Planner Safari 2: Retail Espionage

18 Nov

It was a cold and crappy day last Friday and Ju and I decided to do something different. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It was a sunny and beautiful day and we went for a little ethno-therapy. It was nice to get out of the office and do what we do best: watch stuff happen around us.

Our main aim for the day was to browse through the major retail stores in Shanghai and observe what kind of people were there shopping, who they were with, how they shopped and how they interacted and engaged with the store and the staff. Keep in mind this was a Friday afternoon when most normal people are working. It would be interesting to do the same route on a weekend or weekday evening and compare the differences.

Here are some of the things I noticed from behind my dark sunglasses and inconspicuously raised collar:

1. Safety in Numbers – the needies. Cuz you have less of a chance of buying something that looks ridiculous if you get someone else’s opinion first. Women that have dragged along their uninterested boyfriend, housewives and rich husbands, guys or girls with their mothers, girlfriends – but always in pairs! This is interesting – women are seeking validation for their fashion choices and are choosing ONE expert from their immediate peer circle to fill this role. And what are these roles? Perhaps the ‘mother’ is there to offer controlled guidance over the jeans her daughter buys, perhaps the ‘husband’ is merely there to pay the tab, the ‘boyfriend’ is there to approve a certain level of sex appeal, the ‘girlfriend’ is there for esteem and support…These ladies tend to browse more aimlessly around the store spotting trend queues, scanning shelves, looking at mannequins, watching staff and other shoppers.

*Perhaps this could be a good opportunity to encourage shopping in pairs: coupons, buy one get one free deals

2. I Work Hard for My Money – the lunchbreaks. A new class of independant hardworking career women who don’t wait for their man to buy them clothes on the weekend but would rather treat themselves. They care about looking good and apparently are willing to deny themselves food just to hit up the shops at noon. These women are 28-35 years and perfectly groomed, often with a matching handbag, lipstick and heels. They don’t shop with company, they are on a mission and know what they want, in and out. They are more demanding of staff. Steel determinism in their eyes. They will look chew you up and spit you out in a single look.

3. Runway Effect – the show-offs. You know the type, the people who can’t be bothered to line up for the dressing rooms but would rather strip down mid store and stake out their place in front of the mirror to try on that emu-fur bodysuit. It seems to have a two-way effect: 1) it makes the fashion-tryer feel gutsy and important and 2) observing people take note of their style choices and whether or not it makes sense for them.

*Imagine a store in China which had a mirrored area in the middle of the store to encourage people to try things on in front of shoppers. It would serve to both let show-offs model their style choices as well as influencing those around them. People in China like to watch.

4. Stuck on You – the staff shadow. Somehow somewhere someone long ago must have trained people that customer service means standing directly behind someone from the minute they enter the door and then creepily shadowing them until they get pissed off and leave. Who likes this? I’m pretty sure this is a universal dislike. I would think the majority of people enjoy browsing at their leisure, sans pressure from staff dude breathing down your neck, and then calling on someone’s help when you need it.

5. The Loudspeaker – another common sales tactic in stores where sales clerks basically just yell things at browsers in the hopes that something will get through. Mostly it’s in the form of promotions, ‘jeans and pants 30% off,’ or standard reminders ‘Huanying Guanglin’ [Welcome], ‘Anything you like you can try on’. This usually happens in mainstream, low-mid range retail environments. I can understand that with China’s mass population this is probably the easiest way to come across like you are making maximum contact with consumers, but as a shopper, the whole experience lacks personability and care.

*Brands should try to encourage store staff to switch it up a bit, I seriously can’t remember the last time I entered a store and was welcomed with any greeting other than ‘Huanying Guanglin.’ I bet it would make a serious difference if staff engaged people on a real, personal level, inquiring into their needs and really going out of their way to help.

5. The Staff Snob – on the other end of the spectrum, we have what happens when you start to move up the ladder and enter higher-end luxury brand stores: complete disinterest and indifference from staff. Maybe not all that different as what you might get if you walked into a Gucci store in Paris in dirty runners [which I have], but definitely a departure from how we might think luxury stores should treat customers. Also, I should add this isn’t always the case in China, I have definitely noticed certain hi-end brands like Cartier and LV were much more attentive.

*Educate staff better on the fine art of seeming genuine without being over the top or completely disengaged. It will help.

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