retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Now available on iTunes…

To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MNB Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

So this is the last MNB Radio for 2010. As Michael Sansolo said the other day in his column, the goal here is to be different, to stay away from the lists of the past year’s significant events, to not pontificate about what we think the future will bring. I’m perfectly capable of pontificating and making lists, but I figure that there are plenty of places where you can get that kind of stuff. So let me the end the year with a bit of a rant...because I believe you expect nothing less...

The other day there was a story in the Wall Street Journal about how consumers equipped with smart phones that give them all sorts of information about price, value, content, nutrition and other qualities - or lack of quality - are “striking fear into retailers.” In the original story, and in some of the places that picked up on it, there was a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. There was, to be frank, a whole lot of whining going on about how tough this was going to make life for retailers and manufacturers.

Now, I can understand why these phones might be of some concern to retailers. But the implication of such “fear” is that there is nothing more worrisome to the salesperson or marketer than an intelligent, informed shopper.

What a crock.

The only marketers that need be worried by such technological innovations and cultural shifts are the ones who want to hide things from the shopper. But the good ship “Lack of Transparency” sailed a long time ago ... and sank. It’s not like we didn’t know what was happening. It’s actually been years since the automotive industry was able to hide behind confusing invoices and phrases like “let me check with my manager.” People trying to sell cars have known for some time that they are living in a world where the buyer has as much or more information than the seller. Why should businesses selling other products - like food and beverages and drugs - expect to be exempted from this trend?

It’s really simple. If you’re in the business of selling stuff to people, you’d better be really good at it, you’d better be transparent as possible, and you’d better treat people like they are intelligent consumers. Lowest common denominator marketing just won’t cut it. Not anymore.

Fear is a paralytic. Fear makes you defensive. Fear is a negative emotion.

In this case, the promise of a better informed consumer ought to be a driving agent as retailers and manufacturers develop strategies and tactics for the second decade of the 21st century. This is the moment not to worry about how much the customer will know or will want to know, but to embrace the opportunity to be better than the other guys at being transparent, at proving more useful and relevant information, at being - to use a phrase often employed here on MNB - not just a source of product, but an invaluable resource for the shopper.

Let the other guys be scared. The smart marketer, as 2011 begins, looks at this trend as an enormous opportunity. A challenge, sure ... but a way in which the savvy business can create a clear and transparent differential advantage.

Do it, and you have a better shot at a happy new year. Fear it, and not so much.

For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
KC's View: