A question I was recently asked from a marketer in China:
Are Sony Centres and Nike Stores examples of engaging the shopper?
Answer: Absolutely! Concept stores are a vehicle to engage the shopper but the key questions are which shoppers and to what end?
Concept stores are great environments to showcase a brand . They provide wonderful opportunities for people to understand their own needs, explore how products might fulfill their desires, to experience the feeling of brand ownership and to cement a feeling of community membership. All of which are a great draw for potential consumers or existing members of a brand tribe.
We researched how people purchase TV’s in China and found that TV shoppers use stores like the Sony Centre to build their understanding of a brand offer but rarely make a final purchase there. Instead, most shoppers prefer to seek price deals in multi-brand stores or online. It’s clear that without the influence of these stores some shoppers may not buy the brand that’s bring showcased.
Other research we have conducted has demonstrated that when paths to purchase are extended (for example in buying kitchen appliances), rapid conversion of engaged shoppers is a great way to cement brand preference. As the opportunity to purchase online becomes universal, concept stores offer the opportunity for brands to offer personalization and customization that multi-brand traditional retail may not be able to grasp. Further, they present the potential to create more exciting dynamic and flexible environments that shoppers, jaded by bland big boxes, are increasingly seeking.
All this said, manufacturers should not automatically conclude that they must create their own showcase stores. Paths to purchase vary by category, brand and shopper so it’s important that this variety is understood before investments are made. It’s essential that that the process starts with a clear understanding of who is going to use the brand and for what purpose, then to define who is going to buy the product and the role that different retail environments play in their purchase behavior.
Here’s a personal example that I’ve lifted from the text of our forthcoming book “The Shopper Marketing Revolution”:
‘About eight years ago, I got it in my head that I needed a physical challenge—a very large physical challenge. I decided to set as my goal that I would compete in a triathlon. Considering I hated running, this was perhaps not the best choice, but I made the decision in spite of that.
With steadfast commitment, I hired a personal trainer. He analyzed the way I cycled, swam, and ran. After this study, he announced that he was going to run with me twice a week for ten weeks to teach me how to run properly.
At the end of the ten weeks, I was lighter and fitter but was suffering incredible pain in my shins and calves. My trainer advised me to buy better running shoes that offset the imbalance in my stance. Having always used Nike shoes I went to the Nike store. I walked in and saw an entire wall of impressive looking running shoes. I asked one of the salespeople for help finding a running shoe.
“Well, here are 20,” he said, pointing to the display and looking at me like I was an idiot for not seeing the great wall of running shoes.
“Which is a good one?” I queried.
“Well, this one is on promotion,” he responded, picking up one shoe.
“That’s fine, but I need a really good running shoe,” I insisted.
He then grabbed another shoe and said, “This is the most expensive.”
Clearly, he wasn’t understanding my question. I proceeded to explain my problem, the pain in my legs, and my fervent desire to compete in a triathlon. I asked him again for a recommendation, to which he responded, “I don’t know. I play basketball.”
Nike invested a ton of money on the in-store merchandising of this outlet, a place to showboat the power of its brand. And I expect a lot of basketball players had a fantastic shopping experience here. But I left empty-handed.
Shortly after this disappointing shopper experience, I was heading to the UK for a visit with my family and decided to get advice from my father, an avid runner, while I was there. He pointed me to a shop called Advance Performance in Peterborough. In those days it was a small shop that specialized in shoes for runners. When I walked in, I marvelled at the unusual environment. The polar opposite of the sleek Nike store, Advance Performance was at the time cluttered. There were shoes everywhere, and a running machine in the corner. (In deference to my friends at Advance Performance have to say they now have two very nice new outlets in Peterborough and Cambridge).
A rather average-looking man approached and offered his help. Already, I experienced a shopping difference from my Nike visit. I explained the problem with my legs and he told me to take off my shoes. He knelt down and took a look at my legs and feet. Then he asked, “When did you break your ankle?”
Surprised that he could know about my accident, I answered that it happened about ten years ago.
“Did you do any physical therapy?” he asked.
“Not much,” I replied.
“It shows,” he said, not unkindly. He explained that my feet were pronated and that the injury aggravated the problem. The salesman—fast becoming a trusted advisor—then put me on the running machine and conducted a gait analysis. He watched to see the way my feet hit the ground when I ran. He had me try on six different pairs of running shoes and get on the machine to test each one, videotaping each effort. After viewing the tapes, he prescribed the shoe that would best meet my particular needs. As it happened, the choice was about 40 percent more expensive than the running shoes I had been wearing. I bought two pairs of these godsends and continue to order online from Advance Performance whenever I need replacements. This salesperson responded admirably to my need. He didn’t need the spit and polish of a slickly merchandised store, nor did he sit back and rely on brand performance. He burst through the performance barrier and instilled my faith in the shoe.”
Looking at this, you might begin to see how insight into the roles channels play for target shoppers can be extremely valuable. At the time I was a “novice triathlete” potentially a valuable shopper for a manufacturer of running shoes. As a novice, I was looking for information and to get that information I went first to a concept store. When my experience in the Nike store failed to deliver the advice I needed, I turned to a different environment, the “independent specialist” – Advance Performance. Both channels performed the same role for me – to provide information and guidance. Armed with both the shoes I needed and the necessary information, the next time I buy my shoes I may turn to a chain store, like Foot Locker, because I know what I need and getting the right shoes at a deal has become important. You see, not only did the ‘independent specialist’ have the potential to strongly influence my buying behavior eight years ago – but its influence continues to the present day, some 20 pairs of shoes later.’