Personal Selling a Lost Retail Art
By Al McClain
At last week’s
IIR Shopper Insights conference, Herb Sorensen, Global Scientific Director
of TNS Sorensen and RetailWire BrainTrust
panelist, posited that personal selling at retail is nearly a lost art.
As Dr. Sorensen tells it, retailing began as personal selling, with one
salesperson selling something to one customer. But, about 100 years ago,
the "massification" of retail drove huge increases in efficiency via
division of labor and retailers and customers alike benefited.
is really so much about the mental aspect that goes on outside the store
as the process begins with a wish that leads to a want, which leads to
a “need” and ends with a purchase. As mass retailing developed, stores
began to look and act alike. Retailers tried to keep shoppers “prisoner” by
encouraging them to follow a certain path and attempted to keep them
in the store longer; they made items harder to find and provided less
and less help in making shopping choices. So, while prices dropped, shoppers
became increasingly frustrated with the actual shopping experience.
the “massification” of advertising developed as we went from roadsides
signs to billboards to radio to TV. For years, advertisers could reach
most potential shoppers via TV, essentially doing pre-selling, before
the shopper ever reached the store, so self-service at store-level wasn’t
as big of a priority. In 1995, for example, advertisers could run three
national TV commercials and reach 80 percent of women 18-49 years old.
By 2000, with the fragmentation of media choices, it took 92 commercials
to reach the same percentage of that group. So, as audiences have scattered,
large advertisers such as Procter & Gamble have identified the need
to reach shoppers in stores.
Now, we really
have personalized interaction with shoppers again at store-level, but
it’s driven by technology. Amazon is making more and more relevant offers
to web shoppers, devices such as Video Cart are advertising to shoppers
while they shop, consumers are carrying the internet around with them
via smart phones, and marketers are increasingly texting shoppers to
make them offers based on their location.
So, where do
we go from here? The other aspect is the proliferation of messages reaching
consumers. In days gone by, shoppers might stand at the general store
counter and talk over the merits of one item with the shop owner for
a few minutes. Nowadays, consumers are bombarded with advertising messages
of all types nearly 24/7. Could it be they long for the personal touch
Do consumers long for a personal touch from retailers? Or is technology
providing a satisfactorily replacement? Are there certain types
of retailers, local grocers, clothing boutiques, etc., that would benefit
most from developing a personal selling approach?
Commentary] Sometimes, in a world gone mad with messaging, the simplest
solution can be the best. Dr. Sorensen has worked with an independent
grocer, having them put signs around the store (about 50) showing that
some key items are “top sellers” and has seen sales of those items soar.