Category Archives: Shopping

Capture the Elusive Teenage Demographic

Teenagers are as unpredictable as the weather happy and sunny one hour and then clouding over with the storms the next. Teenagers are about as fickle as they come much to the dismay of parents and teachers everywhere.

Retailers who cater to these consumers are equally baffled and have spent the last several years trying to figure out what teens want, how to communicate with this target audience and what price points are acceptable.

Teenagers are more aware

The teenage category has changed drastically over the last several years. These shoppers have grown up with technology and desire innovative, fresh ideas. They have Smartphones, iPads and iPods and they know (unlike me) how to use all of the buttons and features. Teens know exactly what they are looking for, what it costs and where to find it. They are not going to the mall to browse racks of clothes and try on endless piles of jeans– they have already gone online, shopped around, solicited opinions from their friends and made a decision.

This is bad news for traditional retail favorites like the GAP and Abercrombie & Fitch. Over the course of the last decade, it’s become more complicated to be a teen and dress a teen. If you remember dressing in head-to-toe Esprit and Aerospostale when you were in high school, you may be disappointed to hear that today’s teenagers are much more discerning. It’s no longer about the same brand for everything, now it’s all about mixing and matching to create an individual style.

Mainstays take a hit

Stores that used to be mainstays Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerospostale and American Eagle, to name a few, are fending off some serious competition as new trends emerge.  “Fast fashion” stores like H&M, Forever 21 and Uniqlo, which specialize in taking pieces from the runway, reproducing them quickly and inexpensively and making them available to consumers, have gained a foothold. Traditional retailers haven’t been able to keep up with these changes, causing some industry observers to note than if they can’t adapt more quickly, they are going to lose their customer base permanently to those who can.

Further complicating the landscape is a shake-up at the top, where a lot of companies are seeing a change in leadership, switching out C-level executives for others and mixing things up the store level. Styles and fits that were flying off the shelves last year are no longer cutting it, so new products are being tested and stores themselves are being refreshed. As eCommerce gains momentum, teen retailers are also paying more attention to their websites and how items are marketed.

So how do we know what teens want?

Today’s teens are tech-savvy with disposable income more than 29 percent live in homes where the average income is $100,000 are more. They are fascinated by gossip, photos and blogs and what celebrities wear helps dictate what teens want to buy. They may not be able to afford the designer gown Selena Gomez was wearing in a magazine, but a similar dress that’s available at H&M for a fraction of the price may fly off the shelves.

Tracking Teens’ Buying Habits Helps

One of the most effective ways for you to see if your marketing or product line is resonating with any target group is a traffic counting system or loyalty program. A loyalty program that is tied into the POS system will reward a shopper for their purchase and brand loyalty but also give you a goldmine of data you can use to evaluate your store’s performance. The data can tell you what your customers are buying, how often they are shopping and at what price point.

Sometimes it seems like teenage behavior is a mystery to almost everyone except teens themselves. Smart retailers should implement technology that will help them decipher teenagers’ buying habits, or they may possibly find themselves awash in stock they cannot sell and marketing campaigns that aren’t resonating.

Online Shopping and E-Commerce In Americans

Americans are incorporating a wide range of digital tools and platforms into their purchasing decisions and buying habits, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults. The survey finds that roughly eight-in-ten Americans are now online shoppers: 79% have made an online purchase of any type, while 51% have bought something using a cellphone and 15% have made purchases by following a link from social media sites. When the Center first asked about online shopping in a June 2000 survey, just 22% of Americans had made a purchase online. In other words, today nearly as many Americans have made purchases directly through social media platforms as had engaged in any type of online purchasing behavior 16 years ago.

But even as a sizeable majority of Americans have joined the world of e-commerce, many still appreciate the benefits of brick-and-mortar stores. Overall, 64% of Americans indicate that, all things being equal, they prefer buying from physical stores to buying online. Of course, all things are often not equal – and a substantial share of the public says that price is often a far more important consideration than whether their purchases happen online or in physical stores. Fully 65% of Americans indicate that when they need to make purchases they typically compare the price they can get in stores with the price they can get online and choose whichever option is cheapest. Roughly one-in-five (21%) say they would buy from stores without checking prices online, while 14% would typically buy online without checking prices at physical locations first.

Although cost is often key, today’s consumers come to their purchasing decisions with a broad range of expectations on a number of different fronts. When buying something for the first time, more than eight-in-ten Americans say it is important to be able to compare prices from different sellers (86%), to be able to ask questions about what they are buying (84%), or to buy from sellers they are familiar with (84%). In addition, more than seven-in-ten think it is important to be able to try the product out in person (78%), to get advice from people they know (77%), or to be able to read reviews posted online by others who have purchased the item (74%). And nearly half of Americans (45%) have used cellphones while inside a physical store to look up online reviews of products they were interested in, or to try and find better prices online.

The survey also illustrates the extent to which Americans are turning toward the collective wisdom of online reviews and ratings when making purchasing decisions. Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say they consult online ratings and reviews when buying something for the first time. In fact, 40% of Americans (and roughly half of those under the age of 50) indicate that they nearly always turn to online reviews when buying something new. Moreover, nearly half of Americans feel that customer reviews help “a lot” to make consumers feel confident about their purchases (46%) and to make companies be accountable to their customers (45%).

But even as the public relies heavily on online reviews when making purchases, many Americans express concerns over whether or not these reviews can be trusted. Roughly half of those who read online reviews (51%) say that they generally paint an accurate picture of the products or businesses in question, but a similar share (48%) say it’s often hard to tell if online reviews are truthful and unbiased.

Finally, this survey documents a pronounced shift in how Americans engage with one of the oldest elements of the modern economy: physical currency. Today nearly one-quarter (24%) of Americans indicate that none of the purchases they make in a typical week involve cash. And an even larger share – 39% – indicates that they don’t really worry about having cash on hand, since there are so many other ways of paying for things these days. Nonwhites, low-income Americans and those 50 and older are especially likely to rely on cash as a payment method.

Among the other findings of this national survey of 4,787 U.S. adults conducted from Nov. 24 to Dec. 21, 2015:

  • 12% of Americans have paid for in-store purchases by swiping or scanning their cellphones at the register.
  • Awareness of the alternative currency bitcoin is quite high, as 48% of Americans have heard of bitcoins. However, just 1% of the public has actually used, collected or traded bitcoins.
  • 39% of Americans have shared their experiences or feelings about a commercial transaction on social media platforms.

Retail Traffic Counter Can Improve Customer Service

Customer service is one of the top factors people consider when they decide whether or not to visit your store. The RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report notes that “89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.” A second statistic, from Parature, says that “it takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience.”

  • Tough competition

There’s more competition than ever before and the stakes have never been higher—it’s predicted that by 2016, Americans will spend over $325 billion online.  Online-only retailers are growing their market share leaps and bounds because they  don’t have the overhead of operating a B&M location and can offer rock-bottom prices on products delivered right to your door. This can be hard to resist, so stores are fighting back with improved loyalty plans, digital signage and omni-channel marketing.

  • The customer is still always right

Despite all of these technological advances, the customer is still king and it’s the face-to-face interaction in-store that will largely determine whether or a not a shopper returns. And as shoppers look to buy more and more products online, retailers are investing more resources to ensure that every customer service interaction is a good one.

Much of customer service begins with staffing and understanding the busiest times. You don’t want to be the retailer where the checkout lines are always long and people are frustrated because there’s no one on the floor to help them.

At its most basic level, retail traffic counters can tell retailers how many people are visiting the store and how long they are staying. Retailers may also employ these counters around the store to determine what the busiest departments are, and if more staff is needed at changing rooms.

Using a retail traffic counter helps to optimize a retailer’s staffing so there are enough employees on-hand during the busiest shifts and ensures you are not wasting money by having too many people on the floor during slower times.

  • Lost in Aisle 5

Another common complaint you may hear is that “I can never find anything!” If you have a retail traffic counter and you use it in conjunction with your point of sale system, you can identify what the hot selling items are and place those displays front and center so people aren’t wandering around aimlessly searching for a certain product.

Retail traffic counters can also determine what areas people are visiting  around the store and assist with the planning and resetting of displays. By evaluating the way people traverse your store, you can see which pathways are the most frequented, which areas are underutilized and where there may be issues like crowding.

Retail traffic counters help keep eyes on nearly every aspect of your retail store. Gathering these analytics can help you make the changes for a better, faster and more pleasant customer experience at your business.

The Secret to Raising Retail Conversion Rates

Simply tracking your store’s sales isn’t enough. Retail managers and store owners also need to know how many customers are leaving the store without making purchases.

Counting customers can help determine the relationship between the number of visitors and the number of purchases in a store or the conversion rates and, ultimately, how to strengthen that relationship.

Low conversion rates could suggest that visitors aren’t happy with the product or the pricing, among other problems. That’s where counting comes in. People counting hardware allows retail managers and store owners to get to know their customers what they like and dislike.

The data obtained answers questions like:
– Which days of the week have the most trafficking?
– Which days have the least?
– Was there an increase in trafficking during a sale or promotion period?

And with these answers, managers can see what is and isn’t working in their stores and adapt accordingly. The equipment can work wonders in three ways:

  1. You won’t find yourself over or understaffed. Knowing your store’s busy and slow days will help you optimize labor while scheduling. For example, on the days that the store usually sees the least amount of visitors, employees can maintain productivity by cleaning, performing maintenance tasks, or unloading a new shipment of products. You won’t have to put maintenance tasks on a back burner during your busy days.
  2. You can discover the best ways reach your customers. Measuring your customers’ response to advertisements with retail counting hardware will tell you which medium of communication is most effective. For example, customers without a newspaper subscription aren’t likely to respond to an ad in the local paper. Knowing how to reach them will make your promotions translate to traffic.
  3. You will never make the same mistakes twice. Having an understanding of what your customers prefer will keep you from taking risks in your business ventures. Say goodbye to poor returns on investments. You can integrate traffic data obtained from people counting hardware into your overall marketing and advertising plans and measure traffic to support project funding.

Trafficking sensors comes in several forms overhead, horizontal, wireless, bi and unidirectional, and thermal. They can detect customers from all angles, no matter the size or scope of a store. Many models are web-compatible, making it easy to view and store the data.

People counting hardware is an invaluable tool that not only saves money by minimizing store costs, but makes money by maximizing profits.

Five tips for online shopping

Online shopping can change your life with its convenience and ease. Find out how to make the most of shopping online with our five useful tips.

With everything from shoes and handbags to furniture, technology and car insurance, you can buy whatever you want, whenever you want online. To make the most of shopping online, here’s what you need to look out for and consider before buying online.

1. Read the returns and cancellation policies carefully

It’s a good idea to look at the small print before you agree to purchase anything online.

Know what your rights are in terms of cancellations, in case you change your mind or find the item cheaper elsewhere.

And make sure you read the returns policy thoroughly, to avoid being stuck with something that doesn’t fit.

2. Know your sizes and measurements

When online shopping for clothes, use a tape measure and jot down your measurements, then keep them handy to avoid sizing errors and disappointment. Bear in mind that clothing sizes can vary from brand to brand – and even item to item – so check it with every purchase.

Remember to check measurement conversions too, if you’re buying from another country.

If you’re buying items, such as household goods or furniture, make sure you know whether measurements are in metric or imperial. And how much it will cost to ship heavy goods.

3. Look at the reviews

If it’s your first time buying from a particular online store, spend a few minutes looking at online reviews, or ask a friend what their experience has been with that vendor.

You’ll want to know about things like the quality of their goods and services, what their customer service record is like, and whether there have been any issues with credit card security. Before you click ‘purchase,’ be sure you want to do business with them.

4. Fill your cart or start a wish list

Throw everything you like the look of in your online shopping cart, or add everything to a wish list, and cull once you’ve finished browsing. Then leave it for a day or two, if the purchases aren’t urgent.

Retailers are constantly monitoring your shopping experience. They want you to buy from them, so they’ll do everything they can to seal the deal, even sometimes sending you discount coupons or reducing the prices of your chosen items.

5. Look for the best deals

Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted! And with online shopping, the more time you put into your search, the more fruitful and economically savvy your purchases will be.

You don’t have to buy from the first or most beautiful-looking website. Keep on trawling and chances are you’ll find bargains, coupons, sales, loyalty points, free deliveries, new customer deals and many more ways to keep prices down and find what you really want.

 

Are department stores dead?

Last week Hudson’s Bay announced 2,000 job cuts. This week Sears Canada raised doubts about its future.  Are the days of the department store dead?

Sadly, I think they are; maybe not in the next few years but definitely in the next decade. You only have to look back at what has been happening in the past 10 years to know the department store model has been in trouble.

I shopped at the Bay on the weekend and saw how customer service has declined. There were long lineups at tills and few staff on the floor to answer customers’ questions.

We all bear some responsibility in this decline. Online shopping has been the biggest competitor for larger stores.

Addressing the bottom line usually means a cut in staff. Less staff means more waiting and in a society where we have become accustomed to having everything on-demand, we turn our backs on a way of shopping whose time has passed.

Kids Shopping

CHICAGO — During this holiday season, the treatment of young children in public places is something that should be the concern of all of us. Children don`t really like to shop, especially children ages one to ten, unless it is at a toy store or specifically for them.

Instead of dragging them to all corners of the earth for shopping, perhaps what we should do is give them our time. By time I mean involving ourselves in children`s lives, children`s concerns, children`s expectations and children`s joys-not having them conform to adult wishes as if they were an object.

We often see children shopping late of night who are terribly fatigued and not interested at all in finding a sweater for Aunt Kay. I cringe every time I see a child getting smacked for “not behaving right“ while shopping.

Children need to learn respect and manners, but to attempt to teach manners while they are involved in adult activities is not the appropriate place. The holidays would be a lot happier for all if we realized the most precious gift is the gift of our child and we should celebrate their lives.

Bargain-shopping Blackhawks

The bold moves by the Blackhawks’ Central Division rivals came early on the opening day of free agency.

A short time after the Stars acquired Jason Spezza in a blockbuster trade Tuesday, the Blues opened their pocketbook to sign the coveted Paul Stastny to a huge contract and the Avalanchescooped up veteran sniper Jarome Iginla. The Wild followed by bringing Thomas Vanek into the fold and the Jets even got into the act when they added Mathieu Perreault to bolster their center position.

All the while, the Hawks were relatively quiet, only re-signing veteran center Peter Regin to a one-year, $650,000 contract.

Just when it seemed the Hawks would be content entering the 2014-15 season with Andrew Shaw, who is better suited as a winger, or unproven prospect Teuvo Teravainen as their second-line center, general manager Stan Bowman landed a bigger fish with a late-afternoon signing of veteran Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract.

Just like that, the Hawks had a legitimate No. 2 center.

“It’s a big moment for us to be able to add someone of (Richards’) caliber as a hockey player and as an individual,” Bowman said. “He brings so many things to the table for us. There are a lot of options for our coaching staff now. We’ve certainly been searching for someone that is an experienced center in the NHL. He’s played a lot of years and done a lot of incredible things.”

Richards, 34, was a key member of the Rangers team that reached the Stanley Cup Final with 20 goals and 31 assists in 82 regular-season games. New York used its final compliance buyout on the remainder of Richards’ nine-year, $60 million contract signed in ’11 to make him an unrestricted free agent, and the Hawks pounced though they were offering only a one-year, cut-rate deal.

“If I was going to go to Chicago, we had to work out something in this fashion,” Richards said. “I was very flexible. I’m coming in because I’m pretty confident that I can still play a lot of hockey in this league. I saw a great opportunity to play on a great team and fill a role. If it’s one year, that’s fine. Hopefully, we make it work and who knows what can happen down the road?”

Joining a Hawks team loaded with offensive talent and a chance to center a line with Patrick Kane was a big lure for Richards.

“When you look at the opportunity to play here it’s pretty exciting because you know that if you’re playing center on the top two lines you’re playing with a great player — probably two great players,” Richards said. “Patrick Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league. When you get a chance to maybe team up with one of those players on a line … it makes you feel pretty excited. I can’t wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody.”

The deal appears to be a bargain for the Hawks, and that’s the only way they were going to bring in a player who can assume a big role. Factoring in Teravainen making the roster after a summer spent in Finland developing, the Richards signing puts the Hawks about $2.2 million over the NHL’s $69 million upper limit to the salary cap. Bowman will be forced to make a move at some point to clear cap space, but he said that is not a concern.

“We have some ideas on what we’re going to do,” Bowman said. “That will play itself out … over the summer as we prepare for training camp. We’ll certainly make it work.”

Shop at work

There are men who love to shop. I just don’t know any.

The fellas I’m related to, the guys I work with and the ones I see when I’m out shopping would rather have a tooth yanked (without Novocain) than pick out a suit, choose a shirt, or, for that matter, shop for sweat socks. A good example of this mind set is Peter Bentler, a 27-year-old financial adviser at Smith Barney, who told me that shopping “is really torture.” “Going into stores, looking at multiple things? … I hate it.”

It’s this kind of negative attitude that Daniel Wiebracht thrives on. Wiebracht is a “professional clothier” who counts Bentler among his devoted clients.

Wiebracht’s job is to keep you out of stores. He is the store. Wiebracht comes to your office, assesses your needs, shows you the stuff, takes your measurements, orders the clothes — down to the socks and boxer shorts if that’s what you want — and then delivers it all, waits for you to try it on and will take it back for further alterations if you don’t like the fit. “It’s the best deal ever,” said Bentler.

I’d always assumed that this was the kind of service that Michael Jordan, Donald Trump and Tom Cruise employ to outfit themselves for their busy lives as zillionaires. Many menswear shops will offer personal service if you spend a great deal of money at their stores.

But I’ve recently learned that the same thing is available to regular people with less astronomical incomes, retailphobics who just want to avoid shopping in stores but either don’t trust their own judgment or want the personal attention you can’t get shopping online.

“Our ready-made suits start at $359 and you get the same service as someone who is spending $4,000 on a suit,” said Wiebracht, a personable, well-dressed 23-year-old salesman. He works for a company called Tom James, a privately owned firm founded in Nashville in 1966 that does not advertise and relies on word of mouth to acquire its clients. (The company also does women’s business suits, but the vast majority of its clients are male.)

With 23 sales employees, the Tom James Chicago office is the largest of the firm’s 182 worldwide offices, a strong indicator that Chicago men are busier, lazier, more store averse — or all three — than their counterparts in other big cities.

The company makes many of its own fabrics and manufactures suits for its label as well as for many department store labels, claiming the title of “the world’s largest manufacturer and retailer of custom clothing.”

I met Dan Wiebracht and his supervisor, Eric Kean, 29, in the lobby of the Loop office building at 70 W. Madison St. where they were about to deliver a charcoal suit to Bentler — his first custom-made garment. When we arrived at the front desk of Smith Barney on the 51st floor, Wiebracht seemed to know everyone, even though he has only worked for the company since January. “Hi Emma,” he greeted the receptionist. “How you doing?”

Tom James sales territory is divvied up by building, which is why so many of the Smith Barney guys are Wiebracht clients. “Ryan, looking great!” Wiebracht greeted one man in shirt sleeves. “That’s one of my shirts,” Wiebracht boasted. “And my ties.”

“The idea is to keep our client out of the stores,” explained Kean. This is why Tom James will even alter old suits bought somewhere else, just to prevent a client from the temptation of spending money in a store.

“If he goes to Brooks Brothers to tailor a suit, he might pick up a couple shirts — and we don’t want that,” said Kean. “The idea is to be a full-service clothier.”

In fact, that’s almost — but not entirely — true. You can’t buy exercise clothing or gym shoes from Tom James, and if you want underwear, it will cost you: boxers start at $19.75; T-shirts are $48 and boxer-briefs go for $42.

But custom-made suits start at $599 (and can cost as much as $13,999) with more than 500 fabrics to chose from. Custom shirts (250 fabrics) start at $79 (minimum of four) with ready-made starting at $59. Various sales can lower those prices.

“It’s really easy,” said Bentler. “They helped me catalog what I have and what I needed and basically fill holes in my wardrobe.”

On this visit, Bentler first tried on an old Brooks Brothers suit. Wiebracht charged $75 to alter it after Bentler lost 60 pounds (“I rediscovered exercise”) and dropped 10 inches off his waist. Then came the custom suit. “Great, great job,” said Bentler, buttoning up his new jacket.

That settled, Wiebracht pulled out a handful of handsome ties to go with the new suit. Bentler chose two (at $65 per) and declined the pitch for some custom shirts although he did seek some shirt advice. “What’s the deal with striping?” he asked.

Answer: Kean said striped suits are fine with both a striped shirt and a striped tie as long as the stripes in all three are different widths.

After a first visit that can last an hour (wardrobe evaluation is free and they’ll even come to your house if you want), most subsequent meetings take less than 15 minutes. “I’ve got clients who are, ‘All right, you’ve got two minutes!'” said Kean.

Before they part company, Wiebracht made a plan to contact Bentler again in a few months. The agenda: a navy blue suit.

Thrifty Shop

Who isn’t looking for a pick-me-up these days? But how to feed that urge without the splurge?

Want to treat yourself to a lot of shopping fun while spending just a little? Let me help.

I’ve been cruising around, looking at stores both large and small that provide plenty of entertaining browsing and a load of satisfying purchases — for under $20.

If you can’t find something to brighten dreary winter days at the stores shown here (for you or those lucky friends on your gift list), then you’re just not looking.

Hazel

1902 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-769-2227, hazelchicago.com

This really is one-stop shopping for brightening our frigid sun-free zone. And if you’re looking for a present, owner David Vail makes it easy. In the three-room shop you’ll find small sections devoted to baby, men, plus lots of unique jewelry (vintage and costume), housewares, cards and — even — flowers. Seriously, Hazel has it all. If they served coffee and snacks you’d never have to leave.

Ravenswood locals have been shopping Hazel since it opened 6 1/2 years ago, but I just discovered it. Now, you can’t keep me away.

While I was there a customer walked in the front door and almost shrieked with joy, “This IS the store!”

Within my self-inflicted $20 budget, I found a trunkload of irresistibles, including white ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like modern art mini-boulders ($10). Also, magnet bud vases made from test tubes ($7), and live and silk flowers to put in them; cuff links shaped like safety pins ($14); a pretty pink starburst rhinestone ring ($9.50) and on and on and … on.

Renegade Handmade

1924 W. Division St.; 773-227-2707, renegadehandmade.com

If you love D.I.Y., handmade, etsy.com, this is the place to shop for instant gratification (though the store recently opened an online component as well). I didn’t find as many under $20 items as I’d expected, but there still were plenty including “kitsch plates” switch plates and outlet covers made from vintage wallpaper ($12); cross-stitched pins of hearts and little girl heads ($18); and a brightly colored hardbound mini memo pad with pen ($17.50). There’s a large selection of posters, art, T-shirts and onesies for infants. Many of the crafters are Chicagoans.

Ten Thousand Villages

121 N. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-848-4572, tenthousandvillages.com

This fair-trade retailer, with several shops in the Chicago area, stocks handmade jewelry, wearables, decorative items, toys and more by artisans from around the globe at prices that make you think they’ve left a digit off the tag.

I confess I broke my $20 limit when I saw three handsome plastic bangles from India in colors I coveted in a pretty drawstring bag ($24). But there was loads of jewelry — and everything else — well within my budget, including other bright bangles from Africa ($6 each); miniature magnetic picture frames made from recycled chip bags (4 for $16); prettily wrapped clove and honey soaps from India (3 for $10); hand-carved onyx pears and apples ($14) and candle holders (starting at $6) from Pakistan.

The volunteers who staff the shop are informative and welcoming and they wrap your gifts with heart.

Claire’s

9500 S. Western Ave.; Evergreen Park; 708-857-7319, claires.com

Forget what you think you know about this pink-and-purple emporium that pre-teens love. Once you get past the Jonas Brothers tote bags ($24 reduced to $12) and garish leg warmers ($10), there’s lots more for women of all ages.

Walls here are lined with costume jewelry that is the very definition of timeless, such as a 5-foot-long pearl and gold chain necklace ($9.50) or silvery hoop earrings (buy 2, get one free, $6). There are Claire’s all over Chicagoland, and at the one in Oak Park I yearned for a leopard and black vinyl wallet for $12 and found enough hair accessories to take me and every woman I know or will ever meet into the next millennium.