Sheridan Orr

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fifty Shades of Frustration: Why Women Hate Best Buy

In Customer Experience, Retail, Uncategorized on June 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Women retain cortisol longer than men so this visual cacophony could have longer lasting effects.

It is the Saturday before Father’s Day and I’m sitting at the Cold Stone Creamery with my son.  That’s when I notice something strange—even eerie.  Women are rushing into all of the other stores, but avoiding Best Buy, which is directly across from us.

Men typically like gadgets and electronics.  Therefore, Best Buy should be an ideal place to shop for Father’s Day.  However, it is as if there is estrogen repellant wafting from their doors.  I point this out to my son and terror spreads across his face.

I’m curious and can’t stop myself—no matter how much my son begs, pleads, or threatens to run away.  I explain to him that this is the scientific method in action.  I’ve noticed something odd and I want to understand it.

Doing my best imitation of my high school science teacher, I explain that there is no alternative but for me to begin peppering the women who bypass Best Buy with questions.  Would Newton have stopped?  No.  Would Einstein have stopped?  Of course not.  Nor shall I. Now, I’m not only lame and boring, I’m so embarrassing that he ducks into the Five Below and tells me to text him when I’m done.

The Research

I fish out my notepad and start asking women “Are you shopping for Father’s Day?”  Of the eight women I accosted, all but one said they were.   “Does your dad or husband like electronics, music or movies?”  There I got a 100% response—minus the lady who walked away.  I’m not ashamed. I’m fully willing to be shunned by society in pursuit of science.   Mrs. Trent would be proud.

As I get to the heart of the matter, “So if you dad or husband likes what Best Buy sells and you are out shopping for him, why not go in there?” I poise my pen over paper, like Darwin on The Beagle and wait to be illuminated.  Of the seven women I didn’t scare off, they simply say, “I hate Best Buy.”

It is only by assuring them that I’m just a curious woman who writes blogs about retail that they went further. Plus, I’m on crutches so pity is working in my favor or perhaps they think I’ve had too much pain medicine. Anyway, I see my son peek out of the store and cower in shame.

When asked why they dislike Best Buy, the complaints fell into the following categories:

  • Visual assault
  • Lack of context
    • -Products themselves
    • -Products in usage
    • Lack of Connection
    • Associate allocation
    • Logistics
    • Policies

Noticing that I’m finished stalking innocent shoppers, my son tentatively emerges.  I say, “We are going to Best Buy.”

From the look on his face, I know that he is fully aware of what is coming next.  I bribe him with, “You can get a game.”  It still isn’t enough to be seen with me. Once more he retreats to the safety of the Five Below.

The Experiment

 I have to admit my bias as I go into Best Buy.  I’m a bit of a gadget geek.  Therefore, I vow to shop like a neophyte.  Strolling around the store, I search out evidence to disprove the women who are now hopefully enjoying their ice cream.

Visual Assault

I’m sure that the promos they show on the bank of TV’s look great when the agency is presenting them to executives or the vendor sends it to Best Buy.

However, the whirling, swirling, movement that makes content engaging on one screen is nauseating on 50.  Not to mention, there is different content on many of the screens.  It is mind numbing to the point that I can’t focus on the individual products themselves.   I study six TV specs in that environment and then I am mentally exhausted.

Another complaint was over the lighting.  I frequently hear this about warehouse stores.  There is a constant flicker because they swing and the types of bulbs. This is already annoying but in the visual cacophony that is Best Buy it makes you wish for a Dramamine.

Lack of Context

The women I spoke with complained that they didn’t know what to buy because they didn’t know which products met their needs.   I mean do I really need a DSLR camera or would a lower level be ok for taking pictures of my dog?  Or should I get my husband a plasma or LED TV?  Even once they knew in which category they should shop, it is hard to decide if 14 megapixels is enough.  Or whether they should wait for OLED to become ubiquitous.

You can’t read the information on the placards nor is there anything that might indicate which camera is best for your purposes.

Moreover, I looked at the spec sheets in the camera section.  I have been researching DSLR cameras for a year now.  Not only could I not read the specs of the cameras because the print was so small, the information I wanted to know wasn’t even on the card.


How would you know if this were the right camera for you?

Associate Allocation

There were more people charged with keeping me from stealing than to help me.  The Best Buy reality is that people come in and look at products on the shelves, whip out their phones and search for a better price.

I figured with the ‘showrooming’ trend that I’d be swarmed when I started snapping pictures. However, only one guy asked, “Can I help you?”  I respond, “I’m not sure which camera to get my Dad.  I need to do some research.”

While he was courteous, he didn’t ask me what type of pictures my father takes.  He didn’t say “Is this for Father’s Day?”  He didn’t ask me if I need anything else—remember I’m on crutches.  He seemed almost eager to go off to some other task rather than interact with me.  Maybe he’d heard that I’m a nutter from the women I spoke to earlier or possibly my son has posted it to Facebook by now.

I guess I should commend this guy because I was ignored when I entered and exited the store by the four people congregating around the ‘greet and show me your receipt’ stand. Otherwise no one else ventured to help me at all.


I needed some new computer speakers because of my recent Spotify addiction.  Therefore, I used this opportunity to shop for them.  I knew what I wanted, but I was enjoying my method acting experiment.  I waited patiently in the computer speaker section— 6 minutes.  I finally read all of the placards on each set of speakers.  I took more pictures. Still no associate.

Finally, I make my selection.  The box is large and I’m hobbling toward check out.  Again, of the four people at podium in the front, not one offers to help.  I think about the women I have interviewed-the one with the small kids, the really petite woman and the older lady.  I’d hate Best Buy too if I were not the impartial scientist limping toward the parking lot.


I could not test this in this experiment.  However, two of the women told horror stories about trying to return things to Best Buy that either didn’t work or were the wrong thing.  I think they only talked to me for the free ice cream and the opportunity to rant about this.

The Results

Here is the ironic thing, I chose Insignia speakers—Best Buy’s own brand.  I’ve bought them before because they sound good and the price point is low enough that I can rock out to my 80s play list on Spotify in any room in my house. Suddenly, I’m panicked that Best Buy will screw up so badly that I’m not going to have access to this brand.

I can’t help but think that the women I spoke with have a point.  Best Buy IS a difficult place to shop—not just for women.


If Best Buy wants to win with women, they are going to have to rethink their in-store experience—seriously.  There is no reason that promos have to look like they came from the X Games.  Moreover, cortisol stays in a woman’s body longer than a man’s.  Anything that induces stress will have a longer impact.  Also, women also have a bigger hippocampus, which means they have a greater memory of how things made them feel.  If a retailer irritates a woman, the effects of that can be long lasting.

Also, studies have show that showing emotion in marketing materials can have more effect on women.  Some of those promotions should have images that women can relate to if they want to sell to them.  I understand that Best Buy is frequently beholden to the vendors in how they display products.  However, they ultimately share the same customer.  Why not do what is best for them?  I’m guessing they have no desire to alienate a large portion of the population.


Women don’t want to buy a pink hair brush at Best Buy. Instead, they want to know which products are right for them.

The only evidence I could find in the store that Best Buy had thought about women as consumers was one very pink aisle.  Even though I’m fond of pink, I’m not sure that I’d go to Best Buy to purchase a hairbrush.  Instead of making a Hello Kitty aisle, how about trying to make it easier for us to buy a TV or camera?

Amazon is making it impossible for Best Buy to compete on price alone.  They have to face the fact that they are in a commodity game.  The only way they can differentiate is to create superior shopping experience.  That means making it fun, informative and establishing their associates as experts on electronics and media.

Best Buy will have to find innovative way to do guided selling at the shelf level.  If their associates need tablets to be informed, I’d think they’d know where to get a good deal on them.  How hard is it to create a color-coded system that categorizes the cameras into beginner, intermediate, expert, and finally Ansel Adams?  How difficult is it to set up a family room in the store that shows how all the products work together?

If Best Buy isn’t going to make it easier for shoppers to get the right thing and then establish Draconian policies about returns, they will find themselves with more and more store closings.  Plus, I’ve never seen a retailer thrive by focusing more on protecting themselves from their customers than serving them.

Retailers who want to thrive need to start thinking about how not to alienate their customers.  This isn’t just about targeting women, but making it easier for shoppers as a whole.  That means:

  • Creating an environment that is less jarring
  • Broadening appeal to women in content and context
  • Empowering associates with information
  • Abandoning a philosophy of protecting themselves from the customer rather than serving them
  • Eschewing the vendor-dictated model that isn’t working for anyone.

You Had Me at Hello but… : What Big Data and Neuromarketing Miss

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Target uses big data to target women entering their second trimester

I’m a geek.   I love big data and ferreting out patterns.  Nothing fascinates me more than the burgeoning field of neuromarketing.

Like most marketing geeks, I read the New York Times article about Target using statistics to predict when women were entering their second trimester in awe of the sheer marketing brilliance.    By detecting small changes in women’s purchasing behavior and a few ‘trigger’ items such as a large quantity of unscented lotion, Target is able to discern when a woman is entering in her second trimester.

This is a critical inflection point because becoming a mom fundamentally changes women’s shopping behavior.   Target wisely figured if they could become the shopping destination of choice for women going through this transition, that they could gain more wallet share by becoming the one-stop shopping destination for new moms.  What is even more amazing is the accuracy with which Target was able to spot these women—even going so far as to know when a teenage girl was expecting well before her own father.

As luck would have it, my younger sister is in the process of starting her family.  Anyone who knows me knows that absolutely cannot keep a secret.  Therefore, it was a huge test of my willpower to not let her know that she was taking part in my own experiment—a validation of the efficacy of the Target second trimester targeting.

It was shocking how perfectly it worked. Two weeks into her second trimester, I get a call that she’s heading to Target to register.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve had some part in this coming to pass.  I am smug in my knowledge that marketing is, in fact, a real science.

I received notification of her registry while I was preparing for a presentation at a retail event.  I immediately text her:

Me (beaming with smug marketing brilliance):  Target got you!

Sister (confused as to what I’m on about):  Huh?

Me (in uber-nerdy mode):  Target has a campaign to identify when women are entering their second trimester.  They use behavioral cues and then start ‘targeting ‘ you. They got you!

Sister (a child psychologist who has kids to see):  Yep.  That’s me.

Me (smugness now with no place to go): J

Sister (in the longest text I’ve seen from her):  If you are working with them, tell them to put their pack and plays on the ground and have strollers that you can actually push.  Bolting these items to the second shelf where you can’t see or play with them is crap!

Me (suddenly not so proud of the brilliance of my profession and eager to change the subject):  Can’t wait to go shopping for the baby! :)))))

So How Can we Get it So Right and Still Screw It Up?

 The move to big data and neuromarketing takes us to more sophisticated level yet we still struggle with the basics.  We can predict with an amazing degree of accuracy who we should target, what messages they should receive via which channel at which time.   We can micro segment in ways that were unfathomable just five years ago.  That means that we should be able to create customer experiences that are as tailored as our targeting.  However, frequently it is the basics that cause us problems.

Surely, someone had a great reason for bolting strollers and play cribs to the second shelf.   However, anyone who had watched the expectant mothers in the aisle would have seen the frustration with this situation.  New moms want to touch and feel and personally certify anything that is going to come in close contact with their precious cargo.  I went and watched for only a few moments and saw several women with new baby bumps reaching and straining to try and get a better look at these items.

What Can Retailers Do To Avoid Creating These Situations?

 When I consult with retailers, the very first thing I do is chart the user journey as it is today with the desired outcome.  Typically, there will be two or three variations in a multi-channel approach.  Then I’ll identify crucial touch points in the journey—those places that can either make the user happily continue forward or perhaps to abandon their journey.   Finally, I take key stakeholders on an empathy field trip.  I’m a religious practitioner of design thinking.  Many people think that the power of this methodology is in the ideation.  However, it is truly in the empathy work.  I’ve had senior executives tell me, “I learned more about how my store operates in four hours than I would have ever seen from charts and tables.”


  1. Use big data and neuromarketing, but validate it in practice.  Don’t let all that brilliance go to waste when user frustration can easily be avoided.
  2. Create a user journey chart to show the customer’s path from targeting to purchase and brand affinity with key milestones and inflection points.
  3. Schedule an empathy field trip to go out and observe how your vision is translated into practice.  It is typically useful to have an impartial party lead these for a fresh point of view.
  4. Continue to validate and make tweaks as you get more data and feedback.

Gen Y and Self-Service: A Love Story

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

I just finished interviewing retailers about their employee challenges.  By far, the largest complaint was about managing Gen Y.  Now those same complaints were being echoed again.

They are lazy.

They don’t want to pay their dues.

What exactly are they wearing?  And do they think that is appropriate for work?  I mean look at the Facebook guy!  Wearing a hoodie for a Road Show!

They don’t read their emails.

They won’t look me in the eye when I’m talking to them.

They are like children, but they are 25!  When I was their age, I had a mortgage and two kids!

I can’t get them to put away their phones and wait on customers!

The room is packed with some of the largest retailers in the world at the Micros Retail Connect event.  We are patiently waiting for Jason Ryan Dorsey “The Gen Y Guy” to impart his wisdom on us.    The first thing he does is validate all of us cynical Gen Xers and hardworking Baby Boomers.

“Our generation suffers from delayed adulthood.”  The room nods in accord with him.  Then he says something that really makes me put down my pen (turns out Baby Boomers are the only ones who write things anymore.  I vow not to write again as I’m a proud latchkey kid of Gen X).

In 2017, Gen Y will outspend Baby Boomers for the first time.  That means that not only do we have to understand how to manage them, we desperately need to know how to connect with them as consumers.  As Dorsey continues to describe his generation, I can’t help but pick my pen back up and scribble furiously.

Gen Y or Millennials

  •  Need context and information.
  • Trust reviews of people online more than their family members.
  • Believe they are special and therefore want to be treated as such (they’ve got a 12th place ribbon to prove it.)
  • Have delayed adulthood and that affects their social skills (You can blame their Baby Boomer parents for this.)
  • Are not technology savvy but rather tech dependent
  • Really don’t want to talk to you.  If it is important, then send a text.  A phone call is considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Are never 10 feet away from their phone.
  • Are completely outcome driven

As he started ticking off some of these characteristics of Millennials, I couldn’t help but think Gen Y and self-service are a match made in heaven.

Provide Context and Information

As Dorsey said, Gen Y doesn’t really know anything.  However, they’ve become great researchers.  This translates into their consumer behavior.  It means they are very knowledgeable shoppers.

Self-service and kiosks are great to bring that online information into the store.  Also, another interesting fact about Millennials is that they don’t typically own a PC.  Instead they are tethered to their phones and take advantage of free wifi locations.    This means that having an interactive, in-store display with product information and how the product is used would help them move from research to purchase more quickly.

Showcase Reviews

 Anyone who is building a guided selling application without consumer reviews front and center is woefully behind the times.  As Dorsey said,  “Gen Y trusts online reviews from anonymous people on the internet more than family members.”    The good news is that this also benefits Gen X shoppers as well as apparently we don’t believe anything people tell us.

Personalize Service.  Personalized Products.

With facial recognition software like the Intel AIM suite we know more about customers as they approach digital signage or kiosks.  That means, we can intelligently predict items that they might be of interest for particular demographics.

Also, personalization of products is important to Millennials.  Nike ID has had tremendous success by allowing shoppers to design their own shoes.  Spoonflower allows consumers to design their own fabrics.  Gen Y likes to know they are being treated in a unique way to reflect their individuality.  Therefore, anything you can make personalized for them endears them to your brand.

Don’t force human interaction.

 Because Gen Y has been so sheltered, they have delayed their social development.  Many were cloistered away at university with Mom’s credit cards only to find the job market not very welcoming when they graduated.  Now they are 25 and living at home again.

This delayed development is compounded by the fact that many of their interactions are digital rather than face-to-face.   That means is that you new policy on ensuring that every customer is greeted in a friendly manner may actually backfire with this demographic.   Dorsey recommended that a tablet could be used for the associate to show the Gen Y what’s on special.  Therefore, making the conversation less intimate by using technology to guide it.

Tech dependent

 One thing we hear about Gen Y is that they are technology savvy.  Dorsey restated that, as Millennials are more dependent than knowledgeable.  They can’t tell you why it works but they do know they can’t live without it.

I recently watched a group of twenty-somethings waiting for their order at Noodles & Co (a very popular restaurant among the demographic).  They were clearly four close friends based on their body language.  However, not one of them was talking to the other.  All four had their phones out and were texting feverishly.    This means that when you are designing customer or self-service experiences for this demographic, technology is going to be a key component of how their path to purchase.

Outcome driven

 We often here that Gen Y is requires instant gratification.  However, it is more that they are outcome driven.  They need to understand what the ‘end state’ is before they embark on the journey.  The immediacy of results in their world means that they have little patience for lines –especially when waiting for their coffee.   Anything you can make easier and more expedient will endear this generation to your company, products and brand.


 The notion of what constitutes good service is evolving.   Gen Y will forever change that in 2017 when they start outspending Baby Boomers.  If you want to win the hearts, minds and wallet share of this generation, you will need to create personalized experiences that appeal to the characteristics of the generation.   There recently has been a lot of discussion about the Connect Consumer.   Some of the early research suggests that they are a demographic of their own as the transverse several traditional categories.  The good news is that Gen Y and the Connected Consumer expect many of the same things from their interactions. Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  1. How can I provide information to the consumer along their decision path?
  2. How can I bring customer reviews into the store?
  3. How can I create a personalized experience in products or services?
  4. Am I forcing other generations into uncomfortable social situations?
  5. Does the way I’m using technology make sense?  Is it easy to use and clear what it is for?

To find out more about Jason Ryan Dorsey, visit his website at:  If you are looking for an exceptional keynote speaker, I highly recommend him.

To Ignite Your Customers, Fire Up Your Employees

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2012 at 7:51 am

The connected customer can find anything they want. Your employees can differentiate the experience and your brand.

I’m one of those connected customers.  I scan QR codes.  I read product reviews.  I’m never without my phone and it is loaded and ready with Google Shopper, Red Laser and Barcode Hero.  I write reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp!  I seek feedback about products  from my friends on Facebook and Twitter.

My son is an avid soccer player. He probably knows  as much about the merits of different products as most people who sell soccer products.  He’s a keeper and therefore his goalie gloves are superstitious item (I won’t even talk about his sock ritual!).  They have to be Reusche. Period.  If they are not, then his goalie mojo will evaporate.

In short, we are connected consumers who are crystal clear about what we want.

So why are we in the car on Saturday morning driving to a store 12 miles from our house when I could easily purchase what I want online?  One simple reason.  The employees at the Soccer Post.

If I’m being honest, I don’t usually like to talk to store clerks.  It’s not that I’m anti-social.  It is more that I really like to do things for myself.  I have all the information that I need at my fingertips.  What I want from them most times is to be courteous and let me settle my bill quickly.  So why is the Soccer Post different?  Because the employees are passionate.

It is clear they love what they are doing.  Their enthusiasm for the latest Joma shoe or ‘epic’ goalie jersey is contagious.  They know who has which patents on which type of finger saves in everyone of the goalie gloves they carry.  They truly understand the crazy sock ritual–something even I as the mother don’t get.


 Much has been written about the loyalty and caliber of Chick-fil-A employees.  The turnover among Chick-fil-A operators is only  5% a year. Among hourly workers turnover is 60%, compared with 107% for the industry.  They don’t pay any more than other fast food chains.  They don’t have any greater benefits.  The career path and training at McDonald’s is far superior.  So why are Chick-fil-A employees so much better?  The answer is not merely that they have a religious foundation and they recruit and hire from church communities.  It is not that they are closed on Sunday.  It is more than that.  They hire employees who believe in what they stand for.


Retailers don’t need to shut down their stores on Sunday and stand outside of churches with job applications as their new HR strategy.  The Soccer Post in Raleigh has the same type of employees and they were recruited from the elite soccer players in the area.

So what is the formula for getting employees excited?

Clarify what you stand for

It does not have to be a religious principle, but it should be clear and something that is easily understood.  In truth, if your brand is well done it should be instantly obvious.  It doesn’t have to be a lofty goal that a future Miss American contest quotes.  It can be simple like the Soccer Post—performance soccer gear for all levels.

Hire only those who believe

Once you’ve articulated what you stand for you, only hire those who have similar values.  We’ve all made bad hires because we were time crunched, dying for an extra set of hands, afraid that the headcount would go away if we didn’t act quickly or various other rationalizations.  I have been guilty of it myself and have always ended up regretting it.

When I asked the owner of the Soccer Post how he recruited such good employees he said “I find those who love the sport and I figure I can teach them retail.”

How often have you looked at a job application and tossed it aside because they had no retail experience?  Or worse does your HR team do this and you have no idea?  If you are unsure, should call your recruiters right now and give them some additional screening criterion rather than ‘previous experience.’

When you make bad hires, you are not the only one suffering.  Your brand and your customer are the victims of these poor choices.  Wait until the right candidate comes along.  Recruit from communities where people with your beliefs congregate.  This is  much easier than ever before with social media.  Moreover, these communities are global.  Leverage Linked In, Facebook and Twitter to find people who match your philosophy and aspirations.

Create a Culture Around Your Beliefs

Let’s say you are a struggling consumer electronics retailer.  You spend a lot of time hyping new products to your customers.  Do you also do that for your employees?  They are the ones who are going to be helping customers select products.  Do your employees exude enthusiasm about the latest television or video game?  Do you celebrate successful product launches of what you are trying to focus on?

If you are a women’s apparel store, do you get your teams excited about the latest in fashion?  Do you send them Twitter updates about the trends live from the runways?  Why not?  If you’ve hired well, then these people will want to hear this type of information and will eagerly share it with your customers.  Think of it is quick, inexpensive employee training.

 Make the Tough Choices

I’m sure Chick-fil-A has heard the business case from every freshly-minted MBA on why they should open on Sunday.  However, Chick-fil-A is steadfast in remaining closed so that employees can attend church and be with their families.

If you clarify what you stand for and something comes along and opposes that, you have to be willing to say “No.”  For instance, lacrosse is becoming big where I live.  What would happen to the experience at The Soccer Post if they started carrying lacrosse gear?  I’m guessing they would have to hire lacrosse experts too.  So when I wanted to know the specs on the new Reusch gloves, I’d have a lacrosse player trying to help me?  Or perhaps they’d go back to the old reliable “Must have retail experience.”


If you want your customers to be passionate about your brand and what you do, then your employees have to feel that enthusiasm as well.  In a connected world, customers can find lower prices, free shipping, etc.  Focus on things that can differentiate you and having great employees is one of the easiest ways.


The Elegance of Simplicity: Creating Experiences the Drive Purchase

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2012 at 8:35 pm

It’s 9 pm and my son has fried his computer.  I’m not entirely sure what that is oozing from the bottom. He fervently denies that he had any liquids in the vicinity.  I’m prone to believe him since it smells like olive oil.  As soon as we determine the motherboard is hosed, I realize I’m going to be purchasing a new computer whether I like it or not. Image

 I know that he likes to play games and make videos.  I also know that he needs it for schoolwork. I’m aware of what my budget is for an unexpected purchase of this size.  That is the extent of it.

 First, I go to several websites and see list of specs: quad core processors, discrete-class graphics, six-cell lithium batteries and graphics card benchmarks in crossfire mode.  Frankly, I don’t know what crossfire mode is and I leave the site to go research that.  The retailer had me at their site, with an acute need (it is the end of the school year) and willingness to purchase.  However, the way the products were presented drove me away. 

 Next, I scanned a QR code that I had received in promotional material from an electronics store. I hoped that the code would take me to a deal or information presented in a way that I’d easily know what to purchase.  Sadly, the code took me to a boring and not very useful product spec sheet that then directed me to another link.  Why didn’t they direct me where they wanted me to go to start with? Frustrated, I decide to try my luck with another site. They have a different approach—a list of brands.  Now it is 11 pm and I still haven’t ordered a computer. Image

 While this may seem like a rant, it is just a real example of what customers go through when trying to purchase.  Recently the Harvard Business Review published a study by the Corporate Executive Board.  In the study, they interviewed 7,000 consumers and hundreds of marketing executives and experts.

 The purpose of the study was to identify, “what makes consumers “sticky”—that is, likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others.”

 The result was a surprise to marketers who thought that customers wanted to learn about the product and information.  Instead, customers were really there for a discount, purchases and reviews.


 While the differing perceptions of the business and customers may be interesting, the greatest finding of the study was that the single thing that made an experience sticky was by far decision simplicity.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”  Steve Jobs BusinessWeek



When I talk to customers about why they don’t like self-check out, it isn’t because they are craving interaction with a person.  They tried it the first time because they wanted to save time.  Their frustration comes more from the fact that it   complex and confusing –so much so that they’d rather wait in line.   One of my loyal test subjects said,  “You have to scan in one place, swipe your loyalty card in another, pay for in still another place if it is credit and yet another if it is cash.  Heavens knows where your change and receipt might come from.”  


 So if customers reward simplicity with purchase and loyalty.  If they are easily frustrated when things are complex and overwhelming, how can we craft  customer experiences that deliver what they want? 

 Quick Diagnosis

To help customers find what they are looking for consider using guided quizzes.  This would have been tremendously helpful as I shopped for my son’s computer.  I could select that he games, he needs it to be portable for school, and he likes to use it to create videos.  This could easily be presented in a fun way and you could categorize the selections as “Game Geek”,“Steven Spielberg” or “Einstein” so that customers know where they fit.  Then you could write the specs that differentiate the product in a way that customers can easily digest the relevance and understand the context.

 Make Product Reviews Front and Center

The way the information was presented sent me off searching for ‘testimonials’.  However, if they were front and center I might have stayed on the path to purchase.  The truth is people trust ‘a jury of their peers’ far more than marketing copy.  Use that to your advantage.

 Avoid Multi-Channel Frustration

If you focus on simplicity then you can easily display the information no matter what the screen size.  People can find what they need.  Moreover, ensure that applications are consistent across multiple channels.

 Create A Decision Map

These are simple to do and don’t have to be flow charts.  All they have to do is map where customers have to make decisions.  Then see how many of those you can cut out without compromising what differentiates your product or brand. 

 Cull the Clutter

When I manage designers I usually take their first draft and then say, “Great.  Now take away everything that is not essential.”  A clean screen makes it easier for customers to focus on the content.  Too much going on is not better. It is just too much.

 Movement Studies

Find a great UX designer who can do t studies when you are in a prototype phase.  These studies yield invaluable insights that can save you time and money and help you create a simple elegant experience


The elegance of simplicity, as Steve Jobs said, is a lot of hard work. However, the reward is an engaged customer who is keen to purchase and share their experience with others.

 Link to Study:



Six Retailers Who Blew It- BIG

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Six Retailers Who Blew It –BIG

When I give presentations, I typically like to use case studies to show customers best practices.  However, it is frequently the object lessons of those who blew it that clients find most interesting.  While doing research for an upcoming engagement, I found six retailers who blew it – and I mean blew it big.  What’s most interesting about these case studies is that it wasn’t the market that caused them to fail, as they each have a competitor that thrived under the same market conditions.


The PH Roses stores were originally founded in 1915, and their most successful stores were located in small Southern towns.   The

Roses lost focus on their core customer base to try and target a more upscale shopper. Their traditional customer was left confused and were easy targets for Walmart.

inventory was chosen for affordable quality. To try to keep pace with their key competitor, Kmart, Roses began a period of rapid expansion and a shift in its positioning.  By the mid-1990s, Roses was targeting large upscale, suburban areas.  This left their core customer base confused about Roses; moreover, Roses did not have the operating capital to truly address the market they were targeting.  While Roses was trying to compete with Kmart, Wal-Mart swooped up their core business and customers.

Casual Corner and Petite Sophisticate

At a time when more women were going to work than ever, Casual Corner should have been thriving.  Moreover, Petite Sophisticate was a destination store for smaller-framed women.  However, these stores lost their focus on the professional woman and began to try to compete with The Limited.  While Casual Corner was busy being trendy, Ann Taylor moved in to dress the professional woman in classic designs. In 2005, Casual Corner closed all 525 stores.

Laura Ashley

In the late 80s and early 90s, Laura Ashley was a beacon of sophisticated taste.  Design-oriented women sought to cover everything that would stand still in Laura Ashley fabrics.  Soon the vibrant florals and subdued stripes began to look dowdy as traditional interiors gave way to sleek Asian sophistication.  Laura Ashley was unable to make the transition and just offered their customers variations on the old styles.  By 1999, Laura Ashley could not find a buyer and sold its stores in the US for one dollar.  Strangely, it also added Pat Robertson, a TV evangelist, as a non-executive director at the same time.  I guess the company felt it could use all the prayers it could get.


Founded in 1985, Blockbuster was – as the name implies – one of the biggest brand names in America.  On Friday and Saturday nights in the 80s, the only place nearly as cool as the mall was Blockbuster.  However, the company took a Draconian stance on fines and memberships that seemed more focused on penalizing the customer than delivering value. A site called soon emerged.  To date it has:

Members: 4,499

Threads: 6,222

Posts: 198,058

In its heyday, Blockbuster had 3023 stores and 402 franchises.  By 2010, it was struggling for existence and was bought by Dish at a fire sale.  Soon after, Dish began closing stores, finding the old model was no longer relevant.  Blockbuster missed the streaming and kiosk revolutions, and the damage that had been done to the brand made it impossible for them to fight back.

Circuit City

Even though the consumer electronics market was growing, Circuit City was unable to turn a profit. They were too focused on other ventures creating a brain drain that left them unable to compete.

In the mid-1990s the consumer electronic revolution was in full swing.  A trip to Circuit City was what Blockbuster had been in the 1980s: a destination.  That sort of success bred hubris, however, and soon Circuit City was doing everything from selling cars (most people don’t remember that Circuit City was the founder of CarMax) to operating a commercial HVAC division.  This headiness culminated in the very public failure of DIVX, a proprietary DVD format designed to corner the market on DVD rentals.  What Circuit City had not counted on was their competitors wanting no part in distributing DIVX and the nasty internal fighting that soon ensued.  While Circuit City was busy fighting internally, Best Buy stepped in and targeted their customers.  From there, the fall was rapid, painful, and expensive.


As more Americans became homeowners, the home goods market exploded.  The Linens-n-Things strategy was to offer pricing gimmicks and coupons to attract customers, which put the company in direct competition with Target and Wal-Mart.  Bed Bath and Beyond permitted their individual stores the control that allowed them to hold a differentiated position.  The inconsistency of experience and pricing whiplash eventually led to Linens-n-Things being liquidated.

Lessons Learned

-If you don’t focus on your core business or your customer, some one else will (Roses, Casual Corner, Circuit City).

-If your policies are created to protect you from your customer rather than to add value, then your customers will revolt and your brand will be the casualty (Blockbuster).

-Understanding what your brand offers rather than being centered around a specific product or style allows you to evolve with your customers (Laura Ashley).

-Grow smart and with a purpose or you will have organizational “brain drain” and you won’t be able to meet challenges when they arise (Circuit City).

-Gimmicks only create short-term buyers—not lifelong customers (Linens-n-Things).

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