Earlier today I suggested that bloggers go shopping as an observational exercise to help them improve their blogs.
While it is a fairly random idea – I did it myself today and as I sat in the food court of my local shopping establishment I jotted down the following 10 lessons and observations on a napkin:
1. Best Seller Lists Work
One of the things I noticed in a number of stores were best seller lists. They ranged from the normal books, CD and DVD ones that most of us will have seen before to a jeans store highlighting best selling jeans, a perfume store highlighting popular fragrances and an consumer electronics store highlighting top MP3 players.
This connects pretty closely with a lesson that I wrote about a while back – How to Dramatically Increase Amazon Affiliate Sales with Bestseller Lists.
2. People Want to Be Acknowledged but Not Overwhelmed
Today I must have gone into 50+ stores and as a result saw a lot of different sales techniques. They ranged from customers being totally ignored (but sales staff surfing the web, reading magazines and talking to friends on the phone) through to customers being almost bullied into making purchases by hyped up sales staff who invaded personal space and basically bombarded them with attention.
Blog readers like to be acknowledged, they like some personal attention, they like to feel listened to – but they don’t want to be bombarded with a hyped up sales pitch.
3. Lines and Waiting in Queues Kill Customer Loyalty
A bank that I went into had a 25 person line in it. I joined watched on from a distance for a few minutes and witnessed just how frustrated the customers were. Some entered the bank, took one a look at the line and turned around. Other grudgingly joined the queue, grumbling to those around them. One customer had a shouting match with a manager. We live in a world where people don’t like waiting and if you make them do so you hurt any relationship or loyalty that you might have built up.
Slow load times on blogs are an issue that many readers get frustrated with. I know I’ve lost my fair share of loyal readers as a result of this (it was one of the main reasons I did my last redesign).
4. Sensory Experiences Make a Difference
One of the things I noticed today was how some shops were really aiming at stimulating the senses of their customers. While most have some sort of music I went into a number of food stores which were giving away tasters/samples of the food they were selling and a confectionary store who is known for spraying the smell of licorice into the air at the front of their store to draw people in.
While I’m not sure how a blogger can stimulate the taste buds make their blog smell I do know that using pictures, video and audio can really add a new dimension to a blog.
5. Surprise People
The shopping center that I visited today had hundreds of stores and after walking through many of them I felt the effects of sensory overload kicking in (must have been the licorice smell). One store began to merge into another as the marketing messages mounted up. However towards the end of my period of observation I walked into a store where the owner greeted me and offered me a free Hot Chocolate. I was so taken aback by it that it stopped me in my tracks – it grabbed my attention and shook me out of the zombie like shopping stupor that I was in.
I guess this technique was a combination of #2 and #4 above – but it also took me by surprise, gave me a story to tell my friends and a memory of an experience that I’m sure will inform my shopping at some point in the future (if I’m ever in the market for a large screen TV – as that was what the store was selling). When it comes to blogging I think there’s a place for surprises also.
Sometimes a blog can become very humdrum and both readers and the blogger themselves can become complacent. Throw in a curve ball occasionally, give something away, write a post in a completely different voice or style to normal etc and you might just find a new energy among your readers.
6. People Make Social Decisions When Buying
On three occasions today I saw customers watching other customers and seemingly making decisions about what they would buy by watching what others were having. ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ is actually a statement I heard uttered today in the food court! This social nature was also evident today when I saw two cafes side by side. One was packed with customers, the other empty. While I’d never been to either before and didn’t know what the quality of the empty one was like you can guess which was I was drawn to for my coffee.
While we all like to be individuals, there’s no doubt that most of us make ‘social decisions’ from time to time – whether it be in deciding what to buy, do with our time, put our focus on etc. The same is true in blogging. Highlight the fact that others are reading your blog by showing feed subscriber numbers, drawing attention to recent comments and involving your readers and you’ll find new people more willing to join in and become loyal readers too.
7. Quiet Times are Opportunities
One lesson that I learned from a resourceful shop assistant was that quiet patches in a shop are not something to bemoan – but are actually opportunities to do other things. I watched this sales person rushed off her feet with customers for a few minutes and then suddenly in an empty store. Instead of slumping down in exhaustion at having a spare moment she took the break in customers to restock shelves.
Most blogs have peaks and troughs when it comes to traffic. I know some bloggers get really down when traffic is down – however perhaps it’d be better to see the quiet patch as an opportunity to ‘restock’ – or do some of the little tasks that we often don’t have time to do that go into making a successful blog (tasks like many that I’ve been talking about in the 31 Day Project).
8. Up Selling Works
“Do you want fries with that?” as an up selling strategy is perhaps one of the most common sales techniques used – and for good reason – it works.
I saw a variety of up selling techniques used today ranging from ‘upsizing’ meals, to sales assistants suggesting accessories that would match clothes, to 2 for 1 deals (just to name a few).
Up selling on a blog is a little different because in most cases the ‘sell’ isn’t an actual product (although more and more bloggers are selling actual products). The application that came to mind as I observed up selling today was selling readers on extra things to read and do on a blog. Suggesting another article to read, a poll to participate in, a feed or newsletter to subscribe to, a video to watch or a conversation to join into are all examples of extra things you can get readers to do that increases the chances of them continuing the relationship with you.
9. Positioning is Everything
In different parts of the shopping centre that I was at today there were two homeware shops that were almost identical to one another. One was in the heart of the complex and the other on the outskirts in a section that was difficult to get to.
You can guess which had the customers and which looked like it was about to go out of business. The one in the middle of the action was thriving.
This is relevant for bloggers on two fronts. Firstly in the positioning of their different design elements. For example if you want to get clicks on ads, you need to position them on parts of your blog that will naturally draw the eye. If you want to get subscribers to your blog – you need to place the subscription methods in the ‘hot spots’ etc.
Secondly the lesson of positioning is highly relevant for the overall marketing of your blog. Learn to place your blog on busy intersections of activity on the web and you can grow your blog quite quickly.
10. Some Shop to Belong
The last thing I noticed today as I saw in the food court reflecting upon the experience was that there were a lot of people wandering around that were not buying anything. Many of them were alone and seemed to just be ‘hanging out’.
At this point I got chatting to an older gentleman on the next table to me who had been watching me writing away on my napkin. I asked him what he was shopping for today and he told me that he didn’t come to the shopping centre to shop – but because he just liked to be around people. He lived alone and came down each day for a ‘bit of a wander’ to see what people were doing.
I suspect that many people use the web in a similar way. We all long to connect, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to have community. Build a blog that draws people in and gives people a sense of belonging and I suspect you’ll build something that matters to people.