Friday, December 6, 2013

Why I deleted all my Black Friday/Cyber Monday emails

Okay, I admit:  It’s hard enough to write great subject lines any time of year.  It’s even harder to make good ones last.  Unlike the direct mail headlines of the past, subject lines wear out faster due to overexposure and overuse.  But, when it comes to the 4th quarter, and the biggest promotional period of the year, you might think that a little more thought would go into the poor,  workhorse of copy—the subject line.

When I opened my personal email, what I saw were line after line of promotional emails all with some variation on Black Friday Sales Start Now or Hurry! Don’t miss out on our Cyber Monday Spectacular!  Line after line.  At least, with a pile of catalogs, you can sift through them, putting some in the in-stack and assign others to the out-pile.  But, in the meantime, you would have seen in that brief 30 seconds or so—pictures, multiple headlines, insets, calls to actions, multiple products—something that would be bound to capture your interest, especially if you were a customer.

But with subject lines—all bearing the same message or words, there’s hardly a nudge made to encourage you to open them up. Even the 30% off promises were routine.  Here’s a sampling from Land’s End.  Nov.26:  Doorbusters start tomorrow. Nov. 27:  30% off gifts for everyone.  Nov. 27:  Thanksgiving doorbusters are. . . . Nov. 28:  Hurry!  Doorbusters end tonight.  Nov. 29: It’s called Cyber Tuesday.  November 29: Last Chance for Cyber Tuesday.  (Cute, huh?  They thought they’d be different).

If you get emails from more than one retailer, your email inbox from Wednesday night through Tuesday was jammed up with boring, repetitive one liners.  No one stood out.  Even the beloved store of my youth growing up in the Northwest—Nordstrom—felt compelled to join in the fracas.  Theirs said:  Cyber Monday Savings are here.  Ugh.

So, I deleted them all.  And I didn’t go to the mall to be mauled either.  And I’m not the only one.  Did you notice?


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bezos captures mindshare: Who cares about drones?

The latest marketing coup extraordinaire goes to Jeff Bezos for kicking off the e-tailing holiday season on 60 Minutes by capturing in our minds the enviable position that Amazon is all about fast delivery.  Not FedEx.  Not UPS, which lamely limps in two days later with the announcement that it too has plans for drones.  Who else has ever been able to focus the media on that unsexy, but oh-so necessary workhorse—distribution?  60 Minutes, with a gushing Charlie Rose, spent over 2 minutes analyzing one of Amazon’s 96 worldwide distribution centers, oohing and aahing over pick-pack as if Jeff himself had personally invented fulfillment.

And what better timing—the day before the so-called Cyber-Monday?
Bezos attended the now defunct Annual Catalog Conference, which, in full disclosure was an event launched by my former magazine—Catalog Age (now Multichannel Merchant) and the Direct Marketing Association.  There he may have learned some of the lessons that catalogers and other direct marketers had been driving home for years: 1) The value of a customer, 2) The importance of tracking customer transaction behavior, among other data, and 3) The fact that Shipping & Handling is the major stumbling block in sight unseen transactions (like over the web or from a catalog).
The surest way to overcome S&H is to make it a non-objection.  Free shipping is one way, but, if it is not done well, it breaks the bank.  Amazon has Amazon Prime--$79, but you never have to worry about it for the rest of the year.  And if I don’t like that pink cashmere sweater I bought, returns are easy.  Delayed gratification due to slow delivery.  Now, Amazon is picking away at that problem—same day, within a half an hour?  He’s telling us, it’s all within reach and Amazon is bushwhacking the way.
Ries & Trout called positioning the battle for consumers’ minds.  Kudos Bezos, you now own fast delivery in the mind of the American customer.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Retailers: Wake Up! Customers are flatlining

Melvina Bolston, 48, ventured to a Walmart on Thanksgiving, waited 85 minutes in a checkout line, and was back in the fray on Friday at her sister’s behest, at an open-air shopping center in Norcross, Ga.

“You can pretty much put it in the books: I will never do it again,” Ms. Bolston said. “This is like torturing yourself on purpose.”
So ends the Elizabeth Harris’ holiday sales round up in yesterday’s New York Times, which suggests that the customer—remember her?—might be better served next year on line.

Sure, online shopping will offer her more convenience (more on that tomorrow), but it won’t offer her the most exquisite holiday shopping experience of all—anticipation and gratification.
Anticipation and gratification (or disappointment) are at the heart of shopping. They provide the highs—and the lows.  And it’s not just about the holidays, even though Ralphie’s “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle” sits center stage as his object of desire.  Dad, too, is caught up in the tantalizing promise of anticipation—what will he win for having solved the newspaper’s puzzles?  And when it arrives in the largest box ever, he’s crazy about it—the infamous, stocking-clad leg lamp—almost as if he’d chosen it himself.
Anticipation is barely sustainable from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but, when Christmas arrives the day after Halloween, who has the energy or the desire to maintain such an emotional high?  In our over-hyped, over-promoted world of constant sale/sale/sale, blockbusters, Super Bowls, all elections all the time, about the only true anticipation we had left was Steve Job’s latest gadget, and, sadly, that is falling flat now too.
Holiday sales may have declined for a lot of reasons—the continued economic lack luster “recovery,” the extended sales period, the constant discounting, the scenes of greed on a massive (and violent) scale.  But mostly, the customer has lost interest.  Retail is suffering from the deadliest malady—it’s boring.  We’re boring our customers.  You can’t appreciate the peaks if you don’t have a few valleys.  Roller coasters are thrilling because they have both ups and downs.  Constant sales and extended sales periods not only erode margins; they also erode the very core of shopping—the thrilling experience of it.  Customers are flatlining.  It’s time to wake up.