Amid Widespread Channel-Blurring and Cross-Shopping, Chains Can Rely Too Much on Composite Characters, Writes CBX's Joseph R. Bona, in Chain Store Age Online Commentary
NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - March 15, 2011) - Retailers often focus their merchandising, branding, marketing and advertising campaigns on the perceived needs of a hypothetical "core customer." But given the prevalence of cross-shopping and channel-blurring across many segments of U.S. retail, some chains would do well to broaden their horizons by looking past these carefully crafted composite characters, writes Joseph R. Bona, President of the Retail Division for global branding firm CBX in the March 7 edition of Chain Store Age Online.
In "Seeing Past the 'Core Customer': Channel-blurring means retailers should embrace complexity -- and even paradox," Bona describes how timeworn retail channels are blurring today in interesting ways: Malls that once relied on upscale, fashion-forward tenant lineups, for example, are now welcoming the likes of Costco and Target to backfill vacated department store spaces. Walgreens, which has been looking more like a convenience store with each passing year, now aims to put e-vehicle fueling stations in its parking lots, making that resemblance even more striking. "Convenience stores, once known for that shriveled hot dog of indeterminate age, are transforming into something akin to a quick-serve restaurant, replete with cafés and prepared meals," writes the veteran retail designer. "Even Goodwill is cleaning up its stores and moving into nicer neighborhoods."
Given these changes, Bona writes, many retailers could discover new opportunities by reaching out to the heterogeneous mix that is their customer base. While he acknowledges the value of data-driven customer profiles, Bona also points to the rarely discussed limitations of drawing up vivid descriptions of a core customer and then basing all subsequent campaigns on the perceived needs of this composite character. "In all likelihood," he writes, "you have heard or even given presentations that rely on this kind of language: 'Her name is Cindy. She's 37, works in the insurance business and has 2.3 kids. Her husband, Dale, is an IT whiz. He hates going to the mall and has just started doing online shopping with his beloved iPad.'"
This single-minded focus on one type of shopper tends to ignore the reality of channel-blurring. Over time, however, more retailers have learned to appreciate that their stores are not necessarily for one type of person alone. "Cross-shopping among store formats and price-points is rare only among the very rich and the very poor," Bona writes. "Cindy might be perfectly content to buy her husband an anniversary present at Nordstrom, but then hit T.J. Maxx for a small token of affection for one of her girlfriends."
Indeed, savvy retailers have already prospered by reaching out to new shoppers. "Walmart did this by ramping up quality and cleanliness while preserving its emphasis on price," Bona writes. "Duane Reade, the New York pharmacy chain, has done a fantastic job of reaching out to a broad array of shopper types using everything from organic foods to high-quality cosmetics." In the "new normal" of today's economy, Bona explains, shoppers will continue to be circumspect about how they spend, and this will make cookie-cutter approaches even more outdated. "Embracing complexity -- or even, at times, paradox -- is a must," he writes. "While your brand might have been founded on other attributes, it is still possible to introduce, say, more value or convenience." But balance is important. "Your niche still has to be your strength," Bona concludes. "Retailers who try too hard to be all things to all people can overreach, just as those who focus too much on an ideal 'core customer' can miss valuable opportunities with the rest of us."
CBX, www.cbx.com, is a fully integrated creative agency specializing in retail design and operations, brand and corporate identity development, packaging, research, and motion branding. The award-winning company maintains offices in New York City, Minneapolis and San Francisco in the U.S., and in Seoul, South Korea. As a full-service consultancy, CBX offers architecture, interior design, merchandise and store planning, identity and branding, graphics and environmental graphic design, media design, product design, master planning, construction detailing and consumer research.