Market to People, not to Consumers

Market to People, Not Consumers

So now that the holiday shopping season is essentially over (cue the post holiday and new year sales) it’s time to look back and see how everyone did.

Retail sales reports are coming in and they’re a little confounding, and a tad bit smugly amusing, and quite frankly, a little bit frightening.

  • Confounding: Crappy economy, political infighting, a looming fiscal cliff, backlash against large retailers for bully tactics, and they’re stunned by why sales aren’t meeting projections. They forget no one wants the outdated technology they’ve put on sale, that gift cards are a big seller and one of the biggest nightmares for cost/sales allocations for businesses, and that people are spending less (except on pets, but no one listens to folks who talk about pet marketing. They think their elitist who shouldn’t listen to what people who sell chew toys are saying because well, what do THEY know about behavior.)
  • Smugly Amusing: Retailers have set the behavioral expectations of consumers by cutting prices and margins early in the season and then having to resort (unexpectedly, always) to more slashes and deals as the season comes to a close to hit their numbers. Retailers trained shoppers to this behavior and they’re always surprised by it.
  • A little Bit Frightening: You cannot get a longer holiday shopping season and they still couldn’t hit their numbers. That’s not the frightening part. The frightening part is their excuses and rationalizations will that people are scared and the economy is further in the tanker than it really is, and they will never look to how they set their numbers or developed their sales cadence to meet behavioral demands. They will not change their approach. Could be good for consumers, but bad as mediocre work becomes the norm and failure in a job/industry becomes acceptable and more finger pointing away from the true failure becomes status quo.

Seriously people, when are you going to stop rationalizing outcomes by the numbers and start thinking?

As I previously mentioned, here is a list of what your customers were contending with during the holiday season:

  • Crappy economy
  • Political infighting
  • Looming fiscal cliff
  • Backlash against large retailers for bully tactics

PLUS, there has been a gradual change in the economic shopper overall during this economic downturn that retailers really haven’t even acknowledged, so they still keep hocking the same old consumerism crap logic and basing projections on a decades worth of numbers. Retailers can’t even realistically compare last year’s numbers to this year’s because so much has changed for so many. And the same will happen next year (also considering next year will be a much shorter shopping season, assuming retailers don’t skip Halloween altogether).

Hey retailers, it’s time to listening to your marketing department.

  • Remember those reviews everyone told you to include on your product pages? People read them.
  • Remember the comparison shopping models they suggested you integrate? People use them.
  • Remember that whole free shipping thing? Yeah, that screwed you, didn’t it.
  • Remember when you said you’d do great this year online now that Amazon has to charge sales tax? Your marketers told you it is a non-starter. Believe them now?

If your marketing department (or agency) didn’t tell you those things chances are you (or your agency) hires crappy marketers to save a buck. If you bought the lines they sold you it means you stopped thinking. If you are a marketer and you don’t get it, it means you’re the one who stopped thinking.

(Ok, it could also mean your boss threatened you with your job if you actually spoke up and did the job you were hired to do, and you’ve been soul-beaten to keep your job or risk ruin in this job market, but that right there should wake you up to remind you that you really need to increase your networking as your sole new year’s resolution!)

Case in point #1:

Pandora is running ads for Tiffany’s. Tiffany is a high end jewelry store that traditionally caters to women, and men for gift giving. Pandora’s customer base skews male, so advertising on there during the holiday season would reach their audience, at first blush. A more experienced marketing team would use logic (instead of just demographic numbers from their vendor firm) to say WTF at the suggestion of a media spend on Pandora. The ads only show on the free version. People who shop at Tiffanys likely do not listen to the free version (the one that runs the ads) of Pandora. They might think about checking age and geographic demos, too.

Case in point #2:

Nordstrom sent a late email with a subject line that said they have slippers under $100. I would imagine that Nordstrom’s email list is largely female. Females know that slippers are the 21st century version of drugstore Jean Nate bath splash in the last minute shopping gift for grandma or the elderly mother-in-law. Men buy last minute slippers as an “oh crap” gift. So the idea fails on all accounts. Add the “under $100” for slippers and the immediate reaction is … so just everyone else, so I don’t need to go to Nordstrom to spend more money on a pair of slippers than is rational.

So if you had a bonehead marketing flop, don’t feel bad. Tiffanys and Nordstrom likely don’t know they failed, and they’re HUGE brands with MASSIVE budgets, and HIGH POWERED agencies.

But learn from what I’m saying here:

  • Don’t be an ass.
  • Don’t be a boneheaded marketer.
  • Don’t piss me off (as a marketer OR as a consumer).

Consumers, or as we like to refer to them in the real world, PEOPLE spent a lot of money this holiday season. They just didn’t spend it where traditional retail analysts thought they would. And they didn’t respond the way junior thumb-sucking underpaid overworked marketers predicted. They spent it exactly where they told us they would. You just have to pay attention.