“If you want to understand how a lion hunts, don’t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.” Sandy Thompson, the global planning chief of ad agency Y&R often uses that saying, and it’s just as relevant to the world of retail as it is the sphere of communications.
At the heart of the message is that great retailers naturally put themselves in the shoes of their shopper, both metaphorically and physically. It’s about getting out from behind your desk and taking yourself through the path to purchase. Which is why, when I once asked the renowned observation researcher Paco Underhill what he considered was the most important tool for analyzing retail, he quipped “rubber-soled shoes”.
The research focus group is a useful tool for getting to know your customer, but it is a somewhat false forum. In fact, if you’ve ever attended a focus group, you’ll know it’s a bit like going to the zoo – you sit on the other side of a two-way mirror and observe your shopper.
Out in the “jungle”, we can watch shoppers in their natural habitat, and look at the world through their eyes. In the retail savannah, customers let their guard down and astute retailers not only note their behaviour, but become a shopper themselves.
I am currently doing some work for retail at one of the major airports, and it was revealing to me to “take the trip” – the taxi ride, check-in, security, tax refund, duty free shopping and getting on the plane – all the while mentally taking notes. As I both experienced and observed, I could feel my stress levels rising (would I make my flight?), and that is just not conducive to spending money. Which provides an insight – manage travellers’ expectations, help them to enjoy rather than stress out, and you just might extract a few more dollars on the way through.
It’s important for your store managers too to see the world from the shopper’s perspective. Make it part of the daily routine to stand back from the entrance to the store, and see what the customer sees. Are we telling a cohesive story? Is the promotion properly ‘tied up’? Is the housekeeping in order? What’s the message we are sending? Would I buy from this store?
The world’s most successful retailers – people like J. Crew’s Mickey Drexler – are those who literally think on their feet. They make a habit of not only carrying out regular store visits, but also instinctively watching shoppers and going through the process themselves. Others like Zara go one step further, and embed an anthropological approach into their way of doing business – feeding back unsolicited customer comments from the floor to head office every day.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not even statistically valid. But it is fundamental to being a successful merchant. And if you don’t get out in the jungle, you may end up being fodder for another retail predator.