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FROM SANTURCE TO BILBAO_Some advises for improving the communication of stores

tienda Milan

Window display in a Milan store.

ABSTRACT

No communication means no sale. Next to informing communication should also persuade the customer. And in this context (good) sales people are vital. Retail companies used to be person and smile-intensive, but nowadays they have to be capital-intensive too. The context has changed and a new challenge emerged: how to communicate better with fewer sales people? Opting for IT and sensorial solutions offers answers to the dilemma “cheap coffee for all” versus “expensive customisation”.

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If the woman selling her fish on her way from Santurce to Bilbao had not sung:

Who wants to buy?!

Fresh sardines

My sardines

How delicious they are

They’re from Santurce

And I bring them to you,

many potential customers would have never known that she was there and she would have sold less.

A sale is not possible if the buyer does not receive a minimum of information. Besides communication is vital giving this information a purpose: to persuade.

And it is logical that the best and most effective communication is achieved by -good- salespeople.

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Change the context and a challenge emerges

Professional salespeople have become an expensive and increasingly scarce resource.

Given the considerable investments assigned to their geographic expansion – absolutely essential in our modern economy – firms in retailing that were people and smile intensive (usually referred to as “labour-intensive”) have to be also capital-intensive these days.

But smiles are always profitable in retail. Statistical evidence shows that those shops blessed with a good atmosphere tend to sell more.

In conclusion, we are facing a serious problem. How can you assure that a shop “talks” – with fewer sales people and without losing the capacity to communicate and hence persuade?

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Some ideas for devising a communication strategy

Communication methods need to be designed as part of a specific selling method (self-service, assisted, personal, etc.) and should be included from the start in the budget of any new business model.

The main aim when wanting that a shop “talks” should not be to simply lower prices, but to ensure that customers get the appropriate, tailored, and reliable information conveying the right tone, meaning, and emotions in a sufficient quantity.

Once this aim has been achieved, the second objective should be to ensure that the total communication cost per transaction, after weighting the impact of all communication sources, is as low as possible.

We could, for example, reserve human involvement – in form of excellent and well-paid professionals- for key moments in the purchasing process. These encounters should be brief but rich in customisation, sensations, and visual contact. Automated and mechanised messages or other non-human resources could be used as a support for minor interventions.

Bi-directional communication from the customer to the company should be encouraged (if we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth we should use them, in that proportion). Or even customer-to-customer communication.

Future StoreFor example, if a software is intuitive and pleasant to use, why not implement tactile screens permitting the customer to take the initiative and interact by looking up and searching for information? In the Aqui é supermarkets middle-aged housewives use the touch-screens to print out recipes as if it was the most natural thing to do.

Another resource gaining in popularity is the remote flex-printing. The Central Services (I don’t find the term “headquarters” very inspiring) prepare semi-finished signs displaying information including the product name, brand, use, etc., that will later be completed and printed out by the individual stores that also add the final price.

The use of Artificial Intelligence applied to databases opens economically viable ways to offer highly tailored solutions to clients. Therefore the “cheap coffee for all” versus “expensive customisation” dilemma is mitigated due to the advanced use of information technologies.

These days, retailing is an activity that could and should make intensive use of new technologies and sensations.

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Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Distribución Actualidad, the spanish magazine of retail

(nº 410/411, December 2009)

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