Anyone seeking to understand the declining fortunes of physical retail need look no farther than the current RockAuto.com advertising. The ignorant and diffident sales help, the inherent inconvenience of driving somewhere to get the right part coupled with the unlikelihood of having a range of solutions readily on offer at various price points: All combine in a toxic brew that makes a website with the look and feel of 1990 Prodigy on-line grocery service seem thrillingly cutting edge.
You know the ad: “All the parts your car will ever need” sung with the irritating ear worm equivalent only to a Kars4Kids jingle.
The genius of RockAuto.com’s ad is that it plays to the first stage of shopper engagement: Anticipation. They know and we know the fresh hell of searching for one specific piece of our daily puzzle from stores and sales staff who don’t share our sense of urgency, fleeting though it may be. Rock Auto brands the entire retail experience for its own benefit. Well done, you. But, oh! poor us.
Our experience suggests there are five “stations of the cross” of shopper experience. Three take place within the shop itself and thus get the most, albeit scripted, focus: Entrance, Engagement, Exit.
What most retailers overlook, however, are the other two building blocks of the shopping experience: Anticipation and Reflection. Why are these steps overlooked? Because they are hard to script. Hard to predict. Not so simply tethered to the cash register’s ring. Yet, our work shows the causal link of these two, not just as predictive of purchase, but of non-discounted buying decisions. In other words: There’s margin in figuring out the meaning in the shopper’s hopes, fears and contemplations. Not through a brain-dead survey, please. Or a cents-off on future purchases in exchange for an email through which to continuously harass.
Anticipation is hard at work at nearly every price point and category, but chocolate chip cookie decisions to wedding dress evaluations. Products and brands we look forward to buying are imagined for their ability to resolve issues, ranging from what to serve for dinner to what to wear to the office Christmas party to what car seat to use for my two-year-old. These are not spontaneous, spur of the moment, buying-out-of-boredom decisions, but rather ones already known to be central to some greater personal identity marker. They may require research, word-of-mouth and expert opinions. When we enter the door of the store, we are ready to engage, if the store is ready to help.
Reflection is a tougher hurdle to clear. What do we think about after we buy and leave the store. Are we happy with ourselves? With the purchase? With the shop and its assistance, its expertise. One retail expert (albeit writing in 1920s America) said the true test of a great shopping experience was that after the purchase the customer should like the store, the sales person, the goods – and herself better than before. That’s the criteria we need to embrace – and quickly.
Retailers and mall developers: Looking for a way to re-ignite retail sales? Meditate on the twin powers of anticipation and reflection. Done right, they complete the shopping engagement circle. Done the way the industry delivers now: Anticipation of poor, stumbling service, coupled with Reflection on its many indignities after the fact, sends us to Amazon, Zappos and yes, RockAuto.com.