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Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Retail Drama

Yesterday I walked Costco with a cart. I take more than a casual interest in these kinds of excursions. I look for assortment, costs, technologies and shelf design. I also view the store from the perspective of a 'foodie'. What got me here? What is keeping me here? At Costco, can I possibly use that Jumbo size before it becomes stale?

I had a handful of mailed Costco coupons. Somehow I did not get them in the mail, but pulled them from a returned cart. I was standing in front of a large display of Cascade dish washing packets (made by, well you-can-guess). I had a coupon for $2.50-off of a 90 count package. I was about to toss a box in my cart, when a woman stepped in front of me. She breathlessly said that a box of Electrasol packets (made by Reckitt Benckiser), 100 count, without a coupon, would cost two dollars less. I was about to make some remark about having special reasons to buy the Cascade brand. But I kept my mouth shut.

I was amazed by her merchandising enthusiasm. Turns out she was a 'demonstrator' at a table nearby and was giving out Electrasol samples. I stopped nearby to watch. I saw her do her act several more times, everyone bought. 100% conversion. I bought the Electrasol. Yes, you can argue quality, but I did not have my lab with me. I had to retreat to the second moment of truth for tests. I had to sheepishly explain the change of brand to my wife as competitive intelligence.

I have seen these human demonstrators working in large supermarkets in China. Dozens of 'demonstrators' standing in front of the shelves to talk up a product. Sometimes so many that it is hard to get to the product. They work. Some manufacturers have tried to stop funding these kinds of efforts there. Sales have dropped. A mixture of cultural shopper expectations and bad publicity.

Great example of in store, shopper marketing. Technology can work, but not as well as a person selling. This is not a pre 1916 Piggly Wiggly. Someone should hire this woman as a consultant. She had the kind of enthusiasm that needs to be translated into shopper marketing to make it work. Sold me.

Update: Not sure who will end up reading this, but just for completeness ... after using the Electrasol product for a few weeks it is clearly inferior. Cascade cleans better and smells better. The merchandising performance was great, but you have to follow with a great product.

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