cafes with no toilet.

Why is that? Are they afraid that the homeless and drunks of the streets will appear on their doorstop and use their facilities? Are they afraid that customers might dwell there too long with their lip gloss? Are they afraid that you might buy only a measly packet of biscuits just to use the loo? Or do they just not give two hoots about their customers?

How many people can manage a latte without a wee? Come on girls, you know what I am saying! Why on earth do the Costa coffees and Prets of the world think it is ok not to bother giving us the usual facilities.

Not only is it bad customer service and certainly leaves me unimpressed and bursting to go, I would actively avoid cafes without toilets. So your £2.99 for a coffee has just gone somewhere else.

As opposed to it being something cafes grudgingly supply to you it could actually be made into a positive. A good clean loo is actually a selling point. I remember where the good loos are in a town. And an exciting and different loo can make you actually specifically visit a restaurant. There are toilets in a particular restaurant in Paris that are so exciting with an aquarium, and pretend peep holes, that is worth the detour.

So come, let’s have some decent toilets and be proud if people come off the street to use them. They might buy a coffee for the trouble.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Are exhibitions on the way out?

I was fortunate enough to attend the Carole Nash NEC Bike show last week. I worked in the bike industry for a couple of years so I know it quite well. The bike industry is suffering just as much cars despite less media coverage about it. New bike sales are significantly down year on year, and we are seeing major manufacturers downsizing teams in Superbikes and Moto GP or pulling out altogether

What about the punters though? The NEC show is a mecca for any bike enthusiast – a chance to see next season’s bikes unveiled and buy a load of gear. But this year no Harley Davidson stand, no Honda stand. Two of the major brands have pulled out of the show and Ducati had a tiny stand that looked like an afterthought. So is this a symptom of a declining industry? Or is it that exhibitions just aren’t what they used to be?

Both have stated that they are concentrating on customer experiences and showcasing bikes on track days or demo days rather than exhibitions. This indicates that the brands are really looking for closer customer contact and interaction than an exhibition can provide. It also suggests that the return on investment isn’t there.

This is backed up by the fact that the leading bike insurance provider Bennetts pulled out of the NEC show over 5 years ago. Not going to the show?! It was a sacrilege at the time but hasn’t done them a jot of harm thanks to the British Superbike sponsorship in its place. Arch rival insurance provider Carole Nash has taken the opposite view, as title sponsor of the whole event, they have put large sums of cash into the event with a huge expensive looking stand.

Interestingly, both Harley and Honda are attending the London Motorcycle show in February. It is highly important that all the major manufacturers are at a bike exhibition for visitor numbers to maintain. Clearly bike industry providers have alternatives to exhibitions these days so what can the NEC bike show do to improve their proposition?

Well I could come up with a really clever solution but actually in this case it comes down to a simple insight. Chatting with exhibitors, cost is a major factor. Not just the cost of the stand but the cost of staff. A lot of staff are working silly hours over 10 full days (not counting the trade day) and juggling the day job at the same time. A brand just can’t afford to employ 10 staff exclusively on the stand and what would be the use anyway since temporary staff aren’t able to talk confidently about the brand and models?

The NEC bike show is doing a lot right. As an organiser you have to work hard to attract the numbers. Competitions, VIP guests, events at the show. All of this creates a lot more interest for the visitor than just stands. However if they just condensed these activities into 5 days instead of 10 days, it would make for a more exciting and full day for the visitor and would reduce costs for exhibitors by up to a third.

So in conclusion it’s a question of being practical and getting the customers expectations to meet the trade’s scope and budget during these tough times and the NEC Bike show will be the focal point in the biking calendar for many years

Monday, 23 November 2009

Binge Drinking Britain this Christmas

So alright, even I am getting a bit Christmassy. Tis the season to be jolly, buy presents – oh and drink a lot. Binge drinking Britain will be at his height. A frenzy of office parties and boozy afternoons with your clients and contacts. We won’t care that alcohol is ruining the nation’s health and is at the source of a large amount of anti social behaviour. We will just be enjoying ourselves!

Will we heed the government warnings to drink responsibly? What does that mean?

“All future Scotch Whisky adverts and printed point of sale materials are to carry a responsible drinking message” as reported in Marketing Week on Friday 20th This is the sort of industry initiative that we see regularly. It supposed to make us have some constraint in our drinking. Do they really believe this will have any effect?

Responsible drinking is the industry buzzword. Bacardi also use it on their web site. Note the exclamation mark after “Drink Responsibly!”. It’s as if Bacardi don’t even believe it themselves. And why would they? Slapping “danger” messages all over alcohol or cigarettes has never influenced anybody.

So how could we communicate a bit of restraint differently?

The industry and the government could start by realising that as consumers we are completely blind to the obvious messages on every bottle and web site. “Drink in moderation”, “Drink aware”.

I am not suggesting that there is a quick fix solution to Britain’s deep rooted social problems but we could start realising that customers have a brain and we could start thinking what alcohol customers want and need to help themselves make better decisions.

Consumer Insight 1

A lot of consumers don’t actually realise how much they are drinking.

Wouldn’t it be far more practical and helpful to offer details of the units in a drink? 1 large glass of wine, which is now the norm in many bars and pubs is 250ml. For an average strengthened wine at 12% alcohol, that is 3 units . A lot of people would be surprised at that. I am convinced a large % of people have no idea they are consuming so much alcohol in one go. In one night you could easily consume 9 units out of the 14 recommended for women per week.

Could pubs display more of this kind of practical info rather than a “drink responsibly” generic poster? Could the spirits manufactures replace their “drink aware” statements on POS and bottles with something that indicates how many units we are consuming when we pour?

Consumer Insight 2

Alcohol drinking is a social phenomenon. Quite often we drink with friends at regular moments in the week. A bit like smoking, it is a bit of a habit.

What about a bit more industry product initiatives such as more low alcohol products? Low alcohol wine or alcopops would be a great way to cut down. I know a few people who would be interested but I never see these products anywhere if they even exist. Ask for a low alcohol beer and the landlord looks at you a bit sadly and that is presuming he stocks any.

As I said I certainly don’t have all the solutions, but it would be great to see those involved in the alcohol industry thinking in a more innovative way that doesn’t treat customers like non-thinking robots.

Monday, 16 November 2009

10 trends for retailing on the web

I am loving the report just come out Verdict Consulting for Web Loyalty on etailing for the future. There are 10 trends predicting and a lot of them talk about things close to my own heart.. Have Verdict been reading my blog? Here is a brief synopsis of what they are:

1. Growth will be more difficult
Since 2004 growth rates for internet retailing have been in the twenties even rising 35% year on year but this kind of rapid growth has now slowed largely due to the recession and more careful shopping, Verdict are predicting nevertheless a significant growth of 13.3% during 2009. Verdict recommends that etailers need to be more strategic in maximising online revenue.

My Comment
The slowdown means companies could well get more out of concentrating on converting customers rather than fighting for the attention of more new customers.

2. The recession has impacted on line
Verdict estimate that £1.6 bn of revenue has been lost due to the recession. It is thought that customers have moved towards a clear low price and value message and that a critical lesson for the online channel will be to add value and persuade customers to trade up in what they buy.

My Comment
We mustn’t however confuse low cost with value. Customers want to pay the right price but this may not be the lowest price. Consumer still take brand and service into consideration. People are still buying during a recession but they often want their purchases for a better price. It is up to companies to demonstrate the value of their products.

3. Acquiring new customers will be tougher
A key driver of the rapid growth in online retail appears to have been simply the numbers of new online shoppers, in other words the movement from offline to online. However this trend will also inevitably slow in the next few years which means that online retailers will need to work harder to find their growth in other ways. Verdict advise switching more marketing budget to maintaining existing customers and driving repeat business.

My Comment
Couldn’t agree more!

4. There will be more mouths to feed
Another challenge is that the online retail space is now far more crowded than ever before. This, in short, means consumers now have a great deal of online choice. More confident consumers, a greater choice of online retailers, and higher price sensitivity of shoppers means that the average number of websites visited by consumers has increased markedly. Verdict advise deep knowledge of your competitors’ online offerings coupled with sophisticated testing of different customer acquisition strategies to stay ahead of the market.

My Comment

Companies will really need to differentiate themselves and be improving their customer experience constantly to stay ahead of the game. Verdict think that consumers are more willing to try brands that they haven’t heard of, I don’t think this is necessarily true for bigger purchases. In any case less known brands will need to offer lots reassurance on their sites to give consumer the confidence to purchase.

5. Expectations will rise

It will become increasingly difficult to service online shoppers in the coming years. They are becoming more demanding and their expectations are escalating, which means that going forward retailers will have to work much harder to meet their needs.

My Comment
This is so important and yet so many companies fail to spend enough time telling customer why they should shop with them. Another great point.

6. Loyalty can be increased
The ease at which customers can flit from website to website and compare products means that loyalty in online retailing is significantly lower than in store retailing. That said, there remain many opportunities for retailers to foster online loyalty across range, price, convenience and service functions. Verdict recommend a combination of one-off tactical deals to excite the customer, combined with long-term strategic programmes with extra value benefits to lock in customers.

My Comment
What’s more, if your customer experience is good, purchasers will tell their friends all about you as well as coming back to you.

7. Conversion will be key
Another major challenge facing online retailers is how to boost conversion –the proportion of site visitors who actually buy something. Further ways in which to boost conversion often surround making it easier for customers to check out and make a purchase. Rapid check out functionality, and offering cheap, reliable and quick delivery and return procedures also help here. Verdict also recommend personalisation.

My Comment
Back to ROVER. Reception (greeting), options (that are personalised – even better), value for money, efficiency and reassurance. Enough said.

8. Basket abandonment is here to stay
This is when a customer places products in to their virtual basket but does not go on to complete the transaction. We estimate over £2bn of potential sales are lost every year due to abandoned baskets; a figure which is likely to grow slightly over the next few years. Providing clear, accurate and detailed information on products, prices and additional charges is a key way to reduce basket abandonment.

My Comment
Quite often it is the sum of a few online difficulties that means customers abandon the shop. Usability studies can help to iron these out. Keeping the customer in control of their purchase at all times is also key.

9. Customers will be channel blind
Traditionally there have been three standout ways in which people buy goods. These are in store, via a catalogue or online. Customers generally purchase goods through a single channel from beginning to end, though on occasion through a combination of two channels for example a customer researching the product online before going into store to purchase it. However, going forward not only are there more channels through which products can be bought, but also the lines between the channels are blurring. The buying process may well move through three or four separate channels from conception to creation. For example, a shopper might choose their shopping on their mobile phone/PDA, order it online and collect in store. Others might use an affiliate site as a start point which then directs them to a retail site for further information and the product might be bought in store.

My Comment
And this is exactly why your customer experience needs to be consistent across all channels. Love it.

10. It’s more than about selling
Retailers invest significant amounts of money in order to attract visitors to their websites so that customers will spend money with them. However, these customers can also generate revenue in the form of monetisation. This involves allowing third parties to pitch their offers to a retailer’s web traffic.

My Comment
The business should be careful that the offers make sense to their consumers and add to their brand, not detract from it. If you are in luxury goods, having an Aldi offer will not help your brand image but having a test drive offer of the new Audi might enhance your brand.

Monday, 9 November 2009

15 years of Eurostar

Can it really be 15 years since the French joined the British by train thanks to Eurostar? The butt of many jokes before it was launched and saddled by enormous debt, it could have been a huge disaster. Instead, it is an exciting and efficient method of transport that allows its customers to get into the heart of 4 major city centres in the time it takes you to get into the Heathrow car park.

When it was launched in November 1994, the age of cheap air travel was arriving with Ryanir already carrying 1.6 million passengers a year. London to Paris is a mere 40 minute flight so why take the train?

It’s just a far better customer experience all round.

1) Leave right from the heart of Paris or London. Paris’ leading airport, Roissy is a good 45 minute train journey from the centre of Paris and is vying for the crown of “most depressing airport in the world”

2) Check in only 20 minutes before

3) Keep your bags with you and not have them thrown around by a grumpy air baggage handler

4) No deep vein thrombosis or earache - have a walk down the train to stretch your legs and definitely more leg room than easyjet or ryanair.

To celebrate its 15 years, Eurostar are planning a new press, radio, outdoor and digital campaign by Fallon to encourage viewers to visit their social media site

It seems like Eurostar are emphasising the ease of travel and promoting shorter trips if not day trips. One execution will read ‘Paris for an anniversary gift; Paris because it's Saturday'.

All good stuff, it is just a shame that their booking system is still so clunky I tried to book a ticket once and gave up. Once you have chosen a couple of tickets, you have to start again if you want an earlier or later train and the site makes it difficult to see the cheapest return options. When I clicked on “Continue booking” as a guest , there was a system error. The time before that the whole booking engine was down.

In conclusion, it really is a great actual customer experience once you are at the station and is so efficient that I even have a friend who lives in Peterborough and commutes to Paris to work. What’s more, the trains even run when the French transport workers are on strike.

However, the online customer experience needs a lot more TLC.

Hope the people from Eurostar sort that out before they spend millions on a swish advertising campaign and then lose a signficant % through poor usability. Can anyone afford that in these hard times?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Never mind the X factor, watch out for the Hassle factor

According to research just out, one third of all consumers think it’s just too much hassle to change energy suppliers. And yet, prices of electricity and gas have soared over the past few years.

I am not so surprised. For a start, utilities are just not that sexy are they? A bit like insurance, a sector I have worked in myself. We always found it difficult to get consumer engaged in what is essentially a commodity. Ask me to spend one hour researching the perfect pair of boots – yep I’m there. Ask me to spend 5 minutes looking for car insurance or to change my gas supplier – yawn…... It doesn’t help that in this multimedia age, many of us are using a PC at the same time as listening to music and have the TV on. Difficult to grab my attention and get me motivated.

You can never underestimate the barrier to purchase that is the “hassle factor”.

Whether the purchase is online or offline, successful companies will make the experience as simple and smooth as possible. Put up even one significant barrier in these type of sectors and you will lose the sale.

In fairness switching utilities is quite easy and sites such as uswitch compare prices and do it all for you. The new energy supplier contacts the old and gets the transfer done. Something insurance companies should seriously consider. And yet still consumers “can’t be bothered”.

Apparently consumers are unconvinced about the savings to be made by switching. So my advice would be to offer fixed price plans and guarantees to undercut rivals over a longer period of time. Good value for money combined with a no hassle approach is a winning combination.

Secondly, the utilities need to look at incentivising and not just nectar points as EDF are proposing. Offer me a free pair of shoes from one of my favourite sites in return for switching? I’m there. A brand affinity program could do wonders for this sector to get a bit of “wow factor” into the proposition. If you can’t be a sexy product, team up with a sexy friend. Get your target audience motivated and leap over the hassle factor barrier.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Marks &Spencer back on top

You have to admire Marks and Spencers, how many other brands can last over 100 years? We have seen the demise of some other very well-known and established brands such as MFI and Woolworths, but M&S are still on form.

Yes they had a few shaky years not that long ago, but they have made significant changes and a back to good times.

I love M&S because you know where you are with them. The experience you get is the one you expected. Those food ads were so inspired but they also work because when you buy it, the food really is good! Statement of the obvious but think about MacDonalds - who are they trying to kid with their Big Mac looking all round and perky on their ad, instead of flat and shoved into a Perspex box in reality?

M&S staff actually appear to like their customers because well….the staff are the customers. The 40 something woman behind the till can identify with the customers shopping for clothes. And yet other brands will continue to try and sell to 30 something housewives using spotty youths (see my Argos post).

M&S are the kings of the customer. They give a proper welcome to customers because the staff are well mannered and helpful. They refund, no quibbles. They are not the cheapest but they have really grasped the good value message with their “Dine in for £10” campaign.

At the recent M&S investor day, Ian Dyson,Finance Director outlined his "2020" programme to create long term sustainable growth. £1bn capital expenditure on IT and the supply chain. Aims to be customer focused, multichannel and international.

For once I actually believe a statement from a corporate person that talks about being customer focused. I think he means it.

M&S are also making changes to improve their online experience so that it is closer to the offline (store) experience. This is very sensible since customers are likely to do both and will purchase more if they are reassured with a similar experience. Also sensible since growth is expected to come from direct sales. M&S reports to have 32 million customers but only 2.5 million shop online. The potential is a further 8 million who shop online but elsewhere.

Finally, they don’t rest on their laurels, at the same investor day John Dixon announced that “customer service needs to be improved” –good stuff, can always be better.

Please your customers, increase your sales, please your investors. Simples.

Monday, 12 October 2009

CRM crashes out with Audi

We hear a lot about CRM (customer relationship management) and how it can help our business. I believe this to be true. However I also believe that CRM is only a technology, it is how you use it that counts.

Friends of mine, already Audi owners, recently received a neat little piece of mail asking them to come in and look at upgrading their car. They weren’t really thinking of changing at this time but were seduced by a secondary message suggesting they might be able to get a better financial deal by coming into their local concession. So my friends made the effort to get an appointment and come in. The mailing was probably well targeted and had the desired effect.

So far so good.

From then on, it all fell apart. During the appointment the salesman was arrogant and cold suggesting that my friends already had had a good deal 18 months ago and couldn’t expect to get any better. The Audi rep talked exclusively to the male of the couple (what could a female expect to know about cars?) Finally he informed the prospective buyers that there really were no deals to be had and when asked, he claimed not to be entirely sure why they had received the letter in the first place.

Another classic case of the right arm not being in sync with the left. Head office had done a great job in segmenting, targeting, and finally producing a nifty bit of direct mail, but the local concessionary had unravelled the customer experience in about 20 seconds. Basic breach of the R of rover for Reception. Audi didn’t even get as far as the R for Reassurance, not to mention the brand damage of a company that thrives on being a luxury brand. My friends have told about 15 people the story so far.

What did my friends do? They walked straight into Mercedes across the road and bought a new C Class. They also got a better finance deal with half the APR. They had no intention of changing their car but were seduced by a great deal and top class customer service.

So CRM is great so long as the chain isn’t broken and the promises you make upfront are backed up all along the journey. Can anyone afford to be letting customers slip away during such tough times?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Can anyone think of any good reason to visit an Argos store?

Is it just me that thinks Argos are stuck in an 80’s time warp? Surely that decor was the same one 20 years ago? I know they are cheap and that’s a summary of their brand positioning. I know that there is a catalogue which is good to look through. However once I have decided what I might want to buy, I realise that I have to go in store.

What a drab experience that is likely to be. I will have to negotiate long queues to pay, my product may be out of stock and then I have to wait in a crowded waiting room to be called to A or B or C.

At Argos I am a number.

And when it is called, I have to fight my way to the counter through people whose number hasn’t be called but are hovering there anyway. The staff are usually young, untrained and pretty clueless. Overall nul points in the customer experience stakes.

What a different experience it could be?
Argos have the massive advantage over traditional catalogue companies of having a retail arm. So they have a window for their products. When internet shopping arrived, they could have positioned themselves as having all the advantages of internet shopping: cost and comparison all in the comfort of your own home, without the disadvantages: not being able to see or touch the product and get it same day.

Argos could have made their stores the place to go to see the products. Imagine your product was brought out for you to inspect? Or that they developed a virtual world where you could use the terminals to see products in 3D, turn them 360 degrees? There are so many ways that the shop could be made into a shopper’s heaven. My advice: get a great designer and a great customer experience expert and make a concept store to show shareholders what it could be.

In addition, Argos could have done a tremendous job on upsells. Once you are in the store there could be 100 ways to sell you something else while you’re there. Instead of which we are treated to the “discount” rack.

Way before the same internet promises, Argos were offering money back guarantee. But they stagnated on discount positioning and never took utilised their initial advantages.

Argos has survived so far but for how much longer? Owner Home Retail suffered a share fall end of September when Credit Suisse downgraded its recommendation to “underperform”.

Credit suisse had this to say a week ago “The downgrade is driven by our negative assessment of Argos, increasing our conviction that structural risks and increased competition are likely to restrict its ability to grow medium-term sales and earnings margins.Pricing analysis suggests that Argos' pricing model is under pressure.”

The discount route is being offered by many outfits now including the formidable Tesco Direct. With only price as a differentiator, little or no clear brand positioning coupled with a very average customer experience, can they survive the recession? The jury is out.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Customers in Control

One of the ways to give a great customer experience is to offer real choices so that the customer can really get involved with the purchase.

But should you really bothered if the customer is involved? You might be thinking that the sale is the only real thing of importance. Well research and personal experience has shown that the more engaged a customer becomes during the purchase process the more likely they are to buy.

In other words, the more you hook customers in by giving them opportunities such as changing their product colour, upgrading to a higher spec, the less likely they are to make the effort to go elsewhere.

There is a risk that I could spend my time writing blogs about rubbish customer experiences and let’s face it, the material is there. However I found a good example of great choices recently when I was buying business cards on

The choices were abundant with different paper quality and finish, ability to add your own photo or choose from a large range of preset designs.

Right from the start I was pulled into the process by the offer of free business cards but then quickly realised I liked the look of some of the paid-for extras. By the time I had designed my own card it was unlikely that I was going to search again for another supplier.

This site also followed another of my ROVER rules with customer reassurance that they are in the right place. A price guarantee tick box as well as a satisfaction guarantee tick box were well presented at the bottom of the purchasing pages.

The only downpoint to the process was having no less than 3 upsell screens before I could get to checkout which caused some frustration. An option to skip those pages would have been useful. So choices are great so long as the customer is in control at every moment.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Who is Rover?

Rover may sound like a trusty hound and he is in a way, but he's not a real dog. No Rover is more like friend, although a virtual one.

Rover is helping me remember a few things about customers that may be a bit of a radical thought for some people: customers are not stupid.

There you go, I have said it. Too many companies are still acting like they are! They actually think that the sultry youth in the shop who folds your new dress into a sort of scrunch and shoves it into a bag with a grimace won't make a difference to you shopping there again (It's you BHS). They actually think that we won't mind spending 50 minutes on the phone to someone in a "service" centre because the broadband is offline again and that we'll stay with the company anyway and won't tell our friends to stay well clear (it's you TalkTalk).They actually think that you can easily book a flight on their web site and that you don't mind paying £60 for your baggage (it's you Ryanair).

I would suggest these companies take a look at ROVER and just remind themselves of something really surprisingly simple about customers and what they want

R for Reception
a proper greeting in a timely fashion, in the place they decide and they way they decide
O for Options
A choice of options and the ability to make an informed choice.
V for Value for money
Evidence of value for money.
E for Efficiency
A simple and efficient purchase process.
R for Reassurance
Lots of reassurance that this is right place and this is a great purchase.

Not rocket science is it?