Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Secondary Ticket Sales - What An Experience!

Forrester recently estimated that US online secondary ticket sales will grow at a 12% CAGR over the next five years to $4.5 billion by 2012. That’s a lot of tickets! Now, my family is a baseball family. We have season’s tickets, which entitles us to 81 home games a year – far more than even our baseball-crazed household can attend. As a result, I’ve had personal experience with several different ways of selling tickets to total strangers. Here’s my take on the options.

E-Bay wins hands-down. And I don’t mean Stub Hub, which was acquired by E-Bay. I mean good, old-fashioned E-Bay. (Has E-Bay ever been described as "old-fashioned" before?) Nothing can beat it for ease of use, intuitiveness of processes and tools, and success rates!

Stub Hub is in a word … lousy. It’s hard to use, their seller notification doesn’t seem to work nor does their tool for tracking action on your listings. We don’t know why Major League Baseball chose them as their one and only sanctioned means of reselling tickets. From the cheap seats, we think it's a good thing for E-Bay to keep its brand separate from Stub Hub.

Craigslist is such a mess, I have never tried to sell tickets (or anything else) there. I keep looking at it, and wondering how anyone sells anything there given how disorganized it is. Craigslist sellers, please tell me how you do it!

There’s always person-to-person sales outside the venue. That’s become harder to do as cities have cracked down on scalping. I do get a kick out of haggling with the scaplers themselves – you know, the guys who stand on street corners and are both buying and selling tickets to an event. They are a hoot, and they’re business people, like the rest of us. They have the seating plan committed to memory and know the going rate for any seats at any time leading up to an event. I had to laugh when one of them didn’t like the below-face value price I was asking for 2 tickets and exclaimed “Lady, you’re scalping!” No duh.

So, for my money, when it comes to selling to strangers, it’s E-Bay all the way.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The New Face of Do-Good Consumerism

It used to be that the same names always came up when anyone talked about socially responsible companies: Patagonia, The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s, maybe Benetton, and that was about it. What made them socially responsible differed from company to company – but having a conscience was an essential part of their relationship with employees, owners, and customers.

Today, we expect big companies to be good citizens of the world – Chevron, Nike, Gap, Starbucks, Pepsico and others produce annual reports on their acts of corporate or social responsibility. The reports are posted proudly on company websites, and the companies are truly making progress in cleaning up their act. But being a good citizen is generally a response to external pressures - it's not part of most companies' DNA.

Then, there’s 2006 startup, TOM’s Shoes. TOM’s is a business that's also a social movement. The name – TOM’s stands for TOMorrow’s Shoes – and their “One-for-One” commitment to give a child in need a pair of shoes for every pair sold, make customers feel great for buying a pair of TOM’s shoes. There are blogs, block parties, and foreign country shoe drops in addition to TOM’s own stores and retail accounts where customers can share the feel-good TOM’s experience.

Retailers like TOM’s have made it a central part of their business proposition to creatively and tangibly take on big social, economic or environmental issues while also providing products that U.S. consumers want to buy. These companies have figured out that taking action on a human scale and letting the customer in on the act is cool, and creates a reason to be brand loyal.

And as Carol Phillips points out in her Millennial Marketing blog, this type of do-good positioning really resonates with millennials. As Phillips points out "One of the most cherished Millennial values is 'making a difference'. This makes cause marketing a natural choice for many Millennial marketers."

What is your favorite do-good brand?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bring us your poor, your tired, your broken down merchandise

Seems like a lifetime ago customers brought broken merchandise back to the store or a designated repair center to get it fixed. Those days are long gone. Now, retailers allow customers to bring in their ruined merchandise and exchange it for new products or a store credit. Some will even issue a refund.

In their 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review article, James Stock, Thomas Speh and Herbert Shear lament how product returns have come to be viewed by companies as a necessary evil, a painful process, a cost center and an area of potential customer dissatisfaction. They show that many successful organizations have realized that an effective product returns strategy can provide a number of benefits, such as improved customer service and customer knowledge.

There's the famous urban legend about Nordstrom taking back supposedly defective tires - which they've never carried. Even more impressive as well as true - since 1986 American Girl has had a Doll Hospital. They invite customers – 5 to 9 year-old girls – to bring or send in their broken dolls to have them repaired. And that’s not all. The doll comes home wearing a hospital gown with a “Get Well Soon” balloon in her hand. That’s amazing – breathtaking, in fact.

Where have all the store employees gone?

While a big part of the Internet’s appeal is that customers can use it anytime anyplace, that doesn’t mean all retail should be self-service. In pursuit of lower costs or eliminating customer lines or wait times, some retailers have hollowed out their stores to the point where there are virtually no employees.

Home Depot has customers doing their own check out. Macy’s installed scanners so customers can do their own price checks on the sales floor. At Target, the digital camera desk is frequently unmanned, and there's no staff in the electronics aisles. Each decision has its own logic, and makes sense in isolation. However...

... As a Best Buy district manager told USA Today, "A lot of this [consumer electronics] stuff is commoditized. So what is the difference? It's our people. It's got to be…As the economy tightens, everyone is going to be lowering price to the lowest possible point, so service becomes the most important differentiator between retailers. It's the reason why a consumer would choose to shop at one over another."

Whether or not you like Best Buy, you gotta give them credit for understanding that shopping in a store is a social experience, and an opportunity for a retailer to strengthen its relationship with its customers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's All About the Customer

Since forever, merchants have ruled in retail. Most of them believe that it’s the product that sets them apart and defines the brand, though they rarely use the “b” word. Sales associates, store design, web design, usability, and customer service – the main people and places through which customers interact with retailers – are generally not on the path to the top jobs at most retailers.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big believer in product. Without an assortment, a retailer stands for nothing. In my view, product is necessary but not sufficient for building enduring retail business value.

And that’s the reason for this blog: To highlight what’s new in the retail customer experience and celebrate what works … to champion the retailers who get it right, and call to action those who don’t.