Monday, January 08, 2007

Promotions: It's All in the Execution

Where do promotions - special pricing, coupons, and so forth - go wrong? The execution.

Here's a retail example from my weekend. I got a card in the mail from computer retailer Micro Center offering me a free 2GB flash drive or a 2GB SD card just for showing up at the store. The copy on the card informed me that there were no strings - they just wanted me to come in and see how great their store was, because they were sure I'd be back.

That's a reasonable promotion for someone in their position - their brand isn't as recognizable as CompUSA, or even Best Buy or Circuit City, which sell a lot of the things that they do. I'd never been in their Houston store, mostly because it's on the inconvenient side of the 610 freeway (why go through extra traffic lights?). This was an incentive to make me check it out, and since they were giving away store brand products, the cost to them was probably pretty low. And if the store was really great, I might leave thinking that it was worth driving a few extra minutes to go there in the future.

I actually needed a few other items, and the promotion started yesterday, so I headed to the store, coupon in hand.

I found the other items I needed, located the display of flash drives, and tried to find the free one. No luck.

Okay, I thought, I'll ask for help. Easier said than done; while the store wasn't terribly crowded, they had nowhere near enough people working to deal with the number of customers on hand. (And these were not customers holding coupons, so I concluded that on a typical Sunday, it's just hard to get help at Micro Center.)

Just as I was about to give up and leave, I found an unoccupied employee, and asked her for help. "Just a minute!" she said. She made a call, and then told me that the cashiers had the free items; I just needed to go check out.

Well, that would have been nice to know before I wasted 20 minutes. Off I went to the cashier. When it was my turn to pay, I pulled out the coupon, and she said, "Oh, you have to pick that up over in the back of the store."

"No," I told her, "I tried that and they told me to come here."

"Just a minute!" She was completely pleasant, and made a call and discovered that she did indeed have the free flash drive. I paid for my other items, got my free drive, and went away.

A disaster? No. Just a great example of the little things that can go wrong. I left the store thinking that Micro Center is a bit disorganized and understaffed. Will I make a point of going back? Probably not. I won't avoid it, either, but I didn't find the experience any more rewarding than going to CompUSA, or buying online.

Micro Center didn't get much for the cost of that 2GB flash drive. Here's the simple rule of promotions that they broke: Make sure everyone knows how it works, including the customer.

Before you roll out the promotion, make sure that you have the process in place and it will work. If that means the customer picks the item off the shelf, fine. If it means getting it at the cashier, fine. Just make sure it's been decided and print it on the coupon.

When the promotion starts, make sure that every cashier and floor employee knows about it and knows how it works, so that when a customer asks, they can immediately answer the questions and send people in the right direction.

It's that simple - and I've seen it go wrong over and over. Has your company made a special offer to customers but forgotten to tell the people who answer your 800 number? Have you invited people to a seminar and not told their account manager?

Getting everybody on the same page is critical. Otherwise your super promotion becomes an opportunity to show people that you're disorganized. Like Micro Center.

A final note on that one: if you're going to give away free stuff to show people how great your store is, make sure it is great. Make sure you have enough people working to help the customers - or at least a process to get in line for assistance (I wandered the store like a vagabond hoping to corner someone wearing a name tag). If you lure people in and give them the same old mediocre experience they find elsewhere, they probably won't be back.

(But thanks for the flash drive, guys!) 

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