Thursday, May 21, 2015

Merchandizing: small business report

Merchandizing is a challenge for every retailer.

Perhaps the primary challenge is to cut through the clutter and to register in your customer's minds as a viable option for their custom.


This essay explains how customers use information filtering heuristics to manage their lives.  Then it attempts to explain some basic merchandizing tactics to avoid having your message filtered out.  Finally it offers a simple, flexible, medium priced option to implement those tactics.

Information filtering

We are besieged with information.  We are drowning in it.  We develop heuristics, simple rules or behaviors, that help us ignore the trivial information so we can process critical information efficiently enough to function in real-time.

Consider the last time you went on a date with your beloved.

You were sitting in a booth at a popular restaurant and having a pleasant conversation.  Much of what you talked about was inconsequential...sort of a preludes to the critical few items that were on your mind.

What heuristics did you use so you could pay attention to those critical items and not be distracted by the ocean of extraneous information?  The successful merchandizer must be aware of those filters, otherwise the customer will apply them to his/her merchandizing message.


Spatial breaks down into two components:
  1. Cone-of-vision
  2. Focal plane


On our date, we focus around our beloved's face.  That is how we are able to not-attend to the swirling maelstrom in the center of the restaurant.  That is why serious daters like booths.  There is less distraction.

This is the display that is directly behind the cash register at the Eaton Rapids Burger King.

As a retailer, don't queue your customers up to the cash register and expect them to see any menu that is more than 20 degrees away from the customer's line of motion.

There are four displays behind the counter, but 90% of the customers don't read the three that are outside their cone-of-vision.  Some other fast food restaurants deal with this problem by having the customer queue snake around in gentle arcs along the length of the counter.
Savvy used car dealerships solve this problem by locating their lots on the outside of wide, gentle bends of well traveled roads.  As commuters drive down the road, their cone-of-vision slowly sweeps across the dealer's offerings.

Focal plane

On our date, we do not attend to the people sitting behind our beloved even though they are in our cone-of-vision.  We are programmed to ignore items that are closer (flickering candle) and further away than the item (person, in this case) that pinned our attention.

Eric Mergener keeps track of sales on a rack-by-rack basis.  Customers seem to look past rotating racks when they are placed in front of flat, wall mounted displays.

The overwhelmed, overloaded, overtrained American consumer is hopelessly brainwashed to look at flat printed material, flat computer screens and flat information kiosks.  Either go with the flow or be prepared to offer ample cues to the customer to look for 3-D information.

Dynamic information

The Heuristics scholars call this Vivid/Pallid and Salience heuristic.

Customers see what moves.  They notice what changes.  "Different" tweaks their attention....within reason.

You knew when your beloved was going to broach an important topic by the changes in the tone and cadence of their speech and by the changes in their facial expressions and posture.

The used car lot mentioned earlier exploits this heuristic by rearranging their vehicles.  They move a few from the back of the lot to the highly visible area near the road.  They shuffle the vehicles within the row.  They vary the colors.  They vary the size of the vehicles.  They change the aspect of the row of parked vehicles; quartering towards the road, perpendicular and quartering away.

The "within reason" means that any given configuration must be in place long enough to register as "normal".  Otherwise, the car lot simply registers as a swirling pool of chaos and the commuters will ignore it because the dissonance causes psychic pain.

"Within reason" depends on the amount of information embedded within, or busyness of the display.  A workable range is between three "looks" and twenty looks.  Our car dealer would probably schedule the display rearrangement for once-a-week, likely on a Wednesday evening to maximize the contrast between "Before" and "After".

Flat screen TVs

This display is actually a flat screen TV and the information is fed to it from a computer via a video cable.  It is used as a static display but all of the pieces-parts are there to make it dynamic.
At this time (May 21, 2015) a customer can buy a 40" flat screen TV for $230.  Flat screen TVs offer vivid colors and a constant focal plane that is important for customer's easy of viewing.

A slide show tickles that Vivid/Pallid heuristic and helps your customer see your offerings.
The last computer your kid threw out probably had Microsoft Powerpoint loaded onto it.  Microsoft Powerpoint has the ability to produce looping slide shows.  Eaton Rapids High School offers classes in Digital Media and Practical Computing.  If you live in Eaton Rapids, you can contact Erik Smith (Send Message button in upper, left corner) at the High School and he can give you a list of names of students who can help you out.

 A slide show tickles that Vivid/Pallid heuristic and helps your customer see your offerings.


This is two loops through a Powerpoint slide show that displays the four "panes" from the Eaton Rapids Burger King.  Remember, most customers only see the first pane and are unaware of the products/prices shown on the other three panes.

* Each pane is displayed for 20 seconds.  Transitions are "fade" and set to 1.0 second and "Effect Options" is set to "Through Black".

What would I change?

First I would increase the font size.  Whoever specified the font size on this pane was brain dead.  It is not readable on the static display.

Most people who present from Powerpoint slides figure one minute per slide to talk through the content.  Based on the defaults Microsoft programmed into Powerpoint, a slide with a title and no pictures can hold about 70 words and still retain maximum readability.  Most people can read much, much faster than a presenter can talk.

The other things I would change would be to beef up the title.  Customers are able to process the information more quickly and more easily when they are prepped by a descriptive, easy-to-read title.

Finally, I would show fewer items at each look but make the item shown much larger and try to incorporate an "implied dynamic".  For example, the picture of the French Toast sticks shows syrup dripping off the end.  That is an implied dynamic.  Our minds "animate" that kind of picture.

Work arounds

You must have pictures.  Pictures are Vivid and tickle that Vivid/Pallid heuristic.  You must have pictures.  So how do you have excellent pictures and still keep the text readable?

You use time.  Time is your friend.  Don't show them everything at once.

You have many options with a dynamic medium like the slideshow.  Like the used car dealer, you can change the picture you present with the text each time you roll through the loop**.  You can show ONE item each time.  You can change which one item you show each time you loop.  Or you can change the perspective of a single (high profit) item each time through the loop and give the customer multiple looks at it.  You can show the product in the hands of a happy customer.

The owner of the Mesquite Riverbend Junction was one of the best merchandizers I ever met..  He took pictures of happy patrons, especially on Valentine's Day, Prom Night and other landmark occasions.  He asked for, and generally received, permission to use those pictures to advertise.  He used a projection TV to display those pictures on one wall of his restaurant.  He understood that people buy High School yearbooks because their picture is in it.  They came back to his restaurant for the same reason.  He made his customers his stars.

* Parameters for the Powerpoint slide show were given so you can tell that High School student where to start.  Also, you can watch the video and decide if it is too fast or too slow for your products and your customers.  And you can adjust accordingly.

**Powerpoint has the option of continuous looping.  Changing a loop to include a different "look" at a product involves copying the entire loop and swapping in different pictures.  There may be a more efficient way to do it using objects but I don't know how to do it.

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