The Dread Of Going Shopping

On Saturday I visited a major outdoor clothing retailer. The experience confirmed why I dread shopping and got me wondering about the management thinking that underpins and drives the activities of sales assistants.

Much has been written about the changing role of the retail outlet in the context of increased online shopping. It seems apparent to me that there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of retail changing to suit changing shopping behaviours and the death grip of a pushy sales mentality.

Retail psychologists will recognise some of the irks I have. Firstly the experience of being mugged the moment you step across the threshold with the notionally friendly greeting of ‘are you alright there?’ . Whilst the content of the communication is friendly, it is socially inappropriate and is not an expression of interest in my welfare. It is a vacuous utterance from a shop employee who really wants to ask me if I’m going to buy anything from them. In that sense it is deceptive.

Talk about ‘processing’ customers as resources to extract their value. Step one open the ‘process’ with a technique that obliges people to say ‘yes’ because pop psychology tells us this is a good thing. Good for who? The customer?

Having resisted the urge to run out the store because my need to privately explore the product range I have been browsing on the Internet is stronger, I am then confronted with my ‘new best friend’. My new friend wants to follow me around the store to notionally help me but the ‘spider like’ attempt at constraining me in a silken cocoon of product feature verbiage is suffocating.

I just want to escape. I don’t want to be in the place. I don’t want to ‘helped’ to make a buying decision as if I’m suffering from a knowledge and capability disability.

When will retailers learn that sales assistants (sic) driven by an aggressive sales philosophy sugar coated with facile friendliness is bad for business?

People are going shopping for different reasons now. They are going informed and they are going to explore. In that exploring they will use their own capability as thinking adults to buy the product they want.

This was a black experience for me and one that might just stop me exploring the outdoor brand I like in that retail outlet even though the T shirts tell me I shouldn’t.

Why Won’t Sainbury’s Let Me Alone?

brass glasses-greta garbo-sainburys

A friend recently reported a shopping experience irritation during a visit to Sainbury’s. In the middle of a rush shopping trip she was stopped hassled by a member of Sainbury’s staff asking if she could if she was adequately insured.

All in the name of service no doubt. Or is it? When does a marketing philosophy become a marketing mantra? When does a marketing philosophy become a convenient gloss for the real intention of the organisation?

Kurt Lewin said “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”
In other words ideas drive actions.

So what is the idea that is driving the action of Sainbury’s? Back in 2004 Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch wrote an article in the Journal of Marketing called “Evolving To A New Dominant Logic of Marketing”. In this article they pulled together streams of thought that had been developing over previous decades concerning ‘Service Marketing’ (Gronross et al).

This ‘theory’ has sat in the background quietly influencing marketing strategy and justifying marketing actions. We no longer trade ‘goods’ they argue we are focussed on “intangible resources, the co-creation of value and relationships” So the man in aisle isn’t ‘selling’ anymore he’s establishing a ‘service relationship’ in order that value can be co-created between the moment your tin of tuna is taken from the shelf and placed in the trolley!

Sainsbury’s have evidently bought into the ‘service dominant logic’. Or have they? The rhetoric is about service the reality is exchange. I have something that I want you to buy from me. You have money in your wallet and I want it to be mine, all mine. The ‘sales dominant logic’ of Sainbury’s simply can’t be hidden from view that easily. Psychologically it’s an ideal situation to sell to somebody. The rationalising defences are down because you are focussing on your regular house hold shopping and the distraction of the service stalker makes you amenable vulnerable to sales messages (clever! see Pratkanis The Science of Social Influence)

Surely when someone goes shopping its in their time? What right has a retailer to take your time and take advantage of you simply because you are on their premises? The argument that it simply making you aware of additional services seems rather hollow.

Now, as part of the Brass Glasses service to readers, I’d like to offer you a solution to the in store stalking problem. Of course as critical thinkers you’ll know what I’m up to. So here it is:

The amazing new Garbo badge. Imagine walking around Sainsbury’s without interruption, simply wear this badge and Sainsbury’s staff will know that you “vont to be let alone”

Update October 2009:
Witnessed an OAP approached by an in store sales person selling insurance. The chap was a bit confused. Hardly surprising he was doing his shopping not thinking about insurance. The gentleman was then obliged to discuss his financial affairs in the aisle next to the tinned tuna. How lacking in empathy and courtesy.

I believe this is an unwarranted intrusion into shopper privacy and just because you have walked onto the premises doesn’t mean you should be a target for unsolicited sales propositions.

This is something different I don’t want to try thanks!

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