Beyond obvious

This first bit has nothing to do with apparel but I was struck by the news about the french architect who’s proposed the theory that the pyramids were built from the inside out. Not having studied pyramids at length but still, owing to their internal complexities, I’d always assumed they’d been built that way. Furthermore that this was so well known that it wasn’t the slightest bit remarkable much less a controversial new theory. I mean, isn’t this obvious? Sometimes I wonder where my head is at, it never occurred to me that leading researchers thought it’d been done any other way.

Continuing with the beyond obviousness concept, retail researchers have determined (free but registration may be required) that having more salespeople on the floor or reallocating them, “drive customer satisfaction and retail execution success.”

But what surprised Fisher, Netessine and Krishnan the most was the potential financial return if the unnamed retailer were to make even a modest investment in hiring more staff…”We were amazed to find how this retailer could increase sales by changing its staffing resources through adding more employees or simply reallocating existing staff,” says Netessine. “In some stores, the sales leap would be $28 to $1 in employee costs, and that was really striking. We were blown away. It never occurred to most of the retailers that by moving employees around the stores, you could increase sales.”

In another piece from Wharton (How the Offer of ‘Free Shipping’ Affects On-line Shopping), I think it’s obvious that online shoppers like free shipping, but I didn’t know to the extent that this benefit had an affect. I do like buying from Zappos because I don’t have to worry about paying return shipping if the item doesn’t fit. It’s not the money and it’s not even the hassle of returns since I’m set up to absorb that function. I can’t define it but it feels like a stupid tax, that I have to pay a penalty for having bought the wrong size, making a mistake and incurring a financial penalty I would have avoided if I could have the opportunity to try them on at a store (I can’t around here). This article is a good one, well worth clicking through.

Consumers like free shipping offers, perhaps because it makes the online retail transaction more comparable with that at the neighborhood store. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that consumer behavior changes when shipping fees are imposed. With fees, shoppers will make fewer shopping trips and purchase more goods at a time — not unlike shoppers who drive great distances to a particular store, Bell says, and decide they had better stock up while they’re there. Alternately, fees can prompt consumers to simply walk away. A survey from 2004 found that shipping and handling costs triggered 52% of the abandonment of online shopping carts, Bell says.

This next quote is telling, reflecting the position of most internet retailers (self included); maybe we should rethink this -unless you already offer free shipping.

While some might argue that shipping fees are merely a substitute for the time and travel costs involved with visiting a bricks-and-mortar retailer, consumers may not buy that argument, Bell notes, adding that the link might not be so clear in the minds of many because travel costs are not collected at the traditional retailer’s point of sale.

I’m willing to experiment. I know how many books I sell weekly; the figure fluctuates depending on the calender but I’ll test this out. Send me an email with free shipping in the subject line (or mention it by phone 505-877-1713) and you’ll get free shipping on your book purchase. Provided you get it from me, I have no control over what Amazon tacks on and I have to pay nearly $12 in commission on every title I sell there. Still -and speaking of Amazon- I probably overspend there in part (in part!) because I get free shipping. I got a free trial for that service but they’ve never billed me, it’s likely I meet the monthly spending threshold anyway. It’s like getting a free book with each order. And not just books either, whatever I buy. With printers and hardware, the savings can be substantial, $35 or more. I can get even more of a return if I click on any of my Amazon links to navigate to Amazon because my trip will be embedded with my affiliate code and I get a referral fee on anything I purchase in that session-or yours if you do that. I know some of you do that and I really appreciate it. Joan wrote me the other day saying she did that to buy some pricey hardware. I’m going to have to take her out to lunch!

Before I digressed, I was talking about obviousness. Now I want to know why we don’t do things that are obvious. Like buying compact fluorescent bulbs when the savings are so dramatic. While a compact fluorescent costs maybe $2 each when buying singly, they save $30 to $100 over traditional bulbs. Some hints to the answers can be found in a recent post from NeuroScience Marketing called Green Neuromarketing.

In fact, neuroeconomics research provides a logical explanation of the slow adoption rate for the fluorescent bulbs. Consumers “know” what lightbulbs cost from years of experience. Seeing a price of $5 for one bulb is likely to create an automatic, “Wow, that’s an expensive bulb!” reaction, while four bulbs for a dollar will do just the opposite, prompting, “Gee, that’s really a bargain!”. Based on work by CMU’s George Loewenstein and others (see The Pain of Buying), we know that prices perceived as too high activate the pain centers in the brain. In that study, researchers could predict whether or not a consumer would purchase an item just by studying fMRI brain scan data with accuracy almost as equal to the subjects own self-reported purchase intention.

People buy cars because they make a statement about the owner, and the Prius says, “I am doing my part to save the environment.”

The problem with compact fluorescents as compared to a Prius is that they don’t offer the same signaling opportunities. By that I mean you can tool around town in your Prius and “signal” to passing strangers how cool you are but these signaling opportunities are limited with the mundane light bulb. And clothing for that matter. There’s no way -unless your brand is well marketed and known- your line can signal eco-coolness and the benefits of your process. There’s a lesson in there somewhere but it’s not obvious.

Grace sent me the link to a post she wrote (how we found her blog in the first place) called Stick that up your light socket balancing the sustainability debate with an explanation of why incandescents are useful.

Now, California’s legislators are talking about banning incandescent light bulbs altogether. There are so many more productive ways they can spend their time. Where to start?

First, CFBs cannot completely replace incandescent bulbs. Most CFBs hum when used in dimmable light fixtures. The few (and expensive) dimmable CFBs on the market do not have the same dynamic range as incandescent bulbs. Since CFBs take up to 15 minutes to reach maximum brightness, you wouldn’t want to use them for lights that are used only for short periods of time–say in a closet, a refrigerator or a bathroom.

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