Selling it like it is – Why selling is so important to Marketing

I’m in Greville Street, Prahran, Melbourne – heaven for the hip.  Everything is so correct, it’s almost not. The right looks, going into the right stores, buying the right things, taking them home in the right cars.

The people on the footpath are half my age. Most beautiful. Skinny little bodies bouncing along full of last night’s testosterone. Smiling to themselves, anticipating getting a bit more tonight. These people are so cool they don’t even need to try.

The first store I enter has music thumping from some tiny Northern African country mixing with the expensive perfume of the girl lazily drawing on her arm, who, I think, may be an employee.

She looks up at me for a split second. Takes in the sad fact that I’m balding, middle-aged, over weight and probably looking for my daughter’s birthday present and decides she doesn’t need to get up, I’m guaranteed to come over to her.

I wander around the store. It’s got the coolest of everything. Shoes, toasters, old magazines, art. And clothes so torn and raggedy looking you’d think they were for throwing out but they’re actually worth $500 and are the height of fashion.

The other people in the store are almost nervous this place is so now. I can tell they are wondering if their clothes/haircuts allow them to fit in or make them look out of place. I’m conscious that I am so completely out of the equation. It helps in a strange way. I don’t exist in this world. I am a ghost. Invisible.

The cynical marketer in me starts to enjoy the experience. I love it when I see a slick operation working. I start to appreciate the brand, the machine.

I stand and look around a bit more. Nothing in here is placed by mistake. Everything is just so because it adds to the brand. Even the girl who is supposed to be selling is doing it just the right way. By not trying. By ignoring me and all the other customers except the two or three who are also gorgeous, young, hip and rich.

How do you bottle this brand? This is the difficulty facing all retail. How do you get the brand experience so strong that your customer is in awe? How do you rip the dollars out of their credit cards and still have them begging to give you more?

Then about an hour later I’m in Chadstone. Where all these brands that have been developed in the kitchens and boardrooms of the entrepreneurs of this fine country slam into the heady reality of competition.

Chadstone, where one minute you’re in Sanity, with its attempt at I-don’t-care-rock and roll/hip-hop funkiness, mixed with a fair bit of industrial grunge, but clean (which kills it, I must say) right next door to another brand promising another vibe. The second perhaps aimed at child-encrusted young mums or perhaps empty nesters downsizing, looking for more efficient and stylish kitchen utensils.

If it ain’t selling, it ain’t retail

Cause that’s all that matters with retail. Selling. It has to work. It has to be the most efficient part of the marketing channel. You have to rip those dollars out of those consumers. We all depend on retail. It’s the final link in the chain. And by definition, the one that truly matters.

I’m thrilled to hear it when retail sales are up. We had a good Xmas. Coles Myer is making a profit. Just Jeans is floating. Retravison is announcing an interim dividend or whatever. It’s retail that drives our economy. Retail that pays most of our wages. Retail that forces change on recalcitrant manufacturers. Retail that drives marketers to advertise and keeps my crew and me in a job.

Staff have to sell

In Australia it’s not done well. In Australia, I can walk in and out of a store with money in my pockets. In some countries a customer entering a store is going through the same experience as an insect flying into a web. In those places they know about selling.

Here, the best service I consistently get is at a supermarket or a Bunnings, where I get self-service.  I have walked out of more stores than I care to think about because I didn’t know where the item was kept and there wasn’t anyone around to tell me. I have stood in Myers electrical department waving $5,000 in my hand shouting could anyone help me to buy a TV/stereo. Staff are not expensive air warmers. They are not moving clothes hangers. They are in shops to sell. Why is it no one teaches them how to? Why is it that it’s so rare, that I can actually name the stores in Melbourne where I get good service?

Why is it the most consistent line I’m thrown is the very occasional ‘Just looking?’ Asked so they can be snubbed with a nod and neither of you has to actually communicate with the other.

They are bored out of their minds, usually. That’s why. Once you’ve asked a hundred people if they want help, and been ‘rejected’ more or less a hundred times, you’d rather die than do it again. That’s the fundamental problem with all retail. So the environment and the quality of the branding are critical for staff morale.

Bloody lucky we have good store designers and ad agencies to create brands in OZ or the business would be truly stuffed.

The Brand is the pull

The brand experience is everything in retail. You won’t go spend money where the brand experience is not right for the expectation. A top jewelry store like Kozminski’s or Tiffany’s is open, well lit, quiet, clean smelling, with a touch of expensive perfume, at a perfect 20 degrees. The staff is quiet-spoken, not too pretentious, the signage old, traditional but not flaking, the glass counters solid, well maintained. The velvet rich and deep coloured. The prices are frightening, but well concealed.

The brand experience in a fashion store is different. So it is again in a Muffin Break, an electrical retailer, and a fishing equipment place. They all promise the dream, deliver to the expectation. They must. It’s how well they do it, how well they convince you they know the subject, the business, which makes or breaks them.

But the brand is the tip of the iceberg

Once you have the brand right, it gets down to whether they are selling stuff that has enough inherent volume, their stores are well located and their products/services different enough from the competition to survive and prosper.

It also depends on the system inside the store. Is it designed to make it easy for the punter to get what they want and a whole lot of spontaneous sales along with it? Does the design work to take money from wood ducks like ants stripping the carcass of a moth?

The sale dilemma

One terrible impact on branding, profitability and often the whole general category of retailers, is a sales culture. This often creeps in when you have stupidity as key management criteria amongst a class of retailers. Take the bedding industry.  I wish someone would, by the neck. In some parts of the world beds sell for more or less their full retail price. These places are where the retailers are aggressive, but in a service-oriented way. They organise you to have test-drives of beds and they’ll even get rid of your old bed for you. They don’t run sales every two weeks.

If I was buying a bed, and I am at the moment, I’d wait, like I am, for the next sale. And the stores worry about margin. How can you focus on good margins when you create a culture that automatically strips them?

How to make retail really sell

Get your brand personality right

It’s critical for you to know exactly what it is your stores are to stand for, what it is they are there to sell. Once you have that in focus, you must decide on the most efficient way of ensuring the customer will enjoy the selling experience and spend up big.

(I know most of you retailers will have this stuff already on paper, in style guides and worked out to the 9th degree, but even if you do, there’s no harm in re-looking at the issue. God knows many stores do it badly.)

Your branding must work on a tribal, psychological level. There is a mood, mindset that people must be in when they see/enter your stores. If they were not in that mood when they rounded the bend, three hundred meters from your shop, with the right branding, they will be by the time they are two meters inside your store.

A “surf” shop, sells cheapish, badly made clothes to young females who think it’s hip for their hips to be bare, is filled with boards, Hawaiian shirts, smelly wax and 50’s guitar music not because much of the stuff ever sells, but because it creates the brand.

External / Internal

Signage and layout must also work on a tribal, psychological level. It must appeal to that psychological level of that tribe at that stage in life. Even Blockbuster’s daggy big blue/yellow sign that looks like a piece of film tells you that’s ‘where the big movies are’.

Deliver on the brand’s promise

Your signage, especially internal ones, must match your ads – take shots from your TV, your catalogues and blow them up. Your prices must match too. God knows how many times the ‘specials’ simply aren’t visible.


Is absolutely critical. Make sure it reflects the pattern of how people buy your kinds of products. The order they wish to view them in. Usually with the high volume at the rear, so they have to walk past the others for spontaneous sales etc. Layout is an art form, a science.

Staff attitude/people themselves/uniforms

Are critical for branding and general selling. If the business is fashion and the target market is young thin things, you can’t have a whale serving, sorry. If it’s a big girls shop, don’t embarrass them by putting a skinny rake behind the counter. Most men won’t buy hardware from women, unless they are good looking, but women much prefer to buy from a woman, they feel they can trust them. Make the uniforms sensible and not clown–like. Uniforms are one of the key staff de-motivators. Ugly, and they hate getting dressed in the morning.

Staff need to be trained for the culture of a store. The branding can be ruined by an over zealous sales person.

Use smell/music/samples

The senses other than your eyes tend to work much more powerfully. Your eyes have thousands of options an hour, your nose might be lucky if it smells something really nice once a day. It will convince you to buy some cakes, some perfume. A dress. Most shoes smell great new. Music is even more emotional. It evokes a memory, a mood. Justifies a price hike.

Baker’s Delight always gives you a sample. So does any sensible deli. Tasting the food from a store is such a monty for getting a sale I can’t understand why food merchants don’t have people marching up the corridors of the shopping centers giving it away.

Change branding slowly, if possible

It’s damned expensive to change the branding, so you want to do it gradually if possible. The key question is ‘How do you keep it exciting and fresh?’ (So if they come back, they’ll want to again.)


Branding in the real world. It’s hard for all the branding you bring together to be cool if you have little kids run through the store knocking over displays. Very hard to keep your brand essence pure and confident when their Mums run frantically after them apologizing to your staff while they scream at their kids to shut up and behave or they’ll be back in the car in the car park, in the sun, with the windows up. Like last year when it was legal.

Location, location

Traffic flow, convenience of turning, the locations arrangements to funnel cars/people through the turnstiles makes or breaks most stores. If it’s too hard to get there, you don’t. And keep in mind that most people won’t travel more than say 5 kilometres for anything, so proximity to main roads and your target market’s homes/work is a real issue.

Make it messy (unless it’s very expensive)

Old Sidney Myer used to go mad when they’d tidy up the store because the boss was coming in. He’d throw fabric on the ground, knock over the displays. Because he knew that people looking for a bargain go for the messy area first – that’s where others have obviously rummaged around. It means the stuff is cheap. Which is one reason why Daimaru, the upmarket Japanese store, failed in Melbourne. The place looked expensive because it was too neat. No one felt things were a good price, even when they were.


Is the most cost-effective media for retail but you need size to justify the expense. The most efficient operators have a formula they run, a doughnut. The opening is pretty similar, the end always the same. (Logo, sound signature, website, addresses etc.) The middle part varies according to the deal.


I’m a big believer in radio at the right time. If they are in the car, they are potentially on the way. Hit them with radio when the store is open.

Letterbox drops

Get the distribution people to analyze your immediate area by income/age/lifestyle etc. and hit the key streets with regular reminders. It’s cheap, and if done well, very effective.

Direct Mail

Slightly more effective than leaflets, especially on target groups who are more dispersed. Or who have a history of shopping with you. Like cars or fashion. Sadly few use their databases well in retail. I’ve never had a letter from a hardware store, but I buy stuff from them all the time. I’d respond to a letter from a car dealer about now too.


The preferred vehicle for almost all retailers. Can’t fault it.

Local papers

Work with some target markets. Use big ads if you can afford the, as they stand out and they are relatively cheap. If you can’t go big, use a regular space, like the ears on the front, or a largish ‘island’ ad in the trade section etc.

Outdoor — on key arterials

If you want consistent trade hit them every day to and from work. Maccas usually have an ad some 2-300 meters before their stores. Why?

In-store — posters/colors/TVs/music

Use anything to get the message across. Seduce them with visuals and effects. The experience should work on them like hypnosis. Lulling the punter into confidence, into giving your store the trade, rather than spending it in the shop next door.

Always promise price

Every retailer has to offer or imply a price advantage, regardless of the facts. That’s life. They want a feeling of value for money, even if it’s a lot of money.

Always offer range

Everyone wants to feel they’ll have good choice of products, prices.

Over deliver

Promise less than you give them. Offer a small discount. Say that’s $15.25; give it to me for $15.00. Throw in a smile.

Time efficiency is key

Few retailers have worked this out yet. They think it’s very clever to keep people in their stores for hours. (Like the Casino concept – if they stay here long enough we’ll get it all.) Sorry boys, stupid idea. I was in the new Ikea store in Richmond the other day. Trying to find some shelves for my new office.  At a full jog it took me 60 minutes to get through the store and out again. Admittedly I spent about 5 minutes looking at the shelves, but I no more want to go there again than fly to the moon. How can you ensure repeat sales if your customers want to avoid the time experience (loss) in your store? ah ha!  I HATE IKEA for that very reason!

Quit, when you’re behind

The name of the game is stock turnover. If something is not selling, get rid of it at whatever price you can and move on. Use the money left to buy things that do sell well. Turnover and margin over time is the key thing, not just margin per unit.

Make it a better experience

On behalf of the rest of the economy, I implore retailers reading this to do a good job. Give the customer a great experience. Make it pleasant for them to visit your store. Sell them more than they expected. Keep the wheels of industry moving. A satisfied shopper, with a car full of stuff, is a happy, generous mum or dad. They will feel well fed (food stores), will have enjoyed better entertainment (electrics), will feel groovier (better clothes).  We all want our fellow Australians to be happy. And a well-shopped person is a happy person.

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