A recent edition of the Australian e-newsletter included an article on American retailer American Girl. I have made a note for myself that when I am next in Chicago, this is a must-visit shop for me. This is not because I have a fetish for dolls, but because American Girl understands their market and modern retailing.
Dolls, like many products, are now available online, but this company encourages its customers to walk into the store and spend at least $99 on a doll and they keep coming back to spend more.
How do they do it and what can we learn from this experience?
The company was started as a mail order company more than 25 years ago. At that time, Pleasant Rowland created a doll that could be dressed in period costumes to help girls understand history. The concept has now evolved into a leading retail chain that now sells “memories” and makes a handsome profit doing it.
The key is that the focus is on creating memories, not making the sale. American Girl does this in a number of ways. Their aim is to develop a long term relationship between the purchaser, their doll and the company. To achieve this they have created memorable occasions, such as:
- You can take your doll in for a hair makeover with a qualified stylist for a cost of $20 or a facial for $12.
- A photography studio can take a professional photo of you and your doll.
- Add on sales are developed outside of the core product; these include books on how to deal with parents divorcing and surviving puberty.
- If a doll gets damaged, it can be taken to the hospital and for between $15 and $45, have surgery and come out fully recovered
- One of the most popular events is arranged with local hotels when weekend experiences are organized between the hotel and the store.
- The cafe also makes sure parents – especially male parents and grandparents – feel comfortable while their offspring enjoy the experience.The result of all this is that the retailer has created memories and a very successful and profitable retail model.
You may look at your store and feel that it is easy if you are a seller of dolls, but that it’s more difficult to create the same memory experience when selling your products. This is where I beg to differ.
If you are not selling memories, you are probably selling product, and as a result you are in a very vulnerable position and an online retailer will take advantage of your market.
These are my strategies for Memory Retailing:
Start With Your Team
Salespeople might find it difficult to move from a selling function to a memory or experience function, as it takes different skills. Some will be able to make the transition whilst others will not. You may need to recruit new team members who are what I call “Day Makers.” These people have the skills and aptitude to build relationships with the consumer.
Technical product knowledge will be less important as the consumer is now getting this information online. According to research carried out by Alison Kenney Paul of Deloitte LLP in Chicago, sales people of the future will be brand “Ambassadors” and they will have to be technologically savvy as well as relationship builders. This means that the sales skills of the past will be less important.
Stories Make Memories
I have often promoted the fact that people buy on stories, not just product. It means product knowledge is still essential, but in a different way. To give an example, you can buy strawberries online. But a storyteller that tells customers that the fruit is actually a swollen stem, that it’s the most delicious swollen stem you could ever buy and that it is called a strawberry because the traditional way of growing them is on straw to stop the slugs eating them has enhanced the shopping experience and made the purchase much more memorable to the customer.
Dare to Be Different
The easiest way to be memorable is to do something in an unexpected way. Most retailers that sell what you sell are doing precisely what the customer expects them to do, and are unmemorable as a result. Rowan Dean, an Australian marketing guru, mentioned two great techniques in the winter 2012 edition of Smarter Business.
Students at Singapore University were recently confronted with a vending machine that just said, “Hug Me.” Students that did just that received a free can of Coke from the machine. In small towns in Belgium recently a large red button was placed in the town square that simply said, “Push to Add Drama.” When people pushed the button, there was hilarious mayhem, a memorable experience promoting a cable TV channel.
Memorable experiences in retailing occur when the retailer thinks outside the box and makes sure that there is a physical engagement with the consumer. It needs to be implemented well and within the budget and ideally in an unexpected space. Always remember it is your brand that you are trying to promote, it is your message you are getting across and it is not about the product.