Editor's view: Are you connecting with customers or ambushing them?

  • Opinion
  • August 11, 2017
  • Sarah Dunn
Editor's view: Are you connecting with customers or ambushing them?

I think everybody’s experienced visiting a retail website that asks too much of you. A pop-up immediately requests your details for sign-up to a customer club or mailing list, and a loud video starts to play automatically.* You either close the tab immediately or, having found the video’s ‘stop’ button, leave after a quick glance around the cluttered landing page.

Regardless of your level of interest, the site’s cookies enable its advertisements to follow you across the internet like a bad smell.

All this noise constitutes an attempt by the company to connect emotionally with the customer, but it’s going about it the wrong way – it hasn’t asked permission. Ambushing your customer with ads is not an endearing way to connect, and it’s not conducive to a long-term relationship.

Marketing guru Seth Godin coined the term ‘permission marketing’ as a way of combating this mentality: “The privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

Bricks and mortar stores have an advantage over ecommerce outfits here because, at least for now, tricking a customer into engaging with a store without their permission is frowned upon. About the closest you can get is pushing pamphlets on the street.

The opposite of the permission-free push for engagement is experiential retailing. This is a new name for an old concept, whereby retailers use their fit-out, merchandising and customer services skills to create an environment so enticing that consumers enter of their own accord and linger for longer. While inside the store, they spend time engaging with the in-store environment, researching items either through their own devices or by talking to staff, and through an organic, genuine process, are charmed into making a purchase.

What this looks like in practice is my mother entering a gift shop or a clothing boutique and deciding she’s not going to leave until she’s found something to buy because it’s all so beautiful. This happens more often than you might expect.

Many retailers in traditional or luxury categories and those in small towns, where interpersonal relationships count for a lot, intuitively understand experiential retail. They know their customers’ names, and can accurately divine their taste. The good news is that you no longer need 30 years of experience behind the counter to develop this kind of insight – it can now be mimicked or supplemented with data collected through loyalty programmes, as long as they’re non-intrusively offered and sensitively managed.

There’s really no need to chase your customers down for their data or their business – it’s a high-risk strategy that is as likely to backfire as it is to result in a high level of engagement. In a world of tech-enabled commercial intrusion, there’s a lot to be said for letting customers come to you.

* Didn’t we collectively decide back in the early 2000s that autoplaying sound clips on your website is passé? They seem to be popping up again. Please, let’s not go back.


This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 750 June / July 2017

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