Fortunately, the American people have great resilience. We were staggered by events, but we are bouncing back and will adapt to the major challenges ahead. From initial fear and panic, we’ve turned to acceptance and determination to face a menacing new world ahead.
Pollsters now say most of us have modified some of our basic attitudes. We are now taking time to “smell the roses,” concerned more about family, friends, homes, health, jobs and country. We have established “cocooning” priorities.
Our spending spree of the ’80s and ’90s has slowed. We say that we are even trying save some money, an attitude that worries economists who want us to continue spending as before.
The necessities of waging another long and different war have accelerated the adverse consequences of an already slumping economy. Many areas of our economy, such as travel, tourism and retail sales of luxury items, are in real trouble. Only time will tell how deep and long the overall effects of the recession will be.
MESSAGES STILL BASIC
In my last article, I noted how new Information Age media have brought advanced marketing opportunities for retailers (see D&WC, October 2001, page 68.). The Internet, cable TV channels, new print media, innovative printing methods and other technology now make it possible for retailers to pinpoint specific target audiences.
While there are more ways to reach new customers, the basic messages needed to make buyers of these prospects have scarcely changed at all. You still must find the right words and ideas to lure new and old customers into your store. That has been the basic sales problem for generations of retailers. It probably will be the same one for generations to come.
Actually, the September 11 tragedy might have had a tiny silver lining. The distressful events could prove to be a long-range business stimulus for home furnishings retailers. Our renewed, natural concerns for the simpler things in life—security, privacy, home, family and community—will also spark desires for new home beauty items, which will certainly include new window styling.
Economic forecasters agree, “Yes, indeed. That has been always true after other sudden epic changes in our lifestyles.”
Once we catch our collective breaths, we will start to shop again. We’ll proceed at a slower pace and buy just the basic necessities for a time. Soon though, a lovely new window treatment may join our list of necessities. If and when we feel more secure about our incomes, we will discover changes “needed” in our homes’ furnishings and décor.
Then it becomes time for window coverings retailers to point out in their advertising how they and their stores can help provide the ideas and know-how to help potential customers, both new and old. Notice that I said “ideas and know-how.” For the umpteenth time, I’ll repeat the basic sales message: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Translated, that means you sell customer benefits, not products. You must show and tell prospects how your products can provide the benefits they want and need.
What are these benefits? Let’s review the basic one:
Pricing. “How much will it cost?” is always a basic concern for the great majority of your customers. That fact doesn’t mean you must enter the discount wars. Their intense rivalry had become a long-time, all-out survival battle between the big Marts. Wal-Mart is ahead now as they have been for years. They continue to knock out competitive discounters, just as they did with many thousands of small independent retailers and department stores in every area of this country and in some world markets. The discount wars have made customers more price conscious than ever, if that’s possible. As a rule, when other purchase factors are equal, they customers will shop for the lowest price. Store and brand loyalties are no longer as important in customer purchasing perceptions as they once were.
However, they may accept a higher product price if you can show them how the added costs will be justified in more satisfactory benefits. You must convince them that your extra price for quality products, know-how expertise, installation help and other benefits are a real value. It will assure them of the long-range beauty, image and satisfaction they want and must have.
No need to go on about pricing. You know the ways for figuring your costs and the different options for basic pricing. You know you can’t compete long in low price merchandising with the “big box” boys. You can promote a big sale once in a while with “come-on” prices in your ads, such as “SAVE NOW,” or “LOW PRICES starting at …” or “Budget Prices,” or any of the many other ways to get price-searching readers into your ads and promotions. Such special words and phrases may work at times. At best, they might bring some needed store traffic.
Sooner or later though, you will have to explain why your price estimates are higher than the customer thought they would be, or more than she would pay for the same items at a nearby discounter or other competitor. That’s when you must review the benefits you offer, a time to exploit the benefits mentioned in your ads and promotions—a time to deliver your sales pitch.
As I’ve noted above (and repeated often in other articles), the chief benefit you have to sell is window decorating. That’s your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It’s what you should promote in your consumer advertising and personal selling. It’s the primary appeal that can help you distinguish your store and products from your competition.
You may say that’s not a unique idea; everyone—especially interior designers/decorators — sells his or her decorating know-how and ideas. That may be true, but you seldom see window beauty mentioned or illustrated in independent retailers’ advertising. Nor, in my opinion, do retailers feature their window decorating abilities inside their stores as they should.
Outside or inside, the point is that the beauty of an expertly finished window is a unique feature you should emphasize. It may be the only benefit that can overcome price shock.
At windows, walls and floors; in furnishings and interiors, customers buy the final decorative effect of the products in their homes. That is true, even when the product itself has inherent beauty, such as with pleated shades, shutters, fabric verticals, wood blinds and decorative hardware.
SELL OTHER BENEFITS
Many retailers promote features in their promotions to add impact to their look and price appeals. Some of these can be persuasive. Unfortunately, some of these are so overused they have become meaningless clichés. Here are some of these favorite words and phrases:
Some firms try to explain what the word means for them. For example: “D&WC is the quality magazine in window coverings for many reasons. Among these: award-winning, full-color design; helpful editorial reports from industry professionals; beautiful window fashion illustrations; latest news on people, products and promotional aids; and much more.”
That gives you the idea, providing you have space and budget to explain quality. Service. Again, most retailers, regardless of size, stress their customer service capabilities. Seldom do they explain what’s included in this service. It’s just another ad word, meaningless when used alone. “Friendly service,” so loved by discounters, is another cliché mentioned in just about every ad. Shoppers soon realize that the service is not always friendly. Often, it may be hard even to find a clerk, friendly or unfriendly. Experience. Every store manager and employee is “experienced” even if just hired and with only a few minutes of training. As long as he or she can work a register, they are experienced. The word needs some explanation, especially in window coverings, where know-how from experience is so very important.
If you can explain why your experience and real years of training are better for customer satisfaction, then you have a definite competitive advantage. It’s an important benefit to a concerned prospect, who is being asked to spend many hard-earned dollars. It may provide added comfort and make the final decision for her purchase. Guaranteed Satisfaction. Another term that is overused but seldom explained in consumer ads. If you, as a retailer, make such a guarantee, why don’t you define what you mean? Apparently, not many customers demand to know, so why bother? Because a definite guarantee can still help close the sale—and that’s reason enough.
One of the best retailer guarantees is a referral or testimonial from a satisfied, former customer. It’s probably the best customer benefit for the large percentage of retailers who use only word-of-mouth advertising.
Many other benefits can be found in retail ads. Some are helpful; some
are overused to the point of becoming meaningless, unless explained. Value,
selection, savings, easy terms, affordable, security—all are basically
just words that take up space in promotional materials.
Words with “free” usually capture above- average reader attention: Free estimates, measurements, consultations, installations, alterations; all are persuasive and important and seldom need any explanation. “We can solve your window decorating problems,” is now often used.
In a future article, I will illustrate and discuss some ways to use the above words for greater impact to your selling benefit.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.