Attention, Retailers! How Convenient Is Your Convenience Strategy?

Congested parking lots, out-of-stock merchandise, interminable checkout lines, indifferent sales help or no help at all—once these were facts of life that retail customers reluctantly tolerated. Now customers enjoy more retail alternatives than ever before, from one-stop superstores to the Internet. Driven by time pressures, they value quick-and-easy shopping excursions. They expect retailers to meet their needs, not the other way around. The retailer that spares its customers hassles and delays wins their business and outperforms its old-fashioned competitors. From prepurchase through postpurchase, customers want convenience. Few dispute the importance of convenience.1 Many retailers proudly declare their commitment to customer convenience. Yet how many managers have defined convenience from the customer’s point of view? How many have systematically crafted a convenience strategy? Instead, managers use “convenience” as a catchall term which always includes location and may include other features such as product assortment, knowledge of sales associates, speed of checkout, hours, service levels, store layout, and ample parking. Managers rarely consider the relationships among these features. While convenience remains ill-defined among retailers, industry studies provide some insight into how consumers define convenience. Discount Store News conducted focus groups in which customers were asked, “What makes a store more convenient?” Respondents cited one-stop shopping, store directories, well laid-out and clearly-marked aisles, wider aisles, consistent in-stocks, clearly presented pricing, easy return policies, sufficient staffing, expanded 24-hour service, and efficient and centralized checkouts. Results of a 1996 Roper Starch Worldwide survey show that customers are annoyed by illogical groupings of merchandise and will leave a store empty-handed if they think checkout lines are too long.2 For customers, retail convenience means shopping speed and ease. The best-performing retailers understand the customer perspective but go beyond it. They view the retail experience as an integrated whole consisting of distinct but related parts. They enhance the convenience of their market offers in four main ways that encompass the entire shopping experience: They are easy to reach (access convenience); they enable customers to speedily identify and select the products they want (search convenience); they make it easy for customers to obtain desired products (possession convenience); and they expedite the purchase and return of products (transaction convenience).3 By better understanding the forms of convenience and how they work together, retailers can formulate convenience strategies that support lasting customer relationships and raise their competitiveness to new levels.

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References

1. Convenience is acknowledged as playing an important role in the retail offer. See, for example: M. Levy and B.A. Weitz, Retailing Management (Chicago: Richard D. Irwin, 1998); and

B. Merrilees and D. Miller, Retailing Management: A Best Practice Approach (Melbourne: RMIT Press, 1996).

2. “The Customer Connection,” Discount Store News, 6 May 1996, p. 62.

3. The framework in this article goes far beyond our earlier effort on this subject. See:

L.L. Berry, K. Seiders, and L.G. Gresham, “For Love and Money: The Common Traits of Successful Retailers,” Organizational Dynamics, volume 25, Autumn 1997, pp. 7–22.

4. R. Abelson, “Part-Time Work for Some Adds Up to Full-Time Job,” New York Times, 2 November 1998; and

D.E. Lewis, “Women’s Gains Tied to Jump in Incomes,” Boston Globe, 17 March 1999, p. A17.

5. L.L. Berry, “Retailers with a Future,” Marketing Management, volume 5, Spring 1996, pp. 39–46.

6. Annual Consumer Pulse Survey Results (New York: Kurt Salmon Associates, 1996).

7. T. Rubel and E. Pollack, “Consumer Products 2005: New World Order,” in Approaching the New Millennium: Retailing on the Horizon (Columbus, Ohio: Management Horizons, Strategic Outlook Conference, 1996), pp. 1–12.

8. “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,” 8 December 1998.

9. “Precision Shopping,” LDJolt, 16 March 1998, p. 1.

10. “A Matter of Convenience,” Economist, 25 January 1997, p. 60.

11. The airport also contains a casino, the Dutch National Aviation Museum, a sauna, a children’s playroom, a baby room with cradles and playpens, and a prayer room. See:

M. Simons, “An Airport with a Sauna and a Supermarket,” New York Times, 8 August 1997, p. 3.

12. Trends in the United States: 1998 (Washington, D.C.: Food Marketing Institute, 1999).

13. M.L. Kadisson, “New Retail Competencies,” Forrester Research Online Retail Strategies Report, June 1998, pp. 1–16.

14. D. Pence, “Building a Brand at Coldwater Creek” (Dallas: Texas A&M University Center for Retailing Studies, presentation delivered at the Texas A&M University Center for Retailing Studies Symposium, Dallas, Texas, 8 October 1998).

15. L. Napoli, “Staying with the Pitch,” New York Times, 23 February 1998, p. D1.

16. The accessibility of the Internet is frequently cited in discussions of customer convenience. Yet the hoped-for convenience can be elusive. Internet service providers report that the proportion of user connections that fail midtransaction is high (5%) and increases (to 8.5%) during periods of peak traffic (e.g., the Christmas shopping season). An even weightier Internet access issue is the frequent delay of waiting for sites to load. See:

M. Richtel, “Internet Providers Feel the Holiday Crush, Too,” New York Times, 31 December 1998, p. E3.

17. G. Biglaiser and J.W. Friedman, “Middlemen as Guarantors of Quality,” International Journal of Industrial Organization, volume 12, issue 4, 1994, pp. 509–532.

18. Berry et al. (1997).

19. “The Customer Connection,” Discount Store News, 6 May 1996, p. 62.

20. C.J. Cobb and W.D. Hoyer, “Planned versus Unplanned Purchase Behavior,” Journal of Retailing, volume 62, Winter 1986, pp. 384–409.

21. Industry analysts have suggested that America’s low consumption of flowers is related to a lack of shopping convenience. See:

C. Reidy, “An Idea Blossoms,” Boston Globe, 25 December 1998, p. D1.

22. D. Brooks, “Acquired Taste,” The New Yorker, 25 January 1999, p. 36.

23. S.E. Beatty, “Relationship Selling in Retailing,” Arthur Andersen Retailing Issues Letter, volume 5, November 1993 (College Station, Texas: Center for Retailing Studies, Texas A&M University).

24. The popularity of registries has been described as an “understood ethic”: “I’ll make it easier for you to choose and purchase the gift, and you’ll make it easier for me by giving me something I want and won’t need to return.” See:

D.W. Chen, “Wishful Thinkers Are Using Gift Registries for All Occasions,” New York Times, 27 July 1997, p. 10.

25. F. Kaplan, “Tapping the Teen Market,” Boston Globe, 29 December 1998, p. 1.

26. L. Kaufman, “Playing Catch-Up at the On-line Mall,” New York Times, 21 February 1999, p. 3:1.

27. J. Deighton, “The Future of Interactive Marketing,” Harvard Business Review, volume 74, November–December 1996, pp. 4–16.

28. Berry et al. (1997).

29. M.L. Kadisson, “On-line Grocery Exposed,” Forrester Research On-line Retail Strategies Report, August 1998, pp. 1–17.

30. L. Kaufman, “Wal-Mart Casts Eye Northward,” New York Times, 16 February 1999, p. C1.

31. The Eatzi’s concept was developed for Brinker International, a Dallas-based restaurant company. See:

E. Asimov, “But Will It Play in Manhattan,” New York Times, 14 October 1998, p. D6.

32. “Japan’s Robo Shop: No People Problems,” Boston Globe, 4 July 1997, p. A9.

33. Interview with Kroger corporate management personnel, January 12, 1999.

34. R. Gibson, “Merchants Mull the Long and Short of Lines,” Wall Street Journal, 3 September 1998, p. B1.

35. K. Stevens, “Cigars to Go,” New York Times, 22 February 1998, p. 3.

36. B. Tedeschi, “E-Commerce Report,” New York Times, 8 March 1999, p. C4.

37. M.G. Briones, “Customer Service the Key to On-line Relationships,” Marketing News, 23 November 1998, p. 2.

38. L. Kaufman, “Playing Catch-Up at the On-Line Mall,” New York Times, 21 February 1999, p. 3:1; and

M. Krantz, “Click Till You Drop,” Time, 20 July 1998, p. 34.

39. B. Tedeschi, “Click for Customer Service. Then Wish You Hadn’t,” New York Times, 17 January 1999, p. 4; and

Be Direct Dell Home: support.Dell.com (Dell Computer Corporation, 1999).

40. L. Berry, Discovering the Soul of Service—The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success (New York: Free Press, 1999), p. 63.