Supermarkets, technology, marketing: searching, finding, IKEA rage and the likeThursday, December 14, 2006
In November 2006 Google's advertising team started a Google CPG blog (consumer packaged goods) in order to "share ideas and touch on an array on topics related to the CPG industry, advertising, and Google". A smart move, as CPG are clearly big business.
A recent "Make markets super" post on that blog, about improving marketing by supermarkets, mentioned an interesting top 10 rules of supermarket marketing from an interview with the head of ad agency Meyer & Wallis, and added some extra suggestions plugging use of supermarkets' websites and the Web - including Web ads and searching, but of course.
That prompted this post. Now I'm no marketing expert (well I'm no expert an anything, I'm always learning), but as a consumer and supermarket customer there is one simple use of technology that supermarkets and big grocery stores could make, but don't, which I've wanted for ages, and which would make such a difference to me.
It's just this: a search terminal at the end of every couple of aisles where you can type in what you're looking for, and it tells you on which aisle number the product can be located.
The big supermarkets like Tesco's, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and ASDA (just using UK examples) surely must have automated stock control systems that can keep track of their goods and stock levels. Why can't they adapt those to provide in-store information for customers? And frankly, why can't the big department stores do something similar?
Haven't you had the frustrating experience of wandering round a supermarket or grocery store trying to find what you need to buy, even trying to find a staff member who's able and willing to tell you where it is? Businesses are trying to use machines/software in so many ways to do what people did - this is a prime area where it might actually work well.
For busy people with limited time, like me, wandering aimlessly for ages round a supermarket is the last thing you want to do at the weekend. You just want to get what you need and go. So why not cater for people like that, and make it easier for them to buy what they want? (Yes I could buy online and sometimes do, but for fresh fruit and vegetables, and some meat, I prefer to check it and choose it for myself, thank you.)
Probably they want to make you walk round the whole store hunting, in the hope that you'll impulse buy goods you hadn't planned to, which you wouldn't otherwise notice if you could make a beeline just for your shopping list items.
An interesting recent New Scientist article "Locating locating locating" was about how people look for things (Lévy flight patterns rather than Brownian motion, apparently - very short steps interpersed with very long steps rather than medium length steps, which is it seems how our ancestors hunted). But it also mentioned "IKEA rage" and why shops that force you along a prescribed route can be so maddening, time-consuming and exhausting... yet also tend to result in splurge impulse buying, a reward or treat to yourself for getting there! It must be that shops like IKEA get enough benefit from the impulse buys that they are happy to deliberately frustrate their customers. But personally, while I think many of their products look good and are great value for money, I've bought nothing from them for a long time, because I really don't want to go through their long and winding showroom routes again (and trying to find parking in their car park is even worse). So in the case of this consumer anyway, their strategy has put me off rather than made them more money.
IKEA tip - it's behiiiiind you!!: The New Scientist article also mentioned research on IKEA routes and how people navigate through IKEA stores, carried out by Farah Kazim a master research student of Alan Penn, an architect at University College London. "If you want to find your way out of Ikea, look behind you." "Kazim found that our forward-facing vision is the key to why we all follow the windy route through the showroom. There are plenty of short cuts to allow you out, but they are always cleverly located behind you - in the direction opposite from the arrows that lead you through the showroom floor. As a result, you just don't notice them." Very clever. (There's a nice plan of an IKEA store in the article too, showing the extremely "sinuous route")
So I can't imagine that supermarkets are going to introduce search terminals for customers any time soon (though surely they could also then extend that to allow customers to do stock checks at their local supermarkets over the Web like other consumer goods websites do? Why not let you pick your local store, enter a shopping list online and give you a list of aisle numbers for each item which you can print out? Why not have something like that in the in-store cafes, so you can sit down and have a nice cup of tea or coffee and check your shopping list?). But I do think groceries are quite different from furniture and that annoying customers pays off less in that sector. Well, I can but hope...