Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

Posts Tagged ‘circuit city

How much is that little doggie in the (virtual) window?

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ers7lrgI love electronics. Like oh-so-many other guys, I like going into my local electronics retailer and picking up and playing with the gadgets. I may not buy them, but they’re fun to play with. I remember one year telling my wife that I was going to take my birthday as a vacation day from work and spend the morning at Best Buy.

You’ve done it yourself I’m sure. You’ve gone into a Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s, CompUSA, or any of the other brick-and-mortar electronics retailers and just played. You might have gone in for something specific and just got sidetracked or maybe you were just going in to have fun and kill some time. But you’ve tinkered.

Then came the Internet. And with it, ease of comparison shopping. Then the brick-and-mortar that you visited just became the playground to test out new gear. You figured out which model you wanted and then went home where you could find it online for the cheapest price from a company that you hope wouldn’t drop it too many times before it shipped.

What happened to the brick-and-mortar stores? Circuit City is gone with its brand sold to a company that maintains an online-only presence. CompUSA is gone as well. Even market leader Best Buy is reporting in 1st Q 09 a domestic segment increase of almost 1%, but comparable store sales decline of 4.9%.

What does all this mean to you, the small business owner?

You know all that overhead you endure month after month? The salarys, the building and maintenance cost? The inventory? Know how you work so hard to generate positive foot traffic so people come in?

Ask yourself, if you were in your customer’s shoes, would you buy from you?  Is there a compelling reason for someone to buy from you rather than just play with your floor models and then go home and order it?

Of course there is. You know all the reasons as well as I do. First and foremost, the item’s already in the customer’s hands. Why let them put it down and then go home? They have have it TODAY. Despite the rigors of the current economy, we’re still a nation of “gotta have it now” people. Secondly, your staff is there to support you if you need to learn how to use it, need to select a better one, or return it. No need to ship it off to some post office box. Just bring it back and you’re happy to help. Thirdly… Fourthly… Fifthly…

You know all the reasons. I don’t need to tell you. But you do need to tell your customers. Before you become a Circuit City, CompUSA, or Ritz Camera, you had better make sure that your marketing and branding all position you against your competition correctly. And don’t forget, your competition includes all those faceless retailers that don’t even have a storefront.

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Buy this now!

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circuit_city_logoAs any of my past teachers will tell you, when I get bored, I get into trouble. In order to keep out of trouble and to keep my mind sharp, there have been times in the past when in addition to my career, I take a part time job in an area completely different from what I do full time. In the past, I have served as a paid tax preparer, deli worker, photomat technician, I’m still licensed by the state to sell life insurance, and I am now coming to the end of my time as a sales associate at the soon to be defunct electronic retailer, Circuit City.

From my relatively brief time at Circuit City (started Oct and my last day will be in Feb), I have an excellent vantage point from which to see some of the failings of that company. First, a little background.

The store that I as employed at was not a traditional Circuit City. Instead, it was modeled as an “Experience Store” type offering. By that, it differed from the other Circuit City stores in the following ways:

– We had a greeter at the front door. At WalMart, this person’s role is to make someone feel welcome when walking into the store. At The City, the greeter asked if they could direct a visitor to a section of the store. That allows the greeter to tell everyone via mic/earpiece where a customer is going and that they need to be pounced on within 30 seconds (store policy).

– Someone would take it upon himself or herself to look to see how our store is doing in relationship to our daily goal and to push us toward selling harder, regardless of how we’re performing that day.

– Hidden behind the idea of teaching people about the technologies we offer, every part of the sales process is geared toward two basic concepts; what will it take to get you to walk out with something today and how can I get you to purchase an extended warrantee with that?

At this point, I feel obligated to mention that this post is not designed to be a gripe against The City. Far from it. However, as it is a large corporate failure happening today, and because of my perspective, my aim is to use it as a case study and a blueprint of what not to do if you hope to enjoy sales success long term.

Starting with the first encounter with a customer walking into the store, the idea that every single guest needs to be contacted at least once within the first 30 seconds generates a very fundamental negative scenario; due to a lack of communication and forced zeal, customers aren’t so much helped as they are hounded. This has left a very poor taste in the mouth of many customers and generated the appearance of desperation on behalf of the store.

When an eager employee takes it upon themselves to look up and announce daily store performance, that can be helpful. When that information is always couched with “…but we can do better,” it’s demotivating. Nothing the staff can do is good enough. Therefore, why try? Especially when most of the floor team within this type of company is younger, motivation is crucial to success.

I have been on the customer side of “What will it take to get you to buy today.” It’s uncomfortable. It creates, by nature, resistance. A wise customer should always feel like a good deal today will still be a good deal tomorrow. The recipe for success for The City would have included the philosophies of you’ll buy from us because we have the best selection, the best prices, the best policies, and we’ll spend time working on find the right item for you. Because we will only deal with you with respect and honesty, you will have the utmost confidence that we have your best interests in mind and if you don’t buy today, you will tomorrow. We buy items we need from manufacturers we know and people/companies we trust. The “buy now” concept is actually effective short term. Long-term success doesn’t rely on having someone buying an item today. It’s directly dependant on someone buying today AND tomorrow. Bully or pressure someone into buying now, they don’t come back. And, of course, they generate a whole negative word-of-mouth campaign against you.

The last item I mentioned, extended warrantees, are almost never a good idea. Thankfully, most people see through the smoke and mirrors and wisely decline the add-on. I don’t think additional discussion on the topic is warranted.

If you’re a retailer or other business owner within a brick and mortar storefront, have you taken the time to reexamine your company’s sales philosophies from the customer perspective? If you were a customer, would you feel welcome? Would you come back? Would you tell others to go there? Honest answers to those questions are key to generation of more sales.

Written by Jeff York

January 26, 2009 at 1:58 am