Is Best Buy making the best decisions?

Brands undergo a transformation from time to time. Some change their appearance, some launch new product lines, some make changes to their portfolio. But when a brand does a couple of these things all at the same time, it’s like watching a badly choreographed dance move.

About a month ago, Best Buy abruptly closed over 100 stores of its sister brand, Future Shop, only to reopen about 60 of them as Best Buy stores. They didn’t do this gradually or with consideration for the existing equity Future Shop had built, neither were they considerate for employees they laid off (employees have to reapply if they choose to work at Best Buy). As for customers, there were positive aspects of Future Shop that are now un-catered to. For instance, the instore auto section, that has now transitioned to Best Buy online. The service included providing guidance and also installation if required. Now that it’s online, the experience is diluted and if the wrong auto part is ordered, returns and re-ordering is a hassle. Future Shop even had better payment options on their credit card.

Best Buy in its feeble attempt to stay afloat, is making hasty choices that will do the business more harm than good. Currently focussing on Amazon as competition, they have launched “Market Place” – a section on their website where third party merchants can sell their products. Neither is this model unique to Best Buy nor will it salvage their plummeting sales figures. It’s an “I’ll have what they’re having” move. Amazon and E-bay have excelled at it with great customer service, free shipping policies, easy returns – not attributes Best Buy can hope to achieve right at the get go. Yes retail has experienced a huge online shift, but the brand experience needs to remain consistent with the traditional store. This market-place model does not do that.

Alot has been said about Best Buy shoppers not making it to check out and using the store to browse the latest technology and then purchasing elsewhere. Well, I don’t think Best Buy can or should attempt to price-match and would do better if they turned their attention to other aspects.

Not to sound like the grim reaper but Best Buy is knocking on death’s door with its current strategy(or lack of it). What the brand could be doing instead:
1. Enhance the in-store experience: Since the brick and mortar stores are still in operation, it would be a good idea to turn the focus on how to improve customer service, how to make Geek Squad more knowledgeable and helpful, find ways to reduce being under-stocked, enhance the store itself with brighter lighting and easier manoeuvrability.
2. Retain Future Shop’s merits: They might have closed the store but they should incorporate the aspects of FS that worked well for the brand(as mentioned above).
3. Improve the web experience: If they want to compete with Amazon, they shpuld start by making online purchases hassle-free in every way possible. Easy returns, free shipping where possible and providing indepth information on new technology would incentivize consumers to want to choose Best Buy.

Surviving as a Big Box electronic retailer at a time where choices are plenty and the shopper is highly tech aware is not an easy feat, even more reason for prompt transformations before the brand becomes a case study in bad business strategies.

What’s supplementing you?

Supplements. They’ve always been around. In recent times they have been more consciously sought than doctor recommended. According to Frost & Sullivan, the market for nutritional supplements in immune health alone is estimated to reach 1.1 billion in 2016.
I’m reminded of a powerful quote by a former supervisor that stuck with me: “Drug companies have taken the market and exploited it, blown it up to the point where people can’t get through a day without relying on a product. There will come a time they’re on the stands defending their case and when that happens, they’ll make tobacco companies look like choir boys”.

supplement aisleIn this scenario of saturation and heightened consumer awareness, it has become more challenging for brands to defend their existence and differentiate from competition. Some take-aways that might help:

Starting young: Healthcare and nutrition have always sparked the interest of a wide and diverse Canadian audience. It’s not just the baby boomers that are intrigued by the subject though; the millennials are now leading the ‘healthcare consumerism’ revolution and have been known to be “supplement-savvy” as this article puts it. Very often, mitigating the guilt of poor dietary choices is behind this trend. What it means for brands: Might be interesting to break traditional category codes in packaging, use consumer-friendly language and state benefits upfront to help the purchase journey. Take a cue from the very successful Vitamin Water.

Wellness is the new healthy: The language of health is transitioning from treatment to prevention. It’s gone beyond just the yoga and smoothie culture, to the consumption of supplements like CoQ10 (for heart health) and probiotics and it has every healthcare giant manufacturing their brand of it in different formats and flavours. No jokes, CoQ10 even comes in a lip balm. What it means for brands: Differentiating is key. It might also be worth considering alternate sampling and retail environments besides the boring drug store.

Maple Life's Vegan Calcium at the CHFA show, 2014

Maple Life’s Vegan Calcium at the CHFA show, 2014

The rise of the conscientious label-reading consumer: Easy access to medical research and an interest in taking control of their health has led to consumers being more informed, conscious and aware of what they choose to ingest. What it means for brands: You can be sure when scouring the drug-store aisles, your consumer is not just picking up the first multi-v bottle they see – he or she is turning it over to see if it’s organic, vegan, gluten-free, non GMO. During my recent stint with Innovite Health, I was asked a bunch of these questions when sampling product at the Cardiac Health Association’s Walk of Life event. Naturally sourced is also a huge draw.

While the supplement-taking market continues to grow, there is still a sizeable, healthy population that does not rely on any simply because they haven’t found the need for it or require further guidance. There’s an opportunity here for brands to educate and inform this untapped market.

The supplement shelf is vast and cluttered and there continues to be a need for brands to disrupt category norms, innovate through technology and simplify the decision process – through both online and brick and mortar channels.

So, how are you picking out your supplements?

I’d like some veggies with my vitamins

Thoughts on Shoppers Drug Mart now carrying fresh foods.

With the purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart by Loblaws, a recent test to sell fresh foods at thestore_ShoppersDrugMart drugstore chain has been underway. This won’t be the first time a store attempted to straddle categories and stock a wider array of goods than their core. After all, Canadian Tire sells kitchenware and car audio under the same roof. Alot has been written about whether this will be a success or fall on its face. Primary benefits being – SDM is open late hours, some even 24/7 and the chain is known for good quality. So I guess if you feel like grilling some sirloin at 2am, Shoppers is your best bet.

Trying to get people to buy fresh food at a chain associated primarily with medications might be a bit of a stretch although critics say it could be done. Packaged foods, sure. Frozen foods, could (maybe) work. Fresh foods? I think that crosses the line. Starting off with the obvious question of “how are you different from the competition?”. Walmart for instance – is open late hours and specializes in being a one stop shop, with unbeatable prices.
While trial and error might be the way to go when it comes to retail, there are a couple of consumer insights as to why the brand would be wise to leave fresh with Freshco or in this case, Loblaws.

  1. Medication is the motive, fresh foods might be happenstance
    Yes, Shoppers stocks alot more than prescriptions. However, the consumer mindset when walkfresh veging into a Shoppers Drug Mart is to walk out with either medicine, toiletries or a bag of chocolate to feed a late night craving. While I’m there, sure I might pick up a bag of cherries if its being sold, but that’s not what I’m going in there looking for. Also, Shoppers is an in and out kind of place – not a Loblaws, where one stops to browse. Shoppers is more like a QSR trying to enter the sit-down restaurant category. They don’t have the physical space (not all locations) nor the brand positioning to be viewed as a meat and veggie retailer.
  1. buying meatsConvenience’ and ‘fresh’ don’t jive
    Shoppers is known for convenience. It’s the place you can count on at midnight when you’re out of green tea and can’t fall asleep. Or if you’re in a hurry and can’t deal with long line-ups that Walmart is sure to have. However, when it comes to fresh foods, there’s a defined pause in your aisle browsing. You have to stop to examine the bananas and check the meat’s texture to lb. ratio. There’s a disassociation there that might be difficult to overcome.
  2. Credibility countsorganic
    Today’s label-reading consumer is conscious of what they consume. Non GMO, free range, certified organic and grass-fed are terms actively sought. Sure this might not be the market Shoppers is interested in, but if they did carry these products, how much credibility does a drug chain have in this department?
  3. Brand stretching and risk of failure
    The fresh foods category is always going through product recall, especially meats and vegetables. If Shoppers aims “to be the leader in helping Canadians discover a healthier outlook on life” as per their mission statement – I believe it’s important to steer clear of categories that could damage this reputation.

The rules of retail are always changing and what might seem illogical, sometimes gets adopted as the new normal. As Martin Lindstrom says in his book ‘Buyology’: “But like it or not, all of us consistently engage in behavior for which we have no logical or clear-cut explanation.”

I might be over thinking this one, but I’d love to hear your views and perceptions. Will tonight’s steak and potato dinner be picked up at your local drug store?

Nuit Blanche, where were brands at?

For those unaware, Nuit Blanche is an annual art event here in Toronto that takes place one magical night in October,from dusk to dawn. It involves people roaming the city streets viewing and experiencing art installations. It goes by different names across the world but it’s the same concept.

This year while walking from exhibit A to a watering hole 40 mins away (public transit and cars were in major gridlock,hence), I found myself reflecting on more than just the existential crisis the world is experiencing, through quantification of a paradoxical analysis (art speak). I started to wonder why brands missed out on this chance to talk to their people on a night when they’re out and about, in no hurry to get to somewhere and with no particular agenda in mind. Now I know art purists are probably thinking – How dare! this is an art event, I don’t want to see no advertising hoopla! – But hear me out. I’m not talking about an in-your-face billboard trying to sell insurance while wishing everyone a happy Nuit Blanche. I’m talking about brands that could very easily engage in a non-intrusive, relevant manner. Some broad product categories that could have used this opportunity to say hello:

#1: Hydration brands: A hoard of people walking the streets for hours, common sense dictates they’re going to need hydrating. Every Shopper’s Drug Mart I walked past had people lining up to buy precious H2O. Where was Dasani/Vitamin Water? Being present when relevant shows brand care, few booths around town wouldn’t have hurt. On the same note, I’m sure coffee would have been much appreciated too.

#2: Active lifestyle brands: Something about all that walking makes you think about how you need to get more exercise – good time to be reminded of Adidas’ Fall collection of trainers. If Subaru could have a guy spray painting what they called “the art car”, I’m sure Adidas could have had a giant shoe installation. subaru

#3:Foot Care brands:  At some point I wanted nothing more than a quick foot massage – reminded me of OSIM’s foot massager chair – the type they have installed in some malls. What a great chance for a bunch of these to have been installed around town that night.

#4: Charging Stations:  Portable phone charging stations! It doesn’t matter whether a battery/phone manufacturer or Telcom took the initiative, but “my phone is dying” was the most heard line all night – why? Logical. People constantly had their phones out snapping pictures and tweeting their experiences. Nokia, you were a sponsor, why no friendly gesture of this sort?

Speaking of sponsors, Tourism Toronto was one of the sponsors – I couldn’t help thinking how a few interesting informational displays about otherwise sparsely ventured into neighbourhoods would have made a nice read, for locals as well as those visiting.

On a slightly unrelated note, it was awesome to see artists incorporating brands into their art, Vespa I hope you saw this creature someone created out of Vespa body parts (spotted around Kensignton)vespa

In the world of social media,what had me baffled was the official Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Twitter handle’s lack of response to questions asked. The account was only used to send out (albeit pre-composed) tweets all night, but not reply to any – this is the megaphone vs walkie-talkie approach some brands are yet to comprehend when it comes to social. Automation is NOT the way,especially when it counts the most. Also, why no app this year?

I’m sure there are a host of other ideas, and I agree, some of these ideas might not have been able to achieve much given the sheer numbers, but it’s the thought and presence that counts sometimes. I’d love to hear what you think – should brands have found a way to be relevant to this mass of pedestrians or would that take away from the art?

Instagram, not so insta anymore

instagram-video-appInstagram: the app that turned the average Joe into a pro photographer, boasts of over a 100 mn users as of February this year and was named app of the year by Apple in 2011(Source:Instagram blog). Its users have been snapping up their breakfast bagel, their awesome lives and even their bathroom tiles. Now, video comes to Instagram. 15 whole seconds of it. Suddenly the app’s Kaizen philosophy appears to have taken a detour.

In a scramble to have it all, the world of social media has progressively become somewhat akin to the Cola wars, with Facebook and Twitter at the helm. It started with Facebook buying Instagram and Twitter buying Vine. Then Facebook rolled out hash tags to get on par with its 140 character nemesis, and now, to take on Vine, Instagram launches video.

While this is all turning into one big content creation party, before you race out to shoot an #igram video to combat a burning FOMO starting to stir within you, consider this: it might not be watched.

The video app market is over fragmented with offerings, some merely differentiated by length constraints – there’s Viddy which allows upto 30 secs of footage, Keek, which allows 36 secs and Socialcam which is uncapped. Then there’s the recent Vine, which challenges your creativity with a 6 sec limitation,which in my opinion, can be fun if done right(my thoughts on Vine here).  Instagram brings its cache of awesome filters over to video, but has failed to ask itself a crucial question –is this just an attempt to compete with Vine and push a technology platform or will it enrich the current Instagram experience? I fear it takes away from it.

The platform might be amazing for its video shooting capabilities, I don’t doubt it. I can also see how this is a juicy bone for brands chasing the famed “content marketing” wagon. The caveat I offer to both would be, don’t bet on your friends/consumers being as amazed as you are with your #birthdayshenanigans and #soundsoftheocean clips, shot with the X-pro II filter.

micro-publishing media

In the online world of social publishing, there has been a gradual swing towards documenting micro-moments. Sharing is encouraged, but in mini morsels that can weave in and out of busy lives without being an interruption. Under these circumstances, 15 second footage of your life seems like a short film. More so if it’s shot in Lo-Fi. Instagram took the photo-sharing baton from Flickr and ran with it, when it comes to video however, the party may have moved elsewhere.

A sense of media fatigue has begun to set in; the popularity of Snapchat is right on the dime with the trend of see it and/or forget about it. Its ephemeral nature makes it interesting. Infact, brands looking to get on the next wave of social would do well looking into this app, especially for limited-time promo code offers and teasers.

What works for Vine is that it lined up with behavioural shifts (instant/fleeting/micro), Instagram-video is an offering that isn’t all that insta nor very differentiated and clutters an otherwise idle, scrolling user experience.

One can only hope there’s an opt out of the video stream.

Capitalizing on Piracy: turning a bad word into a useful arsenal

Its been done for eons now. My first tryst with piracy was before I even knew it had a name or was perceived to be a bad thing. As kids in school we were always compiling music CDs for each other – the source was usually a friend with a speedy internet connection who downloaded it off a torrent.

Not too long ago, getting content to an audience slowly started to become more important than monetizing it right away. The shift began with independent artists streaming their music online for free and encouraging listeners to pay what they could to download it.

Cut to 2013 and the era of Content being King. In the music world, it’s fast revamping the business model. Piracy implies getting something through illegal means/without paying for it – well, what if you remove the ‘illegal’ tag? It suddenly makes the act less enticing. Amanda Palmer says it beautifully in her TED talk, where she states “Don’t make people pay for music,let them”. The industry is moving from making people pay for content to allowing them the choice. It’s the best way to disarm the monster. Justin Timberlake for example, decided to stream his new album 20/20 online for free before making it available for purchase in stores. The zeitgeist has forked the business model – there’s now the free and the paid. And free isn’t hurting anyone’s bank account. If anything, allowing people to have something for free is turning passive listeners into supporters who sometimes choose to buy an album to show support for the artistDonating = Loving

It isn’t just the music industry that has realised this. HBO recently publicly declared that they consider piracy a form of flattery. Game of Thrones is among Pirate Bay’s top torrent download and the producers of the show aren’t afraid of it harming sales.

The obvious benefit is effective marketing and spreading to a wider audience base, but it also ups the pressure on content creators to increase perceived value of their offering.

What does this mean for branded content in other categories? I don’t have definitive answers, but here’s a few points to ponder:

– Hustlers inc: When you put the illegal tag on something, the offering becomes that much more sought after and knowing how to get it gives you social brownie points. In other words, holding back makes the offering sweeter for those who find a way to get it.

– Free for friends and family: Giving away something valuable for free makes people feel closer to you…you’ve invited them into your circle and made them a friend. This isn’t the same as promotional chachka, the consumer can tell the difference.

-Vulnerability is in: How can you let people support your brand? Showing vulnerability is one way of humanizing your brand and connecting with people. Like Amanda Palmer,like reddit or wiki, it’s okay to let people see you’re vulnerable and could use the monetary support. What incentive are you giving people for them to offer up some scrilla? (without expecting it as a given)

What once started out as a barter system of money for content is slowly evolving into an honour system, one that encourages the end user to come forth, be part of the creation process and make a contribution out of choice. The traditional purchasing model isn’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t either but maybe accepting piracy as a parallel model and embracing it won’t be such a bad thing. Thoughts?