Target and Walmart Succeed by Delivering on Retail’s New Brand Promise of Health and Safety

Target and Walmart are selling safety. And they’re succeeding.

Both retailers surprised analysts by reporting strong quarterly earnings in August, sending their stock prices to all-time highs. It turns out that as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people are choosing to visit Target and Walmart even at a time when going to the store means putting our lives on the line.

Why?

Because the brand promise of retailers has changed from “Save money and enjoy our store” to “Shop with us, and we’ll protect you from yourselves.” And both Target and Walmart have delivered on this promise big time.

Target and Walmart Make It Easy to Shop without Stepping into the Store

They offer services such as curbside pickup that limit a shopper’s exposure to the risks of being inside a store. Walmart began rolling out curbside in 2016 (the service was called Pickup and Fuel then). Target responded a few years later. Both companies are benefitting from the surging interest in curbside. Target said that sales through Target’s curbside pickup service grew by more than 700% in the second quarter from a year earlier. Walmart said U.S. eCommerce sales grew 97 percent, as more customers shipped packages to their homes and used same-day delivery and curbside pickup.

Target and Walmart Have Changed the Rules of Shopping

Early on, both Target and Walmart aggressively enacted health and safety protocols such as using floor stickers to help shoppers keep their social distance, installing plastic guards to protect employees and shoppers from each other in the check-out lane, and mandating that shoppers wear masks to enter their stores. These protocols have not worked perfectly.

Unfortunately, some selfish shoppers have chosen to recklessly endanger everyone else by not wearing a mask. And yet, Target and Walmart are convincing people to visit their stores. Target reported that in-store comparable sales climbed by 10.9 percent during its second quarter. Walmart’s U.S. same-store sales were up 9.3 percent.

The Golden Arches of Retail

Retailers such as Target Walmart have, in effect, become the new Golden Arches. Decades ago, McDonald’s famously made the Golden Arches a symbol of consistency and predictability for restaurants. Especially as Americans began to travel more in their cars in the 20th Century, seeing those Golden Arches by roads provided some measure of assurance that you knew exactly what you were getting when you stopped for a meal. Today seeing that Target logo by a highway provides some degree of predictability and comfort in the hostile land of the maskless.

This truth resonates as shaken families across the United States have tried to reclaim some semblance of normalcy by embracing the time-honored tradition of the American road trip. According to Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, Americans are getting in their cars again and taking 200-mile road trips to smaller communities and outdoor parks. That’s because congested cities are more dangerous than state parks and hotels in the country. Air travel is more dangerous than a leisurely drive in your car. But even so, when you hop in your car and hit the road, you take on new risks, and if you travel with a family, you put them at risk, too. Depending on your destination and where you live, your drive may take you through multiple cities and states, each with their own customs for managing coronavirus health and safety. You’re literally leaving your comfort zone when you go on a road trip. Even familiar places now seem like unexplored territory.

Short road trips will continue to define the American vacation experience especially with national holidays that make it possible for people to travel for long weekends all year-round. If you took a road trip this summer, you know the drill by now: you probably planned for your trip carefully in ways you did not need to only months ago. Perhaps you investigated a motel or an Airbnb’s COVID-19 hygiene practices and protocols ahead of time. You might have packed a cleaning kit to wipe down your room when you arrived. Maybe you packed snacks to minimize having to stop at restaurants, especially if your drive took you to places where you were not sure how well people followed mask-wearing or social distancing protocols. But at some point you, needed to stop somewhere. You were low on gasoline. Your kids needed to go to the bathroom. You forgot to pack enough socks and need to buy an extra pair.

But as we know by now, a routine stop elevates your stress level. You stop at a gas station or a store by a highway exit, and you go into self-preservation mode, assessing the danger levels by using your own internal survival rules, just like Jesse Eisenberg did when he was trying to avoid encounters with zombies in Zombieland. How small or big does the location look? (Tiny aisles in roadside gas station convenient marts seem deadly.) How crowded is the place? Do they post a sign with ground rules for maintaining social distance? And are customers wearing masks?

Fortunately, at gas stations, you refill the tank outside and can manage your social distancing. But when it comes to getting a cup of Starbucks, a bottle of water, or those extra socks, it’s time to pull out your mobile phone and search for the nearest Target or Walmart. That’s because you know they have a national policy of requiring people to wear masks when they enter the store, and they offer services such as curbside. You’ve probably been to a Target or Walmart near your home and seen firsthand the policy in place. You’ve noticed the employees wearing masks and red shirts wiping down the self-checkout lanes at Target or processing your purchase from behind the relative safety of a plastic shield. Those details mean everything.

Maybe you’d like to support local businesses, and the closest big-box retailer is a bit farther than you’d like to drive. But people are getting sick and dying, and idiots who refuse to wear masks are making things worse. At least Target and Walmart, no matter where you go, require masks. It’s not a fool-proof approach — belligerent people who refuse to wear masks still slip through. But it’s something. And those wide aisles sure make it easier to avoid getting too close to some careless shopper who isn’t paying attention to where they are pushing their shopping cart. That predictability of service and safety could save your life.

My Own Road Trip Experience with Retail

I have learned these new rules of the road firsthand. My wife Jan and I have taken three road trips since the pandemic hit, two out of necessity and one for leisure. The first road trip, several hundred miles to Massachusetts in early June to see my seriously ill father, was stressful at first. When we stopped at a rest area for a bathroom break, I was anxious. But seeing chairs in public spaces put away and signs announcing social distancing procedures made me feel just a bit more comfortable. At least someone in the rest stop was taking some measures. Just about everyone wore masks, too, but not all travelers did. So we kept our stops to a minimum. As we drove east and entered New York state, the drive became more relaxing. That’s because New York state residents were uniformly compliant with their mask wearing and social distancing, whether we were visiting a rest stop or staying in a motel. The entire state felt like an advertisement for how to respect each other during the pandemic.

The drive to Massachusetts was important. Not only did we see my dad, under hospice care at home, but we also overcame our fear of traveling during the pandemic. We eventually worked up the courage to take a 280-mile drive to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a long weekend of hiking and biking. Like everyone I know, we had hit a point where we just needed to get away — to drive somewhere and escape. We knew this trip might be like visiting the wild west. The state of Wisconsin has been more aggressive than many other states about opening its economy, and we’d heard of local Wisconsin businesses being lenient with their protocols. Halfway into our drive, we stopped to rest in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an uneventful stop. We found a shopping mall we knew about. Masks were mandatory to enter, and compliance was nearly uniform. Like the survivors in The Walking Dead, we kept our eyes peeled for mask-less mall wanderers and easily avoided being near them. When we arrived at La Crosse, we immediately visited a somewhat remote trail for a glorious late afternoon hike up a steep trail with challenging switchbacks — just the kind of experience we’d been hoping for and, frankly, one I needed to work off my COVID-19 flab. Fortunately we encountered few people on the trail, and when we did, we held our breath and kept our masks on.

After the hike, we both wanted cold water and Gatorade. So we stopped at a local gas station with a shopping mart inside. Right away, we went into self-preservation mode. And the place failed, miserably. Lots of people without masks came and went through the narrow doorway. And apparently no attempt was made to monitor the number of people in the cramped store. After sizing up the place, we aborted the mission. Unfortunately, the gas station was not the only place in La Crosse where apparently no one cared about masks. But, undeterred, we decided it was time to adopt the Target Strategy. We found a large, welcoming Target nearby, which looked like a beacon of safety in the distance. Sure enough, just like the Target near our house, the one in La Crosse mandated that all customers wear masks — which they did. And just as we’d experienced at our own Target near our home, the mask-wearing employees had the spray bottles out to keep the place clean. At the check-out lane, a good-natured employee asked us how our day was going as she wiped down the counter and rang up our purchases. We mentioned how much we appreciated the visible safety protocols. Seeing employees so diligent about keeping the place clean was comforting. She admitted that other employees sometimes grumbled about how tiresome the constant cleaning was, but she was a new employee and therefore did not have any other frame of reference. Always wearing a mask and keeping a spray bottle and paper towel at her side seemed a natural part of the experience.

The New Retail Customer Experience

A great customer experience now comes down to how quickly and safely you can get out of the store, and how well a store can assure you with visual cues that they really do take your personal health and safety as seriously as they say on their website and in their official emails. During the pandemic, Target and Walmart have sensed and responded, and there’s no turning back. 

The Banality of “Your Health and Safety Are Our Top Concern”

What have you been doing during the coronavirus lockdown?

I have been reading emails from businesses. Lots of them.

Seems like every organization in the world wants to reach out and let me know how much they care about me as the coronavirus spreads. Their emails are clogging my in-box, muscling aside missives from my accountant, online bills, and updates from my daughter’s college about the relocation of undergraduate students off campus and transformation of classes to a virtual format for the rest of the semester.

Everyone — retailers, banks, associations, restaurants, movie theaters, car maintenance companies, car rental agencies, museums, and churches to name a few — wants to contact me now to have a friendly talk about COVID-19. If you want proof of a highly planned conspiracy of email sending, I’m looking at it right now.

And boy, there sure is an outbreak of caution out there. An abundance of it.

I’m reading. But I’m not listening anymore. That’s because every message not only says the same thing, they also read like they were composed by the one beleaguered copywriter with Legal, HR, and PR breathing down their neck.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Dear valued customer . . . at [Name of Company], your health and safety are always our top priority. Therefore out of an abundance of caution, we are taking several proactive steps to ramp up our procedures and ensure that our high standards are maintained to the utmost, as follows . . .we are monitoring this evolving situation closely . . . rest assured, we are in close contact with governmental health agencies . . . we realize you are being impacted . . we are committed to keeping you informed . . .

Maybe a human being isn’t even writing these rote messages. Maybe every business that wants to tell me about their concern for my well-being is relying on the same artificial intelligence algorithm to compose the notes. If these emails were blog posts, I’d wonder if all the writers were competing to stuff their posts with the same keywords.

Alas, concern has become a commodity.

But amid the sea of same-sounding emails, one stood out, from Barnes & Noble:

The note was so short that for a hot second, I wondered if I needed to scroll down for more. Where was the offer for a discount if I visited my local B&N? Where was the impassioned statement of commitment to put my needs first?

I almost felt a twinge of loss, like an amputee feeling a phantom pain.

But yup, that’s all B&N had to say about the matter.

This was a risky message to send. Anytime a business comments on a difficult current event, they’re wading into choppy waters fraught with hazards (of their own making). Most times I’d advise a business just to leave the subject alone unless something needed to be said. Ironically, the purpose of the “abundance of caution” emails is indeed to share useful information such as a temporary change in policy to accommodate the current environment. But you have to wade through a screen full of treacly language to find anything meaningful, and when everyone uses the same words, my eyes gloss over the emails completely. Sorry. That’s human nature.

Now, I quibbled with a few word choices here and there. B&N was laying it on a bit thick with the “friends and family” language. The “Your stories are our stories” sentence had me wondering if there was going to be a call to action for some sort of writing contest, but nonetheless it’s an interesting sentence that suggests the power of story and community during turbulent times without overexplaining. And it is reasonable to position B&N stores as neighbors in their communities, thriving from great stories by merchandizing them for B&N customers.

Maybe B&N got lucky with me because they zigged when everyone else was zagging. Maybe I’m overthinking a one-paragraph note. But here I am, writing about it. Why did the email work for me? Because Barnes & Noble stayed in its emotional lane. They didn’t overstep their boundaries and try to be something they are not. Barnes & Noble cares first and foremost about selling books to me. Do they really care about my health and safety? Only to the extent that my health and safety make it possible for me to buy books at Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble must keep its stores safe to keep me as a customer, period. In its email, the company does not pretend otherwise.

Good email, B&N. Less is more. Staying in your emotional lane makes you more credible.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Why Amazon and Kohl’s Need Each Other

Amazon and Kohl’s are expanding a relationship that appears to be working for the two frenemies. As announced recently, all 1,150 Kohl’s stores across the United States will accept Amazon returns, thus expanding a program the two companies began to pilot in 2017. Kohl’s will accept eligible Amazon items (without a box or label) and return them for customers for free. As a result, Kohl’s becomes a product return center for Amazon. 

How Amazon Returns Work at Kohl’s

In early 2018, I visited a Kohl’s location in Woodridge, Illinois, shortly after the store began accepting Amazon returns. A giant banner at the front of the store made it clear that Amazon returns were welcomed. The designated Amazon returns station was set up near the entrance. I asked a sales associate why the Amazon returns center was at the front of the store. Wouldn’t it be better to place the center in the back, which would generate more foot traffic throughout the store? She replied that Kohl’s already operated its own returns counter at the back of the store, and having an Amazon returns counter at the same area was confusing to customers. But to encourage foot traffic, Kohl’s gave Amazon customers coupons with discounts for in-store purchases.

In April 2019, I visited the same store. I noticed that the Amazon returns desk had been moved to the back to an all-purpose service counter for customers of Amazon and Kohl’s (for both online pickup and returns). Signs throughout the store directed Amazon customers to the consolidated returns center.

Each person at the service counter accepted all returns, whether from Kohl’s or Amazon. It was clear that the associates had been trained to fulfill both types of returns based on how quickly they managed the process. An associate also confirmed that Kohl’s continues to provide coupons (with a one-week expiration date) to encourage Amazon customers to stay in the store and shop for Kohl’s merchandise. Someone at Kohl’s must have gotten the message: when you see an opportunity to get customers walking through your store, you take it. With the passage of time and the assistance of clear signage, customers will figure out where to take their returns.

In addition, near the entrance, an Amazon-branded pop-up store offered a wide range of Amazon products, including different Echo speakers and Fire products. Here was an attempt to make Kohl’s a distributor for Amazon as well via a pop-up store. But apparently the attempt failed to take root. Amazon recently announced the discontinuation of pop-up locations including those at Kohl’s stores. It should be noted, however, that Kohl’s will stock Amazon products, just not in an Amazon-branded space. So Kohl’s has become a retail outlet for Amazon after all. Why bother with a pop-up store if Kohl’s will stock your merchandise, anyway?

Does the Strategy Work?

Data from Earnest Research suggests that the partnership is paying off for Kohl’s. After Chicago stores began accepting Amazon returns in 2017, “Chicago sales, transactions, and customer growth all outpace the same metrics nationwide for 2018,” according to Earnest.

And the relationship certainly makes sense for Amazon even if the pop-up stores have failed. Having Kohl’s as fulfillment partner attacks one of the headaches of buying online: ease of returns. And Amazon enjoys the services of a returns counter without having to own a brick-and-mortar store. Of all Amazon’s services, such as retail, advertising, cloud computing, retail remains particularly costly. It behooves Amazon to find better ways to contain expenses (which the company is doing based on its latest quarterly earnings report). Even the mighty Amazon needs partners 

Meanwhile Kohl’s is maximizing the value of its floor space in other ways, such as by leasing locations to Planet Fitness. And Kohl’s is not the only retailer leasing floor space. Macy’s has been leasing space to retailers such as Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters

What’s Next?

It will be interesting to see how this relationship unfolds. Will Amazon lean on Kohl’s to sell more of its products, such as its fast-growing stable of house brands? In fact, Motley Fool speculates that Amazon could buy Kohl’s outright. The notion isn’t that far-fetched (see Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods). Retail apocalypse or opportunity? Stay tuned.

Walmart Promotes a Kinder Black Friday – and a Possible Future for Retail

After treating Black Friday like a cattle round-up for years, Walmart is finally injecting a little humanity into the year’s worst shopping tradition. On November 8, the retailer announced measures intended to make Black Friday shopping just a bit more pleasant:

  • Walmart is serving four million cups of complimentary coffee (courtesy of Keurig) and a few million free Christmas cookies from the Walmart Bakery.
  • Walmart will make it easier for shoppers to find top deals in-store via the Walmart app.
  • Check Out with Me store associates stationed throughout the stores and equipped with mobile check-out devices will make it possible for shoppers to purchase items on the spot, thus avoiding long lines.

These changes are long overdue. But why aren’t more retailers improving the Black Friday experience? For years, as part of my first-hand research into Black Friday, I’ve stood in long lines with shoppers in the cold pre-dawn of this massive shopping day. I have waited Continue reading

How a Swedish Grocery Store Beat Amazon Go to the Punch

The Internet is buzzing about Amazon Go, Amazon’s new self-service grocery store. At the flagship Amazon Go in Seattle, opening in January 2017, anyone with an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the Amazon Go app will simply take what they want from the store and leave with no check-out required. Customers will then receive a bill from Amazon, which uses a technology called Just Walk Out to detect when products are taken or returned to a shelf. The excitement over the disruptive potential of Amazon Go is justified. But a small grocery store in Sweden named Naraffar beat Amazon to the punch nearly a year ago. Naraffar’s story illustrates how small businesses can innovate quickly — but how big brands like Amazon can refine an innovation and make it mainstream.

Since January 2016, Naraffar, located in the small town of Viken, near the southern tip of Sweden, has been providing unstaffed 24-hour self-service. Customers use a smartphone app to unlock the store’s entrance, take groceries, and leave. Customers receive a bill later. Customers can also influence how Naraffar stocks its inventory by requesting items not in stock.

https://youtu.be/F5NHWZ58vKY

An enterprising Viken resident named Robert Illijason opened Naraffar after he noticed an unmet customer need: his own. After dropping his last bottle of baby food by accident, he needed to replenish his supply pronto. But the accident occurred when all stores were closed in the 4,200-town of Viken. Only after driving miles to another town did he find a store open.

In the aftermath of the experience, he wondered: why not open a 24-hour store in Viken? But the cost of hiring people to operate the store around the clock turned out to be prohibitive. So he designed a store that requires no people — not even to open or close the front door.

So far, Naraffar has succeeded as a small-scale, 7-11 type convenience store that offers staple items on demand, such as diapers and milk. Ilijason reports no issues with shoplifting. Customers need to identify themselves through Sweden’s BankID system. Security cameras monitor the store, and if for some reason the front door remains open for longer than 8 seconds, Ilijason receives an alert.

As noted by Tarunika Tolani of the Harvard Business School, Naraffar is a natural progression from click-and-collect buying, in which customers order what they want online and pick up goods in brick-and-mortar stores. The number of click-and-collect points in Europe grew by 20 percent in 2015, especially in the United Kingdom, where London alone can accommodate several collection points. Whether he realized it, Ilijason was tapping into a larger trend in consumer behavior by opening a store that removes a layer of friction from an increasingly popular click-and-collect approach.

But Naraffar lacks scale. Amazon possesses the scale, brand strength, and resources to make the Amazon Go model a mainstream experience. As is so often the case, start-ups can experiment and innovate. But the big brands such as Amazon can take innovation to another level. Amazon can test, learn, and refine an idea, whether its own or someone else’s. For instance, Naraffar requires shoppers to scan items with their smartphones and then confirm purchases — a two-step process. Amazon Go customers literally pick up their inventory and leave without any scanning their devices.

Naraffar offers limited inventory in a small location. Amazon Go’s flagship facility resembles a convenience store (with 1,800 feet), but already Amazon is exploring multiple grocery store formats, including much larger facilities, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Even Naraffar required the cooperation of a big brand to launch: Apple needed to approve its app for the smartphone technology to work.

In the United States, retailers are experimenting with several models that might exist alongside each other, including self-service stores of various sizes; variations of click-and-collect (see Walmart’s Pickup and Fuel concept stores, where customers order online and then drive to Walmart to have their groceries loaded into their cars by employees); and delivery on demand (which Walmart has been famously piloting with Lyft and Uber). An independent self-service store relying completely on an app might be a better fit for a remote small town that requires fewer goods and exists. But I could see Amazon building larger Amazon Go stores (certainly larger than 1,800 square feet) in cities where a critical mass of shoppers and infrastructure exists to support a bigger store.

Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon will continue to experiment with different store formats. 2017 is already shaping up to be an exciting year.

Lead image source: geeksnewslab.com

Related:

Business Insider, “This 24-Hour Convenience Store in Sweden Doesn’t Have a Single Employee — Here’s How,” by Chris Weller, 29 February 2016.

The Huffington Post Canada, “Naraffar, Unmanned Swedish Grocery Store, Open 24 Hours,” by Emma Prestwich, 16 March 2016.

Reuters, “Broken Baby Food Jar Leads to Sweden’s First Unstaffed Grocery Store,” by Ilze Filks, 14 March 2016.

Brian Solis (via LinkedIn), “Amazon Go Brings Retail Experience into 21st Century,” 6 December 2016.

The Wall Street Journal, “Amazon Working on Several Grocery-Store Formats, Could Open More Than 2,000 Locations,” by Laura Stevens and Khadeeja Safdar, 5 December 2016.

Yep. This is Wal-Mart.

In Springfield, Illinois, not far from where Barack Obama introduced Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, stands an attractive, custard-colored building adorned with red brick walkways, fountains, and two colonnades with quotations from Abraham Lincoln tastefully carved into them.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library? Nope. I’m talking about a new Wal-Mart that opened in July.

The latest addition to the Wal-Mart chain takes a bold (some might say blasphemous) approach of modeling itself after the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in downtown Springfield (pictured below):

I did a double take the first time I saw the Abraham Lincoln Wal-Mart rising from the flat prairie. What is this? Here stood a large, boxy, building, yes — but one with some energy and movement in the design of its front facade, with water fountains and a pond gracing the more functional-looking backside of the store.

By making its singnage understated, Wal-Mart risks causing just a tad bit of momentary confusion (“Is this a Wal-Mart, really?”), but the building attracts your attention straight off, which is important to getting the consumer engaged, obviously.

Yes, the building cannot escape the necessity of a large, bland parking lot in front. But closer to the building, at least you can enjoy wide brick walkways clearly designed to give pedestrians breathing space. Prominent colonnades feature quotes from our 16th president, such as. “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I’m not sure Honest Abe had Wal-Mart shoppers in mind when he uttered those words, but so be it. (Perhaps a more appropriate Lincoln quote for Wal-Mart would have been, “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business.”)

The new Springfield Wal-Mart is just another sign of how marketers and retailers are responding to a cluttered world of their own making by appealing to consumers through an experience that connects with you emotionally. There are only so many ways you can make merchandise attractive. Experience-based marketing makes the shopping environment itself, whether a digital or physical store, a fun and engaging destination, which is why it appeals so much to retailers (see Nike Town and American Girl Store). And now, even Wal-Mart.

Yep. This is Wal-Mart.

In Springfield, Illinois, not far from where Barack Obama introduced Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, stands an attractive, custard-colored building adorned with red brick walkways, fountains, and two colonnades with quotations from Abraham Lincoln tastefully carved into them.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library? Nope. I’m talking about a new Wal-Mart that opened in July.

The latest addition to the Wal-Mart chain takes a bold (some might say blasphemous) approach of modeling itself after the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in downtown Springfield (pictured below):

I did a double take the first time I saw the Abraham Lincoln Wal-Mart rising from the flat prairie. What is this? Here stood a large, boxy, building, yes — but one with some energy and movement in the design of its front facade, with water fountains and a pond gracing the more functional-looking backside of the store.

By making its singnage understated, Wal-Mart risks causing just a tad bit of momentary confusion (“Is this a Wal-Mart, really?”), but the building attracts your attention straight off, which is important to getting the consumer engaged, obviously.

Yes, the building cannot escape the necessity of a large, bland parking lot in front. But closer to the building, at least you can enjoy wide brick walkways clearly designed to give pedestrians breathing space. Prominent colonnades feature quotes from our 16th president, such as. “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I’m not sure Honest Abe had Wal-Mart shoppers in mind when he uttered those words, but so be it. (Perhaps a more appropriate Lincoln quote for Wal-Mart would have been, “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business.”)

The new Springfield Wal-Mart is just another sign of how marketers and retailers are responding to a cluttered world of their own making by appealing to consumers through an experience that connects with you emotionally. There are only so many ways you can make merchandise attractive. Experience-based marketing makes the shopping environment itself, whether a digital or physical store, a fun and engaging destination, which is why it appeals so much to retailers (see Nike Town and American Girl Store). And now, even Wal-Mart.

Web 2.0: A reality check

[slideshare id=468792&doc=internetretailerfinal-1213563231913033-9&w=425]

Have you ever wanted to get grounded in some basic web 2.0 concepts but were afraid to ask? On June 10, my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Dave Friedman provided some answers in his presentation “Web 2.0: A Reality Check” at the Internet Retailer 2008 Conference. I have posted his presentation for your benefit, and here are some highlights:

It’s not about the technology

Web 2.0 is not a technology. It’s a technology wedded to a culture of collaboration and creativity on the web. Most importantly, it’s about consumers using digital to collaborate with each other. (Dave actually cited the Wikipedia defintion of web 2.0. Although I enjoy Wikipedia, the defintion seemed verbose and vague.) Example: 84 percent of affluent consumers surveyed by the Luxury Institute use ratings and services before making a purchase.

The driving principle behind web 2.0 – collaboration among people – is not new. People have been relying on each other for information about products and services for as long as merchants have existed. But web 2.0 technologies have turbocharged that experience. (Fortunately Dave resisted the urge to say “Web 2.0 is collaboration on steroids” or else I would have heckled him.)

The web 2.0 tool that matters most to retailers

Retailers usually understand the collaboration part of web 2.0. But they are mystified by the proliferation of web 2.0 media and tools, all of which have quickly formed their own argot: blogs, wikis, widgets, and so on.

Rather than attempt an exhaustive overview of most web 2.0 tools, Dave then focused on the most powerful one for retailers to understand: ratings and reviews, which allow customers to rate products and services and share their ratings with others. Ratings and reviews are a central part of the shopping process now. According to Forrester Research, half of people who shop online first do product research on Amazon.com because of the availability of reviews posted by their peers. Implication: having a rating and review section is not optional. Your customers expect it.

Social shopping

Dave also discussed how web 2.0 has fueled the social shopping phenomenon, or people relying on others to help them shop. The web has always been an effective place to do “surgical shopping,” or using price-comparison and search tools to find the right place at the right time to find a particular product you have in mind. But the problem with surgical shopping is that it’s not fun. Although there will always be a place for surgical shopping, digital can make the process more of an engaging experience by giving consumers the ability to explore different brands and involve your peers in the decision-making process. For example, on Kaboodle.com, consumers can find other people with similar interest in a product or category and share their passion for (or disgust with) their experience.

How retailers can embrace web 2.0

Finally, Dave discussed four ways retailers can embrace web 2.0:

1. Support multi-dimensional product comparisons. Give your customers access to product reviews and ratings even if you sell them through another channel. But make it possible to compare product, features, and styles.

2. Build places to make it easy for customers to play. Make it possible for customers to connect with other people. For instance, the Behr online paint store addresses the typically collaborative process of home design. At behr.com, you can upload photos and create possible designs based on lifestyle and color palette. After you create the ideas, you can share them with friends and family.

3. Engage in the conversation. Customers do want to hear from you – but they want to have a conversation. For example, Overstock.com includes a user forum and product rating function. You can even tell Overstock.com when you find lower prices elsewhere – which gives Overstock.com valuable input from the marketplace in addition to providing a voice for consumers.

4. Give people the ability to take your content and use it in other places. Your customer does not wake up every morning with a burning desire to visit online retailing websites. So make it possible for them to share information about you with their friends via“share with a friend” features. Clothing retailer Karma Loop turns customers into representatives for its brand by making it possible for you to download and design your own widget and post on your Facebook page.

Dave’s concluding point: if you’re still not sure what to do next, use your own network of trusted colleagues to get ideas – in other words, apply a little web 2.0-style collaboration to learn. That’s how Dave wrote the presentation you see on this blog post.

Meantime, check out these reactions in the blogosphere:

Tim Parry, Multichannel Merchant

Phil Windley’s Technometria

I welcome your feedback, too.

Web 2.0: A reality check

[slideshare id=468792&doc=internetretailerfinal-1213563231913033-9&w=425]

Have you ever wanted to get grounded in some basic web 2.0 concepts but were afraid to ask? On June 10, my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Dave Friedman provided some answers in his presentation “Web 2.0: A Reality Check” at the Internet Retailer 2008 Conference. I have posted his presentation for your benefit, and here are some highlights:

It’s not about the technology

Web 2.0 is not a technology. It’s a technology wedded to a culture of collaboration and creativity on the web. Most importantly, it’s about consumers using digital to collaborate with each other. (Dave actually cited the Wikipedia defintion of web 2.0. Although I enjoy Wikipedia, the defintion seemed verbose and vague.) Example: 84 percent of affluent consumers surveyed by the Luxury Institute use ratings and services before making a purchase.

The driving principle behind web 2.0 – collaboration among people – is not new. People have been relying on each other for information about products and services for as long as merchants have existed. But web 2.0 technologies have turbocharged that experience. (Fortunately Dave resisted the urge to say “Web 2.0 is collaboration on steroids” or else I would have heckled him.)

The web 2.0 tool that matters most to retailers

Retailers usually understand the collaboration part of web 2.0. But they are mystified by the proliferation of web 2.0 media and tools, all of which have quickly formed their own argot: blogs, wikis, widgets, and so on.

Rather than attempt an exhaustive overview of most web 2.0 tools, Dave then focused on the most powerful one for retailers to understand: ratings and reviews, which allow customers to rate products and services and share their ratings with others. Ratings and reviews are a central part of the shopping process now. According to Forrester Research, half of people who shop online first do product research on Amazon.com because of the availability of reviews posted by their peers. Implication: having a rating and review section is not optional. Your customers expect it.

Social shopping

Dave also discussed how web 2.0 has fueled the social shopping phenomenon, or people relying on others to help them shop. The web has always been an effective place to do “surgical shopping,” or using price-comparison and search tools to find the right place at the right time to find a particular product you have in mind. But the problem with surgical shopping is that it’s not fun. Although there will always be a place for surgical shopping, digital can make the process more of an engaging experience by giving consumers the ability to explore different brands and involve your peers in the decision-making process. For example, on Kaboodle.com, consumers can find other people with similar interest in a product or category and share their passion for (or disgust with) their experience.

How retailers can embrace web 2.0

Finally, Dave discussed four ways retailers can embrace web 2.0:

1. Support multi-dimensional product comparisons. Give your customers access to product reviews and ratings even if you sell them through another channel. But make it possible to compare product, features, and styles.

2. Build places to make it easy for customers to play. Make it possible for customers to connect with other people. For instance, the Behr online paint store addresses the typically collaborative process of home design. At behr.com, you can upload photos and create possible designs based on lifestyle and color palette. After you create the ideas, you can share them with friends and family.

3. Engage in the conversation. Customers do want to hear from you – but they want to have a conversation. For example, Overstock.com includes a user forum and product rating function. You can even tell Overstock.com when you find lower prices elsewhere – which gives Overstock.com valuable input from the marketplace in addition to providing a voice for consumers.

4. Give people the ability to take your content and use it in other places. Your customer does not wake up every morning with a burning desire to visit online retailing websites. So make it possible for them to share information about you with their friends via“share with a friend” features. Clothing retailer Karma Loop turns customers into representatives for its brand by making it possible for you to download and design your own widget and post on your Facebook page.

Dave’s concluding point: if you’re still not sure what to do next, use your own network of trusted colleagues to get ideas – in other words, apply a little web 2.0-style collaboration to learn. That’s how Dave wrote the presentation you see on this blog post.

Meantime, check out these reactions in the blogosphere:

Tim Parry, Multichannel Merchant

Phil Windley’s Technometria

I welcome your feedback, too.

The inside scoop on Microsoft Surface

On April 17, AT&T worked with Microsoft and my employer Avenue A | Razorfish to launch the first retail application of Microsoft Surface touch-and-recognition table technology at a limited number of AT&T wireless stores. Surface promises to improve upon the often-confusing process of buying a mobile phone in a retail store, and even make learning about mobile devices fun. Until its public launch, though, most consumers hadn’t even seen a Surface table. Few user experience designers had, either. So what was it like to create a user experience design for the launch? Superhype sat down with Rich Bowen of Avenue A | Razorfish to find out. Rich is a user experience lead dedicated to the AT&T account. He lives in Denver, and his work supports AT&T digital advertising and website design across the agency’s Atlanta, Austin, and Seattle offices. His job was to work with a team to design how consumers would interact with Surface tables in the stores. Here is his story.

Superhype: Rich, most consumers haven’t even seen a Surface table. Why are they important?

Rich Bowen: Surface can make the buying experience a lot more fun, especially for products that require high levels of consideration before purchase. With Surface, a salesperson does not need to explain how a mobile device works or whether AT&T can provide coverage to your area of the country. Instead, the consumer and salesperson can sit down at an interactive screen and see the information they need. For instance, using Surface, consumers can review features of a device by placing it on a table. Surface recognizes the device and displays a graphics-rich overview of features. Consumers can also use touch-and-hand movements to explore an interactive map that reveals how much coverage AT&T provides in different areas of the United States.

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