Harry Gordon Selfridge opened the iconic Oxford Street store 39,500 days ago (15th March 1909,) as part of his retail revolution. Selfridge certainly understood the art of sales. Looking back, has so much really changed in today’s digital world?
The whole art of merchandising consists of appealing to the imagination. Once the imagination is moved, the hand goes naturally to the pocket. But if the first appeal is to the purse, the imagination is apt to revolt and raise barriers against buying. In trade, as in most other things, the mind is master.
To make a comparison let’s frame two steps in reaching a sale: generating visitors, and getting visitors to buy.
For a physical store, this means footfall and how your alluring store front can create the traffic. Then with visitors through the door, you would use instore marketing (point of sale displays etc) to take over the process.
Add some friendly sales staff for the higher margin products - guiding and explaining - those cosmetics counters have people on them for a reason! Tailored expertise, a pleasant buying experience and someone to close the sale over all those other vendors on the high street.
The parallel holds for the ‘world's high street’ – the internet and buying online. Either organic SEO or commercial PPC to drive traffic. Clever layout, micro-personalisation and unique content provide the "instore" marketing. Et voila…sales will roll in? Correct? I don't think so.
There's something or somebody missing, particularly for those high-value customers and high margin items.
People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.
How is it possible to sit up and take notice in the digital world? The first step is to understand what is important to the people. There are really only two ways: guess or ask. Big data advocates say we should guess. Either ‘most people’ or your history suggests something. But I’m pretty sure Mr Selfridge would have preferred his people to ask. So how?
To find out, we move to Harry Gordon Selfridge’s grandson, Oliver, who died in 2009 at the age of 82. Oliver was a pioneer too, but of Artificial Intelligence which he studied at MIT. In a 1958 paper, Pandemonium: a Paradigm for Learning, he outlined a neurologically inspired system of electronic machine components, which he called "demons". There is some irony given the talk of AI taking all our jobs!
Had the retail magnate and the technologist been able to collaborate in today’s world, would it have been so remarkable if they had developed a way to electronically sit up and take notice of the customer? I suspect it would have been successful: capturing the imagination of the customer and delivering those highly valuable customers and high margin sales.
In fact, I don’t just suspect it would have been successful, I know. Because what I describe is an AMO digital salesperson. Asking the right questions and acting on the customer’s answers. Knowing more about the products and being faster than a person to deliver even better service in high-value situations. Is it time for you to sit up and take notice?