Dear Customer: Please Buy Something

Discussion
Oct 02, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

We recently opened our mail to find a letter from a local men’s
retailer. Now, getting a mailing from this particular merchant is not unusual.
Several times a year, post cards or other forms of direct mail show up offering
sale prices on designer lines including Hart Schaffner & Marx, Lauren
Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahama, etc.

What made this particular mailing unusual was the direct tone
of its message.

The communication, which took the form of a letter from the
owner, read: “In my extensive retail career of 42 years, I have never experienced
such difficult times. Tightened credit and economic uncertainty have created
the perfect storm of of falling sales… We realize that we must act decisively
to raise revenue in an effort to pay suppliers and secure our future.”

The letter goes on to detail the extent of a new sale with references
to the lengths the store will go to provide the service that its affluent
customer base requires.

Having finished the letter, we have to admit to feeling conflicted.
Here is a local business that evidently is in trouble. The product selection
is excellent as is the service. Prices are not typically low but on sale
they are relatively competitive. But, we were not in the market for any of
the items it sells before receiving the mail. Should we now go shopping,
not because of need or for the deals, but to try and help the merchant out?
We still haven’t decided.

Discussion Questions:
What do you think of the sales communication described in this article?
Is it an effective tactic to get consumers into stores? Is there an alternate
tact you would recommend instead?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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32 Comments on "Dear Customer: Please Buy Something"


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Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
Life insurance sales depend on customers recognizing a need that is associated with death. There is a fine line between conveying the desire to protect loved ones and creating a barrier with the emotional discomfort associated with the message. This retailer faces the same challenge. According to the article, the direct mail strategy was executed poorly. The reaction from the author suggests the message came across as a plea for help, conflicting the customer. Charities that plea for help tend to tread carefully as they request donations. Often they focus on positive outcomes so that people feel good about what their donations will achieve. Advertising strategies and executions should be based on desired outcomes but more importantly, within the context of how the messages will be received. That’s why marketing research is often used to anticipate consumer responses, not only in terms of transactions but also in terms of opinions and attitudes which lead to those transactions. In this instance it appears no such research was conducted, but rather some strategy accepted without understanding or… Read more »
Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
11 years 7 months ago

Whining isn’t often successful.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 7 months ago

We’ve received the same frank type of communication from our kids’ elementary school. I think it works–once. And as a true, near-last-ditch effort.

For a retailer, if you like the business and you want to keep it around, it may well be worth the effort of seeing what they have and buying something. If you’re ultimately indifferent, then don’t go.

For our school situation, it definitely worked the first time. Of course we’ll support our kids’ school. The fourth or fifth time, however, and it gets a little old. These are tough times for everyone. Even when you’re desperate, balance and delicacy are needed.

Dan Gilmore
Guest
Dan Gilmore
11 years 7 months ago

If I had more than a passing interest in seeing this merchant stick around, I might get something I could justify that I needed.

When I did need to get something, would probably make an effort to go to this store.

If I was largely indifferent to whether this store made it, I would pass.

I see JoS. A. Bank is offering a ‘buy one suit, get two free!’ sale right now. That spells trouble, as bad as the merchant in this discussion.

Are we all going to be wearing frayed and tattered clothes here pretty soon? Seems that no one is buying much apparel, teens somewhat excepted.

Dan Raftery
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Truth in advertising is a rare and refreshing approach. In this case, truly loyal customers are likely to be moved–either to financially support their favorite merchant, or to at least become conflicted like George. If the merchant survives, those who got off their journalistic butts and bought a new suit will feel partly responsible for the retailer’s survival.

That could lead to all sorts of word-of-mouth and social networking buzz opportunities. And procrastinators of all stripes could be looking back at this particular window and regretting their decision to not take advantage of prices that they may never see again.

David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

So a men’s store writes a letter to its customers begging for business? Please come in a buy something? Well desperate people do desperate things. This is not the right approach for any number of reasons, most of which are obvious. The better approach is to make adjustments to the business model that might put the retailer in a better position to succeed in these changing times. A shorter term solution might be to have a great “sale” to keep things going. In other words, what’s in it for the “customer?”

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
11 years 7 months ago

Making the customer feel guilty for not keeping the merchant in business is a very tough sell. On one hand you want to see them succeed, but on the other you feel that you must be dealing with an inferior merchant if they are in this condition. I’m guessing at least half of the people will be turned away by this plea instead of it having the desired effect.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 7 months ago

This approach may draw in a few loyal customers the first time it’s used. Any repeated use and it becomes a “Going Out of Business” charade, like those made into an art form by small electronics dealers in Manhattan.

The larger issue is that the focus of the letter is on benefits for the retailer instead of the customer. Most buyers (and particularly buyers of menswear) have very little interest in the retailer’s woes. Their most likely response is “Hey pal we all got troubles, suck it up”.

If you want an effective draw, you must convey benefits to the customer.

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Any solid communications strategy should have a customer reaction scenario built in. This one clearly did not. I think George should visit the store and talk things over. In doing so, he should try to engage in a shopping experience to see if the retailer has mastered a way to create desire, instead of just serving a need. That’s part of the magic of retail, so at least give it a try.

And all of us should think about supporting the future of independent retailers. I spent extra money this year supporting a dear friend who owns a higher-end garden center. Yes, I could have gotten the plants at the farmer’s market. But I asked him to help me design the pots, took his advice, and guess what? I feel good about supporting my friend and those are the pots everyone talks about in my yard. Win – win.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 7 months ago

The local men’s retailer wants George to look good. That store needs to sell more merchandise and it is willing to bend over backwards to serve and sell George something.

Whining, of course, doesn’t sell merchandise but if such merchants have to leave the marketplace, then George will have to rely on Men’s Warehouse and probably the ever-expanding Walmart in the future for his tony togs. What the heck, George, buy something for your local men’s store.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

I think Nikki was right on; whining doesn’t bring customers. When I worked with a non-profit we found we had to say everything we were doing that made a difference in the community, not, “Dear God, help us make enough money so we all have jobs.”

Is this any different than the “buy local” campaigns sweeping independents? I don’t think so. It is usually saying, “buy from us because we’re local,” not better, etc. That’s the problem; to communicate in this economy you have to make it all about ME with “you” and “your “instead of “we” and “I.”

This letter reminds me of the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” where she got a great article in the paper but did nothing to change or make her place the best place to shop.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

This is a poorly crafted pitch. It would work with friends and those customers who you have a really deep relationship with (see Anne’s comments above). But for a casual customer, I think this would scare them off. No one wants to do business with a store that looks like it might not be around for long…unless it’s a liquidation sale.
Try again…and this time focus on what you can do for the customer, not what they can do for you.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

This merchant forgot one very important thing about selling.

People do things for their reasons, not our reasons.

His potential going-out-of-business may be a reason for some past customers to come in and buy something but in today’s world, that number is very low.

Slow business is a good reason to have a sale. But pleading for the customer has never been a very strong motivator for anyone to do business with you. Most customers realize that if he goes out of business, they can still get the same merchandise somewhere else.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
11 years 7 months ago

I don’t see anything wrong with this as a one-time approach. Sounds like an honest retailer, telling the truth. Whether it works or not is another matter.

Hopefully, there are enough generous souls in George’s town to help this independent stick around awhile longer. This is more of an appeal for charity than a sales pitch, though.

My guess is this is a last, desperate gasp from this retailer.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Consumers are individuals and they don’t all react the same way. Male consumers generally are more loyal, especially if they think they are getting good service, even if the price is a little higher. Many consumers will change buying habits if there is a hint of the store or manufacturer going out of business. They want someone to stand behind their purchase. It is unlikely Saturn will be selling many cars now that the word is out about their demise. Just ask any retailer about the impact of filing for bankruptcy. This type of customer communication is more likely than not going to cause a negative–not positive–reaction with customers.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

I would assume that, of all the retail segments, men’s apparel has got to be the hardest hit by the recession. While the personal entreaty to come in and buy is unappealing, its tone of desperation is probably justified. If this downturn lasts, which other retailers will be tempted to send a letter?

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
11 years 7 months ago

How often have you read a newspaper article about a local shop going out of business quote a local say “That’s a shame it is such a nice store although I have not shopped there in a while.” The owner is just giving you fair notice.

The idea that a small haberdashery change its business model is a stretch. Casual Friday’s morphing into casual lifestyles has not only crippled the men’s wear industry’ it is adversely affecting the country. Casual sloppy dress leads to casual sloppy work.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 7 months ago
The thought of sending out a message related to service and value was a good one. Adding content related to having trouble paying vendors was where this message went very wrong. Let’s look at GM as a recent example of how a message of desperation can cause a further drop in sales and consumer confidence. No one will argue that GM was having financial issues, but as the news continued to report on these problems, consumers stayed clear amplifying the issue GM had. This letter from a high-end retailer can cause the same effect as the news reporting on GM. Why would shoppers risk the possibility of buying something from a store that is close to going out of business? Even if they are not, it sure sounded that way. A high-end retailer in Westport, CT has taken a very different and I believe, more successful approach to dealing with the retail slowdown. This retailer sends out a clothing magazine 2-3 times each year highlighting the latest fashions and designers. In this last issue that… Read more »
t.j. reid
Guest
t.j. reid
11 years 7 months ago

As a retailer, and a retail consultant, I am embarrassed for this store and and my industry. Customers buy clothing for their lives–not ours, for their pleasure–not ours. To do something like this is totally opposite of what the business should be there for in the first place–to serve the customer and make them happy and satisfied.

Yes, some of the loyal customers may feel guilty enough to come in and MAKE A ONE TIME DONATION, BUT retailers are not a charity. I have always been told when asked “How’s business?” to answer, “Fine” because nobody wants to shop at a place no one else does. This is the same premise. If nobody else wants to buy there, why should you?

This is totally, completely WRONG.

There are programs out there such as The 3/50 Project that encourage local shopping; there are chamber programs, etc. RETAILERS DO NOT “PUT THEIR BAD BUSINESS” ON THE STREET in such an embarrassing manner.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 7 months ago

This mailing fails on basic fundamentals; it does not communicate a clear value proposition. It spends most of its energy explaining what’s in it for the retailer, rather than the customer.

This is a very challenging time for many independent retailers, especially those who took the approach that they could sustain losses until business bounced back. Many of those retailers are slowly bleeding cash. Still, any communication or offer must clearly communicate a compelling value proposition that inspires confidence in the retailer.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Unfortunately for the tailored menswear businesses out there, the present weak sales trend is only partially attributable to the bad general economy. It is also indicative of a more enduring change in attitude that began with the “business casual” fad at the end of the last decade.

While the economic cycle will turn eventually, trends in the way men dress for work may be longer-lasting. As always, there’s opportunity in change.

So when a local retailer makes a marketing plea like the one described here, I perceive more desperation than innovation. What’s really needed is some perspiration–a rethinking of the role of the tailored menswear shop in the lives of its customers.

Here’s an angle to start with: While fewer customers may don suits and ties every day, they still get dressed, and they may value expert help in doing it right. Ask any well-dressed woman–suits are easy; outfits are hard.

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
11 years 7 months ago

I am a strong advocate of supporting local retailers when possible. They really are your neighbors in many cases. I think this type of advertising resonates when it is the local merchant. A national retailer would get scorched for this type of advertising.

roxie stjohn
Guest
roxie stjohn
11 years 7 months ago

He is honest, what is so wrong with that? All of us retailers may get to this place. Put yourself in his shoes before you worry about your so called image. We are all on this earth together, some have more than others. This is the last hope for him, I guess.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 7 months ago

Begging is never quite pretty or effective at driving behavior, especially if you are at arm’s length with the retailer.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

“Here is a local business that evidently is in trouble. The product selection is excellent as is the service. Prices are not typically low but on sale they are relatively competitive.”

Really ? How can you/we be sure it isn’t a dishonest attempt to generate business? By “relatively competitive” don’t you really mean “still too high”? And shouldn’t there be reciprocity (?): what can (or should) they do for you when you lose your job, need money to send grandpa to the home or just aren’t making as much money as you’d like?

Like many of the respondents here–and somewhat paradoxically–my tendency to feel sympathy for someone falls the more they ask for it.