retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, this is FaceTime with the Content Guy. I'm Kevin Coupe.

Some of what I'm about to tell you may fall into the category of T.M.I. - "Too Much Information." But I'm going to take the chance, because I think it makes a larger point.

I've often talked about the value of Subscribe and Save, which is the Amazon.com-created automatic replenishment system for consumers, allowing people who are interested to place a regular order for products they use frequently. The products show up on time, there usually are significant discounts attached because it is a guaranteed order, and people like me never have to get phone calls from their wives wondering how come we're out of laundry detergent.

I use this for a number of items, and I'm almost surprised that the list seems to be growing bigger. In addition to the various items I have in the rotation that we use at home, I do hearing aid batteries for my mother in law. I do packaged foods for my son, the starving writer/actor who lives in Chicago. And just the other day, I added dog food to the list, because we kept getting low when I was out of town and it seemed to be the smart way to make sure the dogs don't go hungry.

I also get my coffee beans from Starbucks via subscription - once a month, the order shows up. Always on time, never a risk of running out. Again, I don't want to get that call from Mrs. Content Guy...

Here's where we get to the too much information part. The other day, a big envelope showed up at home. I opened it, and found a couple of packages of underwear in my size. When I checked the invoice, I remembered that a year ago, when I ordered some underwear online from Jockey, they gave me the option of making it an annual order at a discount, and I took them up on it. And Voila! One year later, fresh underwear.

I just think this is so smart - the whole notion of locking in the customer by establishing a persistent need and then offering to fill it. I certainly never thought about the idea that once a year I'd go out to buy underwear ... I'm willing to bet money that most guys wouldn't. It just seems so civilized, and I think I'd be willing to do it for socks and handkerchiefs and all sorts of other personal items that probably ought to be tossed out on a regular basis but aren't, because that would require going to the store and replacing them, and that would be too much trouble.

There's a lesson here for all retailers. You don't have to wait for the customer to come to you. You don't have to wait for the customer to tell you what the problem is, so you can provide a solution.

No, sometimes you can offer the solution before the shopper even knows there is a problem ... but do it in such an ingenious way that you create both a question and an answer at the same time.

You are in a cutthroat business. Everybody is looking for a share of stomach. And it is important to be as aggressive as possible in claiming your share.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to know what is on your mind.

KC's View: