Buying Online- Who’s Doing The Favour?

John Singer Sargent
Self Portrait by John Singer Sargent

When your customer buys online, who benefits most, you or them? The question occurred to me after two contrasting experiences I had recently. One was with an arts organisation, the other was a commercial business.

First, the National Portrait Gallery. I read the reviews of the John Singer Sargent exhibition and thought I must see this. So, striking while the iron was hot, I bought tickets online. You might think that they NPG would be grateful to me for buying in advance. They have my money as opposed to leaving it open to the possibility that the excitement I was feeling might have dimmed by the time the day arrived. Do they thank me for this? No, they charge me an extra £1.65 booking fee.

I go into No1 Currency to buy some euros and am surprised to find the rate is lower than I’d seen online. The woman behind the counter explains that, to get the better rate, I need to use their online Click & Collect service. I can see why they do this. For the sacrifice of a few pennies profit, No1 Currency get all my personal details.

The short term thinking of the National Portrait Gallery- and sadly so many other arts institutions- means that they not only fail to secure ticket sales, they lose out on valuable customer data. Worse than that, by making their customers pay for the privilege of buying online, they actually damage their relationship with them. It seems as if they are still thinking that online purchasing is an optional extra that they are offering as a favour to their customers. Whereas customers believe online is a standard way to buy and that an electronic sale should if anything cost less than one over the counter.

Accountants may want to squeeze extra income from every transaction but Marketing and Sales people can’t afford to think this way. Short term gain must always be weighed against long term loss.

By the way, the John Singer Sargent exhibition lived up to the rave reviews. He had a rare ability to understand his sitters and his flawless technique enabled him to show the personality beneath their skin.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn

Three Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Pricing

£5.00 or 4.99? £5.00 or 5.00? £5.00 or £7.50 or both? Subtle differences maybe but they can make a big difference to your sales. In her recent post Francesca Nicasio nominates three questions to ask before you set your prices.

The first is whether you should use the old .99 trick. Of course it’s clumsy and no sensible person will be fooled by it but the fact is, according to research quoted by Francesca, twice as many people bought one particular product at 1.99 as 2.00. Although it goes against all common sense, our brains are programmed to notice the left bit of the price more than the right. Also, people associated .99 or .95 prices with bargains. But (and there’s always a but) if you’re competing on quality, your customers are more likely to associate round prices with quality products.

Then there’s the matter of the pound sign. Francesca describes an American restaurant that found customers spent more when they left the $ sign off the prices. Not enough of a sample to draw definite conclusions but maybe the sign reminds them that it’s real money they’re spending.

Finally, Francesca reminds us of the importance of choice. As I’ve mentioned before, customers love, no, need a choice. Some will always pay top dollar, some will go for the cheapest and so on, but most will plump for the middle. In fact, if your customers are always going for the highest prices, you’re probably not charging enough. Offering a range of prices gives your customer something to compare with and reassures them that the price they choose is reasonable. I think the trend to price a handful of the ‘best’ theatre seats at a very high price is a good one. It makes the previous top price seem like really good value. And, if you’ve over priced them, you can always sell your best seats off cheaper at the last minute.

Check out Francesca Nicasio’s blog here. Take a look at my 7 Tips on Effective Pricing.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience based at Hampshire Workspace, and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

What You Want When You Want It

Photo of keyboard‘You can have any colour as long as it’s black,’ said Henry Ford following his invention of the mass production factory line. These days he would say, ‘You can have whatever colour you want plus an infinite combination of fixtures and fittings.’

The massive change brought about by the digital age has affected all businesses, as I was reminded listening to Peter Day’s The World Turned Upside Down on BBC Radio 4. I discovered very quickly for myself that retailing wasn’t what it used to be when I opened my shop in Winchester six years ago. Before I was a marketer, I was a bookseller. In those far off days, booksellers bought mass produced books to sell in a local bookshop. I gave customers a choice of titles as far as space would allow.

I imagined the situation would be similar when my wife and I opened our gift shop. Instead, I found that my customers’ choice now extended to the hundreds of retailers on the internet. Which meant a much greater choice of products as well as prices. We soon concentrated on handmade goods which are always unique in some way.

It would have been worse if I’d gone back into the book trade where Amazon was offering readers pretty much every book published. Today, with the advent of e-books, anyone can publish their own book or set up as a publisher and sell books of the most minority interest, even extreme sexual fantasies, according to an outraged Mail On Sunday.

This is the unstoppable trend. As a dinosaur who grew up in the pre-digital age of mass consumption, I, like most of us, am only beginning to understand the new customised world we find ourselves in. Modern technology allows a retailer to find out exactly what each customer wants and, by way of 3D printing among other things, makes it possible to provide it. Peter Day quotes Joe Pine of Strategic Horizons, ‘Customers don’t want choice, they just want exactly what they want.’

Take your mobile phone as an example. (How quaint that we still call this handheld data processing device a ‘phone’.) You can choose from thousands of apps and end up with a unique mixture that reflects exactly what you need.

Google has become the world’s biggest media business by providing millions of advertisements targeted to individuals who themselves are provided with customised search results.

Your choice of music is no longer dictated by what record shops stock or a handful of music stations play. Now you can download any track you like, even the most obscure self recorded singer, or tailor your streamed listening to match what you already know you like. You prefer Ambient House to Acid House or Glam Metal to Gothic Metal? No problem.

Internet entreprenur Joe Kraus expresses it succinctly: ‘The 20th Century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers. The 21st Century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers.’ I think one of the reasons why theatre and other live performances are increasingly popular is that the experience is customised to each night’s audience and each person in that audience can have an effect on it.

Yes, there are still big hits that gain a mass audience but these are increasingly sourced from and driven by today’s customised media. So Justin Bieber began his career by posting a video on YouTube and 50 Shades Of Grey started as fiction self-published on a website.

As Will Self pointed out in The Observer, instead of relying on an elite handful of critics, curators, publishers or producers to tell us what to like, we are turning to the many individuals who post and vote on the web and together create a critical mass known as ‘trending’ or ‘viral’.

You can still sell a mass produced product and try to compete on price but it’s a race to bankruptcy. The successful businesses of the 21st century will be the ones who find ways to provide you with exactly what you need exactly when you need it.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience and online retailer Your Life Your Style, and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

Is Morecambe Wise? A seaside resort reacts to changing times

In Morecambe, private enterprise has not matched the efforts of the local authorities

This is the story of Morecambe. Not the comedian originally called Eric Bartholomew but the seaside resort he came from and named himself after.
At the time he chose the name for his show business career, Eric must have thought it stood for glamour, excitement and popularity. If we were living back then, we would say, ‘He isn’t wrong, you know’ but times have changed. A once vibrant holiday destination is now, as I found when I went there last week, quite run down and where crowds thronged, there are now a handful of families.Photo of Paul Lewis and Eric Morecambe statue
This is a shame because Morecambe has a lot going for it. You can see why it was once a jewel in the North West’s crown. A beautiful bay facing the Lake District where sunsets glow red; a sandy beach; a promenade along which you can take a romantic walk; friendly welcoming people; an amazing hotel. I think I’ve remembered all the right things but not necessarily in the right order. Perhaps the hotel should come first.
The Midland Hotel is in many ways Morecambe’s biggest attraction. Holidaymakers looking for sandy beaches and romantic sunsets go elsewhere these days, a trend that began in the sixties when cheap airplane flights offered the British the chance to get out of that unpredictable weather and expose their short fat hairy legs to the hot sun of Spain and beyond.
The Midland, built in 1933 and a superb example of art deco architecture, has been lovingly refurbished so that when you stay there, as I did, you feel like you’ve returned to a golden age. The staff and facilities are excellent and the uninterrupted views of the bay unbeatable. It is a popular venue for weddings which is why I was there- not to get married, to attend my cousin’s wedding. No doubt people also use The Midland as a base for exploring the beautiful countryside. The one thing I doubt they do is spend much time in Morecambe.
What has happened at The Midland is reflected all along Morecambe sea front. Every effort has been made by the local authority to make it an attractive place to visit. The pier and promenade have been wonderfully restored and decorated with attractive sculptures of seabirds. Most famously and deservedly so, there’s a larger than life statue of Eric Morecambe, beautifully presented. You can pose with him pretty much how you want- they can’t touch you for it, because he’s such a big attraction.
That’s all on one side of the seafront road. But, cross that road and it’s a different story. From The Midland, in its splendid isolation as the only building next to the sea, you can’t see the join, but from everywhere else the fault line between between public investment and private initiative is clear. In Morecambe, private enterprise has not matched the efforts of the local authorities or followed in the footsteps of the Midland Hotel.
Driving slowly along the main seafront road, I noticed an ice cream parlour with no queue. I thought he won’t sell many ice creams. Going at that speed, I could take in the amusement arcades and fish and chip shops but hardly any big name shops. When my wife said,’What do you think of it so far?’, you can imagine the response I thought of. ‘You said that without moving your lips,’ she quipped. In fact, even when I explored the back streets, I couldn’t find many of the wine bars, pavement cafes and entertainment venues that are signs of a prospering town. At least there were some interesting independent shops.
Somehow the local authorities need to persuade businesses to open up there in order to attract visitors. No doubt they’d respond, ‘That’s easy for you to say.’ Despite all the efforts to make the seafront attractive, hard headed businesspeople won’t move in until there’s a market for them. So it’s chicken and egg. I pictured our own King Canute sitting in Morecambe Bay to prove that the decline is as unstoppable as the tide.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about the prospects of reviving the fortunes of a seaside resort like Morecambe but Bournemouth has shown that it can be done. Its arsenal of nightlife, shopping and entertainment keeps short stay visitors coming in droves. Mind you, it also has the advantage of being on the main train line. To get to Morecambe, whether by rail or road, you have to get through the challenge of Lancaster. There’s no answer to that lack of an easy route.
I realise I’ve made next to no reference to Morecambe’s most famous son. I think Eric’s own experience shows that times inevitably change but that it is possible to reinvent yourself. Morecambe and Wise’s initial efforts as a music hall act and then as a TV duo went flat but they kept trying until they got the formula right and went on to become Britain’s most popular comedy act. I hope Morecambe keeps trying until it succeeds. The town and its lovely hospitable people are a double act worth seeing.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience and online retailer Your Life Your Style, both based at Hampshire Workspace, and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.