Target’s Foray Into Subscriptions Begs The Question: What About Your Business?

Posted on April 18, 2014. Filed under: Creative Marketing, Public Relations, Public relations practices, Retail, Small Business in Minnesota | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Probably no Twin Cities-based company is more closely watched by business locals than Target Corporation. Not that the Twin Cities is a one-horse town, corporately speaking — far from it! Rather, Target is the odds-on favorite in a multi-horse lineup of big hitters. So it’s interesting to us locally — and surely to many marketers nationally as well — when Target announces that it is pursuing more online sales by bolstering its subscription business. See Target Expands Online Subscription Sales.

Subscriptions Can Be A Sweet Addition To A Business

Subscription sales by major marketers is a hot topic at present. General Mills, for example, is building out a subscription business with a line of unique culinary treats — a healthy sweet treat a day keeps the dogs of want away, might be the underlying idea there.

Target’s idea is to motivate consumers and businesses alike to sign up for regular shipments of everyday products such as washing detergents, paper goods, cleaning products — the mundane stuff that no home or business can afford to be without. Purchase online, add them to your account, specify delivery intervals, and voila – your life simplified. It’s a good idea, not new, but good all the same. Many, many companies pursue a similar strategy of course.

But the question is, why aren’t even more companies doing it? Specifically, small to medium sized businesses — and non-profits too — with both products and services to sell? Why couldn’t a hair stylist offer to cut and beautify hair on a subscription basis – 12 sessions per year, sign on for the subscription to the service and get a 10% discount? A florist could initiate a bouquet-of-the-month club for consumers and businesses alike. Specialty food businesses are obviously ideal for this type of business development model — especially if they’re willing and able to partner with other food products marketers to provide customized food baskets.

A Little Creative Thought Can Reveal A Powerful New Marketing Niche

Even professional services companies could benefit from the subscription approach to client retention. A competitive-landscape-analysis-of-the-month club for clients of a public relations or advertising firm, for example. Or a monthly webinar providing an in-depth, value-added look at a topic of deep relevance to clients. This kind of approach could also benefit law firms, accounting firms, non-profits — the potential is limitless.

The moral of the story is, if it’s good enough for the likes of a mass merchandising giant like Target, it’s probably good enough for your business too.

Willing To Help

If you’d like to discuss such issues with an experienced marketing industry pro, feel free to get in touch with me. No fee for a brainstorming sounding out of ideas here.

Now then, Target as noted is not the only major retailer ramping up online sales. Home Depot is, by report of the Wall Street Journal, reducing its new-store openings drastically while promoting much more aggressively it’s online sales site. That’s a huge switch for the retailer, whose main growth strategy in the past has been based on new store growth. But the bricks-and-mortar segment of the business is over-crowded with competition, say Home Depot executives. And even the vastness of the Home Depot stores can only contain about 35,000 products versus the 600,000 offered on the retailer’s website.

Home Depot makes it easy for consumers to order online — and pickup goods at a local Home Depot bricks-and-mortar location. That’s called killing two birds, one virtual, one physically present, with one giant marketing stone.


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Just-in-time Zen Moment For Holiday Shopper

Posted on December 20, 2013. Filed under: Public Relations, Retail, Society | Tags: , , , , , , |

Traffic lights

Traffic lights (Photo credit: Vít ‘tasuki’ Brunner)

A mobile holiday shopper in Los Angeles tweets this morning of driving around in the city for two hours in search of holiday gifts. She had a list of gifts that she wanted to buy, from the sounds of it.

None of the stores she visited in person had the merchandise in stock.

Then, a moment of digital satori arrived while she  paused at a traffic light. She grabbed her smart phone, jumped online and got her shopping done in the span of a Beverly Drive minute or two.

No telling what stores she patronized online, unless she covered that in a subsequent tweet unseen by me.

Obviously, she was making a statement about her shopping experience or lack thereof with the bricks-and-mortar retailers she attempted to buy from during her odyssey on wheels. The statement being, if I interpret correctly, that she was fed up with the whole thing – and probably not going to be doing so much drive-by shopping in the future.

Reading her tweet – which showed up as a random posting in my Twitter stream, sandwiched in between various notes of more earth-shaking news – made me think about an infographic I saw recently predicting continued massive growth in digital interactions of all kinds, including mobile shopping. If it — the sudden discovery that it’s easier, smarter and above all else more practical to shop online than to motor desperately and for hours on end from one outlet to another — can happen in-between traffic light stops in retail saturated LA, then this revolution in mobile retail is just beginning.

It occurs to me that our friendly LA tweeter could have phoned ahead to ask if the products she sought were in stock at the retailers she had on her radar. But she apparently didn’t.

One can only surmise why that was.

One guess is that making phone calls of that nature is kind of a pain in the ass. Maybe not as much of a pain in the ass as driving for hours in a fog of holiday desperation, but still…a pain. And who knows who or what is going to answer the phone when you call a business these days? Besides, what fun is that – calling up retailers to find out if they’ve got what you want in stock? Better to foray into the unknown, testing the limits of the physical world to meet one’s needs. And then, when all else fails, go online. Or maybe not. Maybe just sit at home in front of the computer for a bit buying stuff off of retail websites. But then, what fun is that? It’s kind of hard to feel the holiday spirit when you’re mixing it up with your keyboard and a monitor — no Christmas bells merrily jingling, no stimulation from the madding crowds and festive festooning of the stores themselves. No sense of awe, in short.

Ah well. it’s a dilemma. To mingle with the masses of the malls, or to commune in silent ecstasy with the online retailers.

But why choose? Slide that mobile device into your coat pocket while you’re heading out the door to hit the bricks — if the mall lets you down, you just might find yourself stopped before a long-winded red traffic light punching in online orders.

That would be me, behind you, leaning on the horn of my car as the traffic light turns from red to green.

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When Social Media Bites The Hand That Feeds

Posted on April 24, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Social Media | Tags: , |

Joliet Jake

Joliet Jake (Photo credit: harry harris)

Fight social media fire with fire? Small retailers have no choice but to buck up when it comes to online reviews.

Peeved customers no longer suffer in silence. They take to the Internet, to voice their displeasure over ill-treatment, real and perceived.

People are not afraid to speak up on the Internet. They’ll say things online that they couldn’t or wouldn’t say face-to-face.

A Critic In Every Corner?

Then again, the Internet has unleashed the inner critic in all of us. Millions of people now peck or swipe away — with rapture unfettered —  at digital devices, hammering out pithy commentary on movies, meals, tourist attractions, liquor stores, hardware stores, auto repair shops…about the only things that don’t get reviewed are jails and prisons, it seems. Who knows? Maybe someone like Joliet Jake is spitting out reviews of prison commissaries and in-cell amenities somewhere on Facebook or Yelp.

The point is, retail blood is spilled on the Internet every day by disgruntled customers. If it hasn’t happened to your business yet, odds are it will. No it’s not a certainty. Neither is getting called to jury duty – some people slide through life and live to a ripe old age without ever being hailed into jury duty too. Luck of the draw, really.

TV Story Captures The Dilemma

A recent news story from Los Angeles’ KABC-TV illustrates the plight of restaurateurs caught in the cross-hairs of online critics today: Under Fire.

Respond, Yes. Retaliate, Maybe Not.

But you don’t want to just be a sitting duck either. Prepare yourself for the eventuality of being digitally panned in some fashion or the other.  Consider this scenario: Someone visits a retailer’s restroom, discovers its blanketed with the rudest of graffiti, snaps a picture of it on his iPad, posts it to Facebook, and voilà – damage done! Maybe the graffiti was of very recent vintage – a leave-behind of the Sharpie-wielding patron who just preceded our visitor into the loo. The feckless critic won’t take such an eventuality into account. She’ll just run it up the Twitter pole and there you have it – your business image besmirched.

Some of the best advice going is to:

  • Stay cool. Analyze the situation. Is the criticism valid? If so, you might be best served by responding politely and with a positive attitude to the critic in the online forum. Thank the customer for pointing out the issue, and reward them with a small token of your consideration for being a good customer – a discount coupon, free meal, whatever seems appropriate. Then correct the problem, of course.
  •  Don’t be abrasive or defensive. The annals of the Internet are already chock full of horror stories about businesses that responded harshly to customer online commentary.
  • Unless it’s really out-of-bounds, you can’t win. You’re better off taking a slight loss, and moving on. Grin and bear it, in other words. If it’s an egregious assault on your business, one that you believe is without merit, you may want to see if you can convince the operator of the service to remove the comment. That won’t prevent the poster from re-posting somewhere else, of course.
  •  If it’s a problem that occurred because of circumstances particular to the customer’s visit, you may want to respond calmly and patiently to the criticism. Accept responsibility, explain the situation and what you’re doing to make sure it won’t happen again. Do this online, in response to your critic’s posting. Offer to talk – communicate – off-line or via private channels in order to resolve the dispute as well.
  • Remember, your goal is to resolve the situation as peacefully and equitably as possible, so you can continue to go about your business of running a great business.

Bouncing back from a harsh social media experience can be daunting. The trick is to turn it to your favor. A fresh public relations approach may be just what the doctor ordered, too.

Your thoughts? Experiences? Stories, horror, happy or otherwise?

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