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  • Pamela Tucker

With fashion and retail disruptors shaking up these and related industries, along with the continuing trend of shoppers looking to spend on "experiences" and less on fashion related goods, many retailers are hard at work-- stepping up their efforts to combat competition and to attract and to build long-term profitable relationships with shoppers.

A growing number of retailers have been connecting with customers through social media. For example, a retailer will promote specific items, such as a shoe, or a coordinated look on Instagram. With a link to the retailer's website, the shopper could then quickly shop for these items on the retailer's website. However, one sales event tactic that continues to be used is the "Pre Sale." With this approach, the shopper, who visits a store is encouraged to select and pay for the items in the store, have the items held at the store until the sale begins and then come back to pick up the items or have them sent to her / him once the sale begins. Shoppers and stores probably like this sales technique, or it wouldn't still be in place. Shoppers like it because they buy an item they want at a better price and retailers like these sales so potentially they could generate more sales when the person comes back to pick up the merchandise a week or so later. Yet, from the perspective of a shopper, in recent years I've found these "Pre Sale" events are poorly communicated and therefore they aren't always enjoyable. Yes, a lower price is the best; but, it isn't always an easy experience. A"Pre Sale" related strategy that could be improved and a few suggestions for doing so relates to communications.

Last fall, while shopping in a particular store I was unaware of a "Pre Sale" event. I selected a few items and then paid for them. I moved on to another department located on the same floor. This time the sales associate told me about the "Pre Sale." The rule was that I could select the items and then pick them up next week. I completed the transaction and made a note to come back next week. After that, I tracked down the sales associate in the previous department and asked him about the "Pre Sale" event and if the items I just bought qualified for that. He said yes. He didn't tell me about the event when I purchased the clothes just twenty minutes ago. I then gave him the purchased items and we set it up for the "Pre Sale" event. The shopping experience in this store could have been better and the communications problem was easily resolved. However, the poor communications experience stayed with me.

A few weeks later I was at another retailer and had another poor communications experience. In this situation, again unaware of a "Pre Sale" event going on, while waiting to pay for the items I overheard the sales associate helping the woman at the front of the line. The sales associate asked the shopper if she'd like to do the transaction as a "Pre Sale". She did. When it was my turn to pay, since I was buying the same brand as the customer who just got in on the "Pre Sale" I assumed I'd be asked the same--Would you like to buy this as a "Pre Sale?" However, she didn't ask and started the standard check out process. I ended up getting in on this "Pre Sale." However, it was up to me to ask. I did get a better price. However, similar to the first experience it left a sour note.

Retail managements should understand that when there is a “Pre Sale”event in a store, “the policies and procedures” need to be clearly communicated to the sales associates and the proper messages given to the shoppers. I've also had terrific experiences with other retailers as their "Pre Sale" events were clear and concise. In these cases I’ve received emails and phone calls about these events. I’ve also been “allowed” to buy and take home / or shipped to me the merchandise during the "Pre Sale" event. These notifications are a result of my relationships with a few sales associates and store managers. Reflecting on the title of this posting, "Pre Sale" Could be a No Sale" is based on my experiences and informal chats I've had with others about these erratic "Pre Sale" practices. The retail winners who rely on "pre Sale" events will be those who communicate the right messages to the associates on the front lines and provide them with the proper and consistent messages to shoppers. Those that don't improve on their "Pre Sale"communications strategies-- well maybe "No Sale" will be the result.


  • Pamela Tucker

Retail is Detail

Whole Foods was the subject of a slew of media reports last week concerning its future, including how it is managed (e.g. the new composition of the Board of Directors) and what it is working on to improve operations (e.g. provided an update to a list of Strategic Initiatives that could deliver better returns to its shareholders.)

Whole Foods lost about half of its stock value since peaking in 2013 and incurred a string of negative quarterly comparable store sales growth, with the most recent decline reported last week. So, it isn't surprising activist investors have become increasingly involved. What is also surprising though, and perhaps more so, is it seems that if the company’s managers had made a practice of being shoppers, just like you and me, in Whole Foods stores, it might not be in this challenging situation. (Unknown if they shopped. If they did, wondering what they experienced.)

A Whole Foods opened near me about two years ago. I tried being a fan and being loyal. However, on occasions the shopping experiences were discouraging, (and I'm not focused on the company’s pricing strategies which continue to be widely discussed). Last Sunday morning's shopping trip there reinforced my frustration. For instance, the transaction process from getting on the long line through paying took nearly twenty minutes. This is a peak shopping time in the area, so it is odd that the express check-outs weren't operating. While waiting to checkout my thoughts wandered to the long-gone salad bar at this location.

For a time, there was a section where you could go to a terminal, select the ingredients for a customized salad, go to a cashier and pay for it. The salad bar employee would then put the salad together and a tasty meal could be taken home. Yet, this very simple concept at times became a drawn out maddening task. Guess what happened? After selecting my “greens”— which was romaine I was told that the salad bar didn’t have any romaine. When I asked how could a salad bar at Whole Foods run out of romaine when there was an ample amount of it upstairs for shoppers to buy and to prepare salads at home I was told that the salad bar department is run separately. Accordingly, no romaine and no salad for me, which meant no salad bar sale by Whole Foods. I decided to get a refund and then waited in line for that. I detailed why I wanted a refund and asked that my experience be brought to the attention of a manager so the problem could be corrected. I suspect nothing was passed along because a few weeks later, there wasn’t any romaine at the salad bar. Again! With some charm and a smile, I encouraged the salad prepper to go upstairs to the produce section and bring down the romaine for this salad. This salad process took at least fifteen minutes. Though I had the salad prepared, I decided the “struggle” to do this wasn’t worth it. I wondered if any Whole Foods manager tried ordering a customized salad.

Months had passed since I went to that Whole Foods store. Having lucked out last time, I decided to try again and buy another romaine salad. This time however, I discovered the salad bar was gone. Could it be this area was unprofitable? Did it not meet goals because key ingredients were missing? Was customer feedback solicited as to why it wasn’t generating sales? The salad bar was partly replaced by the deli counter that was once located upstairs. And please, don’t get me started on how long it took me to get help with buying some turkey when it was located up there. It could be I’m a fussy customer. However, on Sunday when I spoke with others on the long line I learned that my shopping peers also experienced trying shopping trips there. One man told me it was his first and last time in the store. I might give this location another try in a few months.

The “Retail is detail” motto might be an operating strategy that Whole Foods could embrace as it moves forward. Managers could be shoppers, just like you and me and they would see the immediate need to focus on the details shoppers want which could ultimately result in building a loyal customer base.


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