Is “web-lash” a thing?

“Web-lash” :a mashup of “backlash” and the web. WHAT? I’ll explain. It’s a concept introduced to me by Gary Ambrosino of Time Trade, in his article on WWD. Gary explains web-lash as “a backlash on online shopping and an increased focus on the store,” which, when I read it, hit a note for me. I’ve gotten into discussions with several people who opine that pretty soon, all shopping will be done digitally. There are many exhibits in modern culture that could seemingly support that: Amazon PrimeNow and their drones; Instacart, Target.com subscription services, and clothing subscription services like Le Tote. That’s where the future of retail is heading, but is that where the end is?

Retailers are currently going crazy about the huge increases (like even some 200% increases) in mobile and digital purchases during Holiday 2015. “Everyone’s buying online; let’s focus on online” seems to be the general sentiment. Why the web-lash and imminent refocus on brick-and-mortar?  To summarize Gary’s points, it’s due to the lackluster shortcomings of online shopping that leave consumers returning to physical stores. “Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available,” he declares of digital shopping. Soon enough, retailers who currently have their eyes on the shiny e-commerce thing will realize that it will never replace the ironic comfort and convenience of physically going into a store and browsing for your purchases. Millennials, for one, are increasingly demanding more personalized service and “artisanal” experiences, and the current state of most shopping websites don’t allow for much more than a generic and mediocre experience for all.

Arguably, there are some things that are better suited to thrive on e-commerce while some categories will always perform best in brick-and-mortar. For example, a simple item that can be judged by reading a few reviews and the specifications section (like a phone case, or USB cord) will continue to be predominantly transacted on the internet, but others (like cashmere scarfs and engagement rings) will continue to be sought after in traditional stores. The main gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping (and thus the web-lash) is due to the experience. To finish off, here are some steps (some Gary’s, some mine) that retailers can take to ensure that their response to the web-lash is ready:

  1. Reduce waiting time and get closer to instant gratification by making sure employees are at the ready to checkout customers or answer questions. Gary suggests to allow customers to make their shopping appointments ahead of time so that they can have a seamless shopping experience.
  2. Train store associates to offer personalized service to customers.
  3. Educate associates on the products (“Is this lipstick cruelty-free?”) and the store’s policies so that questions like “Do you price match Amazon?” can be easily (and hopefully happily) answered without the customer having to sort through your Site Map on his/her cell phone.
  4. Celebrate the omnichannel experience of today’s shopping environment by providing free WiFi to your customers without them having to check a bunch of boxes.
  5. Lastly, invest in your in-store experience and ensure that your website is a seamless part of your service.

 

I’m going completely (hazel)NUTS!

About a month ago, something devastating happened. I went into a Starbucks and asked for my regular drink.. and.. and they said… and they said they didn’t have it. It was discontinued, they said. “Why?!” I demanded. They didn’t know, they said, the Starbucks god must have not been happy with its sales or something, they said. (Before I go on, I’d like to admit that I know I sound like I have a pH level of 14, okay).

And that marked the death of our beloved hazelnut macchiato. I went into different Starbucks, asking if anyone had that coveted hazelnut syrup still in stock. I was out of luck. I asked baristas if they could replicate a hazelnut macchiato using other ingredients. “Yes I can do a caramel macchiato with hazelnut syrup.” “YES!” ….No; this was not the same thing. At all. I tried so many barista’s recreations of what they thought would resemble the extinct hazelnut macchiato, but this hazelnut macchiato connoisseur could sniff out inconsistency and flaws within one sip. I tweeted Starbucks to no replies. I pretty much gave up my Starbucks hazelnut macchiato search…

Until today. I was walking by a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and mused to myself, hm, I should try that place. Starbucks never replied to my desperate needs – they don’t care about me. I will turn to the other side and see what they have to offer. I walked up to the counter inside Coffee Bean and explained my dissonant state (I hadn’t had a hazelnut macchiato in about 3 weeks!). Immediately, the friendly hipster at the counter suggested I try their hazelnut latte. “Ok.. I guess” I said as a I prepared my taste buds for the worst.

But then my drink came out. It looked cheerful and happy to see me (I was getting delusional by this point). I asked the coffee-guy (are they still called baristas at non-Starbucks?) for a stopper so that I could save the heat of the drink until I got inside. After a short walk back to campus, I sat down with my hazelnut LATTE in one hand (not a macchiato) and stared at the sleeve of the cup for about a minute, silently apologizing to Starbucks in my head. Then I took a sip. IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR. (Cue Rihanna lyrics: “where have you been all my l-i-i-i-fe?”).

Thank you Coffee Bean, thank you.

Brands & Emotional Connections

9/25/14

A McKinsey article I was reading centered on the modern and updated consumer purchase funnel. The gist of the study is that the stereotyped funnel doesn’t exist like it did before (large consideration set of brands that eventually lead to one brand being purchased and then post-purchase behavior) but rather has transformed to a more circular loop with many touch-points at which marketers can make connections with and hopefully influence the consumer. I further thought about which touch-points are most successful and what determines the influentiality of marketing messages. Thinking about my own brand preferences and with whom my brand loyalty lies, a brand’s emotional connections with consumers are stronger than rational ones.

I would like to focus on one easy emotion by which brands can “touch” the consumer: nostalgia. How many people use Tide because their mom used it when doing their laundry and not because Tide cleans better? Despite its price being 50% more than other “average” liquid detergents, Tide manages a a third of the market share! How about Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies? Blue Bell ice cream? Vintage-themed retailer Fossil has built its entire brand on nostalgia! These brands all try and connect with consumers at various points of the marketing process using nostalgic packaging, visuals, and music, evoking emotions that make a consumer feel good and remember the good ol’ days, hoping that those positive feelings transfer over to the purchase decision. The best recent example of a brand using nostalgia (it’s seriously amazing) is Dove Chocolate’s ad featuring Audrey Hepburn; watch it here.

Can you admit to several brands that you choose to use because of the emotional (particularly nostalgic) connection rather than logic?