Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scrutinised or Seduced?

Retail experiences – scrutinised or seduced?

Unless you've been on planet Zog you’ll have noticed it was Valentines Day this week, and some of the attitudes and behaviours of my friends got me thinking about how subjective ‘attention’ is, in particular with retail brands.

Personally I loathe the idea of a prescribed day of romance so resist the clichéd pressure with a fierce determination, and in much the same way I resent intrusions from retailers who think they can anticipate how I want to spend money.

It would appear retailers are better informed about us than ever before – so how come some give us the creeps while others bliss us out with their attention? In a world where we demand ‘show me don’t tell me’ retailers must now demonstrate they ‘know’ us by making the experience relevant as well as personal.

The question is how to provide us with increasingly personal shopping experiences without falling into the creep out zone?

The answer lies with the critical aspect of consent. Before retailers can reasonably expect us to be delighted with their attention (rather than feeling our privacy is being violated) they must understand that ‘knowing the customer’ now means providing us with tips, advice and offers that help us out. Actions which support our buying habits are the ones which bliss us out, and the creepy behaviour is where the retailer has studied information based on personal demographics and used this to take a punt on what we love.

And that’s the thing – we choose who we want to be close to. Before retailers can ever hope to succeed they must develop a consensual relationship based on respecting our choices rather than the ones they’d prefer we make (or the ones they’re sponsored to persuade us to make). They must embrace the notion that we’re either into them or we’re not, and start to respect this.

So, how wonderful would it be for our favourite store or brand to delight us with random surprises when we least expect it, compared to the Valentine equivalent of prescribed attention that doesn’t really mean that much.

At the supermarket instead of a loyalty card, a coupon or a voucher wouldn’t it be great if the cashier was able to spontaneously announce “we know you’re favourite coffee is blah so as a thank you there’s a free one ready for you when you next visit” or in the coffee shop they said “have that one on us today” – far more memorable and packed with surprise and delight. Yet its all based on the same techie information systems currently employed.

As in the world of relationships, we notice what people don’t do, rather than what they actually do, and the minute we start to feel taken for granted resentment and cynicism sets in. Rather like the world of romance, retailers have to place their attention on subtle seduction rather than an obvious technique. So to avoid the accusation of “bet you say that to all the girls” retailers must be prepared to support, respect and encourage what we love already – and give us more of it!

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