Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Attractions in Dead Zones

Some day I hope to meet someone from K-Mart's marketing department.  I am very interested in finding out how they arrived at the "Blue Light Special" and the real purpose behind the program.  For years, I thought it was a clever way of getting rid of  items they had over-stocked or just wanted to eliminate the stock.  Then I thought maybe it was an overall promotion scheme to get people to think "K-Mart."  Now, after reading about a research program held in a Minneapolis Store called Once Famous, I wonder if the Blue Light program was not a clever way to get people to venture into areas of the store that were considered "Dead Zones."

It turns out that the store called Once Famous is really a state-of-the-art retail laboratory for a retail brand agency called Fame.  The agency, which has its offices behind one-way mirrors, uses the facility to study consumers' shopping habits.  As Fame's founder, Tina Wilcox, says, "Retail is all about anthropology.  It's about customers in their natural environment.  We're trying to get as close to reality as possible with the customer."

According to the Retail  Advertising and Marketing Association, 70% of all purchases are impulse buys.  If the retailer can increase the shopper's "Dwell Time," it boosts the chance of increased sales.  Fame came up with a factor called the "Squint Test."  They collected various objects of the same color (red in their experiment) into a single, bold display.  This display was placed in the back of the store in a common dead zone.  The display succeeded in drawing shoppers to the site and increased sales 15% to 20% higher than when the items were scattered throughout the store.  In another experiment, they placed a flickering electronic fireplace on the left side of the store to overcome the shopper's natural tendency to start shopping on the right side of the store.  And it worked.  I guess you can say the fireplace drew customers to the left much like a moth is drawn to a flame.

I sincerely hope the readers of the Views from the Hills of Kentucky see familiar words in Ms. Wilcox's statement.  Words such as "their natural environment" and "close to reality as possible."

Over the years I have seen market research organizations move further and further away from conducting research in the customer's natural environment.  Can you imagine trying to assess pricing structures of products sitting on a table in the back room of a mall?  How typical is that of the natural environment?  Maybe it is typical of research, but not of the consumer's natural environment of product prices.  How about testing the appearance of a container sitting on a table and not on a store shelf?  It's like testing driving comfort of a car while sitting in it on the show room floor.

For years, Sorensen Associates have been using real stores to test consumer products.  Actually 90+% of their studies are conducted in the retail environment.  That's why they are called the "In-Store Research Company."  While at Procter & Gamble, I was heavily involved in utilizing the consumer's home and the store environment as my laboratory.  P&G was using homes before I ever came on board, and that was in 1951.  I believe Dr. Smelser, the creator of Market Research Department in 1923, utilized the consumer's home as the base of all their research.  In the 1970s we started using real stores as focal points for assessing brand images, brand choices, package design, pricing, purchased motivation, brand rejection, etc.

It's called Assessment in Context.  I think it is all about reliability and validity of research.

Sponsor:  Sorensen Associates Inc      Portland, OR  800.542.4321        Minneapolis, MN  888.616.0123
The In-Store Research Company 

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