It's in your hands – Marketing Managers and their Decisions

I like having the last word. It feels as if I’ve said ‘So there, tinkerbell’ and you don’t have a chance to reply as the phone goes dead in your hand. On that, phones are going to play a much bigger role in retail marketing in the future. With GPS and Google maps we’re now finding our way to stores with them, being sent ads via emails on them; getting messages about specials and deals on our phones as we meander down shopping strips.

Is the phone the ultimate retailer accessory? I recall ‘database or die’ was the catch-phrase of marketing conferences and functions during the early 2000’s. Maybe it’s going to be ‘phone or fucked’ as we enter the 2010’s.

Is it a technologically driven industry, retail? Will the web and phone next dominate retail or will physical retail retain the principal role? I can’t help but think basic physical retail (ie. Not home delivered) will remain core to our shopping behavior for one key reason. We need things to do with our days that don’t involve sitting on our bums on a couch. We need to move around and bump into other humans. You know how boring it is to stare at the same four walls and the same four members of your nuclear family.

But, as they say about advertising, half of retail works, half is stuffed, I just don’t know which half. Part of the problem I feel is that professional marketers are similar to doctors. We try to rescue and give life back to an ageing lung cancer patient while he’s still smoking. Because we are creative and strategic at the same time, we’re often suggesting things that will work, but only to prolong the brand, not fundamentally change it. Half of retail today needs radical change. Technology is passing it by. Can phones fix retail? They may be able to assist with some of these core issues.

Product. If you’re carrying that which is needed but can’t be got, you’ll do brilliantly. Likewise, if it’s the same as the next shop, you are a slave to price. The selection of which products to carry is rarely today a marketing function, but ought to be. In many circumstances we poor marketers are being asked to help sell stodge that some under achieving ‘professional’ buyer has bought on a whim and we’re being told it’s our fault if the damn stuff isn’t wanted by the public. Just because no-one can cook in Britain and they all live on their own because no-one can stand them doesn’t mean all foods should come in pre-cooked single serves here. Buying needs to be done with as much marketing input as advertising is. Phones won’t help here, except to call other suppliers. Not a bad thought – why don’t you start buying for the firm?

Location. If you’re the only shop in a small town, you do fine. If you’re within walking or driving distance and a convenient left-hand turn off the main road, you do fine. The fact is, if you are too far from your punters, you won’t get the sale. Which is why critical mass matters so much in retail. Not only do you need to be a certain size before you can buy at the right price to compete, you need critical mass for convenience; to open stores every few kilometers across suburbia is to be really significant. Phones might help the punters to find the store.

Timing. If you’re carrying t-shirts and we are heading into winter, you better quit them. All retail goes through timing peaks and troughs and blind Freddie will be able to tell you when to have what stock, but so many retail management can’t get their act together to stock the right product for the time or to open when they should. If we are all working longer hours when on earth can we shop for accessories or car parts? How often have you been to the supermarket and it’s been crowded at 7 pm? And no other shops open in the street. Lots of people, but no service. Not that you need it, but a phone based survey would prove the point in a blink.

Yes, there’s sales staff training, branding, pricing, they are all marketing issues. But the key thing is simply bringing the marketing function into centre stage in retail. Making retail work requires power placed in the hands of marketers. And yes, it’s a two edged sword. Retail is the ultimate test for marketers. You either get it right and they love you, or you don’t, and it’s back to phoning up someone like me for a job.

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