WOLFBITES - Issue 47

Small business marketing research by walking around – Future Shop

Closed Future Shop store, symbolic of brick and mortar stores with failed marketing strategies, no product differentiation and poor customer service identified by Wolfgang Franke, President of Toronto advertising agency with office in Markham, Ontario.

It's been more than three years since the Future Shop shown above closed, just one more victim of the online buying tsunami that has wiped out once-powerful brick and mortar retailers. I know because I drive by the closed Future Shop (located in Markham, Ontario) many times a week to (gasp) shop in brick and mortar retailers. So, yes, I am not thirty years old.

I bought many things from this outlet, most of which was attractively priced electronics. And then I (and thousands of others) stopped because of two reasons you can easily guess (no product differentiation, price was no longer competitive) and another that does not get enough attention (negative service).

What is "negative service"? This is my label for customer service that is so bad it negates any price advantage. That was certainly the case at my Future Shop, where it was very hard to even find a "customer service" rep (think Sears in its dying days). Those you did find had little or no training and were equally inept when it came to product choice, my priority.

Worse still, the typical Future Shop customer service rep would do a tricky two-step sales pitch that worked against my interests by maximizing the total cost: step one: promote the highest priced product (for more sales commission); step two: promote that the product is very likely to break, but that will be no problem if you buy a product warranty!

Think about that. First the rep tells you a product is great – and seconds later (after you agree to purchase) they convince you of just the opposite: the product is so bad you just have to buy a product warranty. Small wonder there was no future in that business.

How to market a brick and mortar store that has a future  (Click to reveal content)

Graphic showing a business getting a five star review, presented by Toronto advertising agency Words at Work to remind small business owners of the importance of acquiring and posting customer reviews.

So how does a small business brick-and-mortar store succeed in a world where more and more consumers are opting for online, direct to consumer offerings? It is easy to describe, but much more difficult to execute, even if you know the success formula, which involves an artful and courageous execution of the following key steps:

  • Clear product differentiation (or perceived product differentiation). The consumer must think you have something they can't buy online.
  • Reject the hard sell and focus instead on the three Es - educate, engage, entertain.
  • An interesting, enjoyable and educational shopping experience that depends on interaction between store staff and the customer. In other words, you have to offer a shopping experience that cannot be matched online, or better still, take customer service to an all-new level by following a best-of-both-world's marketing strategy in which online interactivity is a key element of the in-store shopping experience (a path already being blazed by forward thinking retailers).
  • Build a customer data base, a must to cross-sell and up-sell your existing clients, a winning marketing strategy that most small business owners underutilize.
  • A unique location, also known in marketing circles as a "Destination" location (It's worth the drive to...).
  • Wow customer service. You have to amaze the customer by offering something (aside from price) that goes beyond their expectations, which is actually not that hard since so many retailers (and business to business owners) offer such horrible service.
  • Make the collection and posting of Reviews a priority as many consumers are highly influenced by Reviews – and some will automatically exclude any company that has no Reviews.

So what about you? Are you ready for the cord-cutting, online buying, voice searching, banner ignoring, review writing, vlog viewing, influencer following, podcast listening, social media camping and hard-sell-hating consumers of 2019 – or are you still stuck in the 90s?

Next time: The vom FASS success formula: Look. Taste. Enjoy

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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