retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It’s long said that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is to remind us to listen twice as much as we speak. As a corollary, anytime it takes two columns to make one point should pose a stark reminder that the point wasn’t well made.

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

As apparently many of you noticed, last week I wrote about my reaction to being offered a senior citizen discount at a local supermarket. Unfortunately, I seemed to drive the wrong point home instead of my hoped-for lesson. And that takes us back to the two ears, one mouth bit of wisdom.

We’re living in a time of supercharged communication and increased complexity. That in turn means every interchange and every experience can now be transmitted far and wide and not just by bloggers like me. It means that more than ever we have to train staff to understand that assumptions can go very far astray, even if it comes to guessing and barely missing on someone’s age.

But there’s more. In the battle of reality and perception, be careful to pick the correct side. Demographics tell us so much about customers and society in general, but they also mislead. In many ways, we need also understand psychographics, understanding attitudes that truly govern how so many of us act and think.

Psychographics are the reason we baby boomers claim 60 is the new 40, even though we once swore to distrust anyone over the age of 30. It’s why people make illogical choices whether it’s in being too frugal or spending too much. And it’s why we buy clothing in sizes that once fit or insist our height and weight are something that long ago was close to the truth.

For the food industry, psychographics and demographics are the battle for the future. As an industry that serves everyone and serves the most basic of needs, we need to understand how to provide customers what they want and need while those same customers buy what they want even when they know what they need.

All of that is a long way back to my story from last week. Yes, the employee who asked me if I wanted the senior citizen discount was correct. Yes, his guess at my age was actually pretty close if just a little on the high side. And yes, no matter how hip I may claim to be, the truth is that I am aging. I accept it, think it’s way better than the alternative, but it doesn’t make me happy.

Here’s the thing: I’m not alone. Because if I were, there wouldn’t be an endless sales growth for hair dye, Botox, Spanx, Viagra and so much more. Incredibly enough the desire for denial and good bargains are going to clash constantly at cash registers everywhere as aging baby boomers (like me) decide whether it’s nobler to scorn a 5% discount or just fess up to our real age.

Which is why we need train front-line staff more than ever in understanding how to have these always-delicate interactions. Because now a faux pas ends up on Facebook or Yelp and lord help us from there.

One last thing, also from the land of contradictions: Last week I was flattered beyond belief to learn how many of you read my columns and reacted. So even though many of you questioned my insecurities, appearance and reactions, I have to thank you for caring. Plus my eyes, shoulders, cholesterol, knees…well, you name it, keep me well appraised on how old I really am.

Now consider this: the picture that runs with this column is six years old. As the Grateful Dead once told us: Every silver lining has a touch of grey. Trust me, I have way more than a touch…at least where I have hair.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .

KC's View:
It was interesting this week that as the debate was unfolding here on MNB, the Wall Street Journal had a piece about how some people get annoyed by what are described as "universal ID check" policies that have employees carding everyone looking to acquire alcohol - no matter how old people are or how old they look.

"The point," the Journal wrote, "is to eliminate the guesswork and social goofs that often seem to go with making sure youngsters don't drink. But it's a point many oldsters don't get. They've taken to pushing back, and some of the universal ID checkers have been backing down."

You can read the entire story here.

You can't win.