While thinking about how to improve the shopping experience for customers as well as the retailers and brands that fight to get on the shelves, I pondered the best practices of shopper marketing, as well as the most influential marketing tool of all: word of mouth. Then the idea of a “mash up” smashed into me. (I’m fine. I didn’t even bruise.)
Mash ups are a recent development from the world of popular music where one takes two unrelated songs and combines them to make a new “tune.” Sorta.
So then, what if we mashed up in-store best practices with word of mouth marketing? Based on recent technological advances and what we see every day in ecommerce, I believe it’s possible. I call my mash up WOM-ASAP. A person who takes part is a WOMPAR or a Word Of Mouth Practioner at Retail.
And no, I don’t mean I’d hire my Aunt Mayverd to stand in Aisle Three in my local Jewel and shout at the top of her lungs how much she loves Inglehoffer Cream Style Horseradish. Nor, an army of Aunt Mayverds stationed across the country.
There are interesting ways to use technology and social media to get shoppers talking to each other at the store level, sometimes without anyone actually having to speak to each other.
Many people ask their waiter, “What’s good tonight?” or to suggest a wine that goes with the meal. I’ve often begged the Best Buy employee to tell me which is the hot new Xbox game to buy for a nephew. (Of course, I’m actually buying it for myself, but I don’t want her to know I’m a 50-something game geek.) So why not put a paid ambassador on the retail floor, whose sole purpose is to help people make purchase decisions based on their recommendations and those from other customers. Here are a couple of suggestions.
The Shopcierge. Somewhere near the entrance, a Shopcierge could be stationed with a mobile device that offers up a myriad of information to help the customer: Brand ratings by shoppers, even in real time. Reminders on weekly specials. News about new product introductions. Recipe/party planning help. Suggestions on “top-rated” accessories that go perfectly with the item one is about to purchase. The Shopcierge could even interview customers on why they made their choices and then add that information to the database.
The Samplierge. The typical store sampler offers up a bite/sniff/swig of some product sold in that establishment, sometimes followed by a coupon. My Samplierge, before you begin biting/sniffing/swigging, will give you a report on other peoples’ responses and ratings from the last few hours. That added reassurance that you’re about to become one of the in-crowd makes trying something new much less risky. You may possibly be more prone to respond positively. “If the last 17 people who sampled this gluten-free cheese-food icing loved it, who am I to disagree? I’ll take three, please.” And what if you can then add your rating right at the table, either by high-tech tablet or be videoed with your glowing response to the supping/smelling/swallowing? The videos could then be uploaded and compiled into a best-of video to be played online in that store, or at others, within minutes.
Word of mouth is best when it comes from a friend or acquaintance or even someone you may not know, but who has no vested interest in promoting the product. That’s why the following are stronger, but also harder to control and implement.
Coffee Klatch. A number of retailers feature coffee shops. Target has Starbucks. Barnes and Noble features Seattle’s Best. What if, after Wanda buys a Missoni blouse at Target, she immediately shares her experience over a caramel latte? Tablets or notebooks could be set up with instant forum access or a group chat (moderated, of course) with other shoppers in that store and across the country. And if a date or two transpires, even better.
Digital Kiosks. These are already available in a number of shopping environments. But it’s usually an “information out” experience to locate stores, events, specials, etc. What if the customer could take a quick survey or incorporate a rating or two and be rewarded for their input? Kiosks stationed around a store and open to the store’s Facebook page or other social media give a shopper the opportunity to ask others who are online about products in store.
On-The-Shelf QR Codes. QR codes are small enough that they can be easily placed on a store shelf’s edge. A customer looking at a product can scan the code next to it and instantly retrieve ratings from fellow shoppers. The customer could also add his/her comment as well.
Top Ten. Shoppers can offer up a list of their favorite brands they purchased that week through a simple in-store or online survey. All respondents are given an incentive to participate. The top ten most popular brands could then be published online and/or printed up as a small flyer or shown in a display located near the store’s entrance. Those items could even be offered at a discount.
In-Store Ambassadors. I love showing off my expertise at certain stores. (Go ahead and ask me an iguana question the next time you see me in a pet shop.) Other people will too. So is there a way to create a “club” of ambassadors that are somehow identified by a button they wear or the color of the shopping cart they use? Other shoppers would then be able to approach them for their WOM advice or suggestions. This might be more valuable at a store selling more specialized products, like electronics, fashion and automobiles. If a person is in the BMW showroom picking out their 5th 300 series, you can bet a first-time buyer would do well to start up a conversation with him.
Mobile Mob. Create an app that connects fellow shoppers around the country. Much like a match service or chat app, people can log in and ask advice, share insights about brands and remind each other about special offers that may get overlooked.
Not all of these may be practical, or they may be too expensive, or they may just plain suck. Also remember that there has been some negative press recently about paid ambassadors and reviewers. My intent here is to prime the innovation pump, not for instant implementation. There’s a whole theory out there nowadays that says most new ideas are a mash up of previous ones anyways. So if you can mash up any of mine with some of yours, go for it. When you do implement it/them I would love to hear how it went. Contact me in care of this blog when you do. Thanks!
About the author
Dave Rockenbaugh is the Executive Creative Director at Robinson & Maites.
Robinson & Maties are a leading marketing agency with offices in Chicago and San Francisco.
R&M, The Marketing Transformation Agency®, helps clients achieve greater results by taking advantage of the massive transformations constantly taking place in today’s business environment, technology, social media and consumer behavior.