Customers are expecting your store to match your advertising—does it?
What came first the chicken or the sofa? Recently I saw a TV ad for a new incredible mouth-watering extra crispy chicken sandwich. Man, did it look good. It was so big the actor could barely open his mouth wide enough to take a bite. I love fried chicken in all forms and immediately made note. The next ad was a brand-new furniture retailer in town promoting an elegant roll arm sofa for $699 that also looked huge and was filmed in a beautifully decorated room setting and…wait for it…the matching loveseat was absolutely FREE. Yep, fried chicken and furniture, two of the things I love the most in the span of 60 seconds! Time to grab a bite and shop the new retail store.
Well, the chicken sandwich ended up being small, a bit soggy and overpriced. Of course, it was served up with the typical fast-food customer service we’ve all come to expect, which is to say bad. They overpromised and under-delivered.
Next stop the new furniture store. It was a very nice store with fresh colors and it was nicely accessorized—much like it appeared in the ad. The salespeople were well trained and professional. The sofa from the TV ad seemed much smaller in person and the value was just okay as it was a promotional brand with no quality features. Did the store overpromise in the ad and under-deliver in reality? It was more like underwhelmed in reality. I didn’t walk away thinking the sofa and free loveseat were a tremendous value or merchandise opportunity. However, the store and the staff matched what I saw in the ad.
So, here’s the point: Brick-and-mortar retailers must balance their ad message with the reality in the store like never before. Let’s look at different messages and methods to balance the need for honesty while preserving the promotional traffic driving juice that’s sorely needed in today’s retail world. Subliminal perception is a process where we may receive subtle messages that ultimately influence our behavior without us ever knowing why. What subliminal message is your store sending?
Store fronts in your ads and marketing should closely represent what the customer will see when pulling up to the store. If you’re one of those national retailers with a cookie cutter approach, then this is easy to achieve. The temptation to show your best and most current store is strong and understandable. If you have a variety of buildings and store fronts from different iterations of your brand image it may be as simple as a montage of your stores in the ad. Certainly you can tailor your web site to show the specific store front a customer may plan to visit. If you have a single location make sure your exterior is clean, maintained and professionally filmed or photographed. Make sure it continues to be maintained and clean to always look like the image used in advertising.
Merchandise presentation is a balancing act. We painstakingly set up our merchandise in photo shoots to look meticulous and presented literally in the most favorable light. I’ve seen merchandise detailed to the nth degree before being photographed. Do you do the same thing when putting new merchandise out on the display floor? Is it detailed and is the lighting adjusted for that specific piece of new merchandise? When the image matches that in the advertising it affirms for the customer that what you see is what you get. In the truest sense, bait and switch is a process where you advertise one thing and present something else. Don’t be victim to subliminally bait and switch with your merchandise presentation. Don’t be afraid to advertise strong prices and values as those are needed to create foot traffic. Just make certain that the external image matches real life perception of merchandise in your store.
Point of sale materials in store should match the message in your advertising. I know this sounds simple and it’s one of the simpler items to coordinate, but you’d be surprised how often there’s a disconnect. Whatever you’re advertising as a special, have the same item promoted in the store with proper signage. Coordinate the look of the POP items to match the advertising both in color and font selection. Don’t make it hard for the customer to find and understand the specials being offered. Perhaps the promoted item is a loss leader and understandably you would prefer to step off or up from that product, but do that with merchandising options and sales training. No one ever wins the retail game with trickery or conscious omission. As mentioned in previous articles, the power of positive or negative reviews is difficult to quantify.
Financing is confusing for many customers as well as sales people. If you’re advertising long-term no-interest financing with qualifiers such as minimum purchase amounts or down payment, it’s important to present these options clearly and as importantly in a legally approved disclaimer. In-store POP can support this along with sales meetings designed to reinforce the qualifiers and knowledge within your sales teams. In my experience, the financing process is glossed over by most retailers. Failure to disclose deferred-interest clauses is often cited by consumer protection groups as misleading and manipulative. Many online furniture websites now promote alternate types of financing with interest as clean, clear and honest options beyond the traditional no-interest options in furniture stores.
Your digital presence (website, social media and email campaigns) has become as important to your overall message as pickles and mayo are to my chicken sandwich predilection. As you compete with online furniture retailers, it would seem this is the easiest place to make sure everything syncs up. Unfortunately, this area requires considerable resources to stay on top of all aspects of your merchandising, financing, advertising and other store functions. It’s likely most customers will visit your website or social media pages before ever stepping foot in your store. Albeit a great deal of effort, the beauty of your website is staying consistent with your message and branding efforts. Be sure you’re committing the right amount of resources to remain current and relevant.
Even after last month’s Supreme Court ruling, which paves the way for states to collect taxes on internet purchases, online furniture retailers still have an advantage in some areas. The customer will never step foot in a showroom while we brick-and-mortar guys have to work harder to ensure that all elements of advertising and marketing match up to the expectations we set with our message.
However, online folks are plagued with high returns as the product expectations are more challenging to set and fulfill without a showroom. I recently reviewed the top 100 brick-and-mortar retailer list, it’s clear furniture stores still sell a bunch of furniture when they meet the needs and expectations of consumers. The not-so subliminal message by one national restaurant is “eat more chicken.” My not so subtle message is, tell and show customers what to expect, deliver on those expectations and “Sell More Furniture.”