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The Growth of Online Shopping in the Last Decade

TitanSnapParcel IG USAInfographic courtesy of Online retail behavior over the last 10 years. 
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The Retail Misery Meter


The more miserable the customer thinks the retailer is, the more they will come to the store to buy items on sale. For example, very few people will go into a store if the sale is 5% off. To the customer, the store is doing well in terms of profitability and doesn’t need to lower prices to attract customers. If a store is going out a business and offers a total liquidation sale, customers believe a store is doing poor--or miserably--and they’ll be more likely to shop the store knowing prices are low.Misery Meter

The misery meter is divided into four levels of discounts:

  1. 5%-10% off

  2. 20-40% off

  3. 50-60% off

  4. 75% off

Retailers should want to me high on the misery meter, that is they want low enough discounts to communicate that they need more business, which attracts more business.

When placing themselves on the misery meter, retailers should consider two things:

  • How often they want the customer to return

  • Whether the store is in alignment with the advertising

How often do you want customers to return?

The rule of thumb is this: the stronger the misery meter, the fewer times a customer will return to the store. If you offer a 10% off coupon, the customer might come in a few times during the season. If you offer 50-60% discounts, the customer might not come back until another season. If you offer total liquidation sales, the customer might not come back for another year.


Because a specific type of customer is attracted to your high misery meter: the bottom feeder. Bottom feeders come into a store only when the store offers a level 4 sale on the misery meter.

Look at your range of customers:

The Regular Price Customster
These people see something, they like it, and they buy it.

The Incentive Customer
These people need an excuse to come into the store, like a phone call, a coupon, or a free class.

The Insider Customer
This customer is looking for top quality and wants 25% off the newest items. Most customers fit in this category, which is the most challenging.

The Clearance Customer

This customer will come in for clearance events. They’re the best customer because they come in on a regular basis.

The Bottom Feeder

This customer shows up only for major sale events. This customer has never paid full price for anything.

The bottom feeder doesn’t care about your latest products and rarely about what brands you carry. They’re looking for a steal, that’s it. This means all you need to do is send them a cheap postcard or piece of paper advertising the sale.

When you hold these major sale events, have someone register these customers so you can identify who they are. Doing so allows you to create stronger sale events, advertised with very little cost.

Does your advertisement align with the true status of your store?

The sale you advertise has to communicate the truth about your store. If you advertise that you’re having a wall-to-wall sale, customers assume you’re going out of business. If you’re not going out of business, use another sale term that shows you’re high on the misery meter but not shutting your doors. Don’t send mixed messages to customers. Not only does this prove you untrustworthy, it can potentially harm your business.

Remember: retailers should be high on the misery meter because the more miserable or desperate they seem, the more customers will come in to benefit from the sale.

The Marketing Magic of Harley-Davidson


The Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a revered American icon recognized around the world. The company's magic marketing ingredients include an effective mix of history, tradition, emotion, and innovation. Motorcycles and motorbikes have a way of bringing out strong emotions associated with freedom, daring, excitement, and adventure. There's a reason retail customers trust the brands they love when they enter a Harley shop or poke around an online motorcycle store. The products have survived a lifetime of journeys and memories, and the brand has been carefully crafted and designed to touch customers’ hearts and minds.Man on Motorcycle

Classic Components

Part of Harley-Davidson’s marketing brilliance is its combination of innovation while retaining beloved classic components including the trademark V-twin engine, teardrop gas tanks, oversized speedometer, and other styling details. The nostalgia and romance Harley invokes is due in large part to things that haven’t changed much if at all since the company’s beginnings in 1903. Harley’s Director of Communications Ken Schmidt says customers want the classic Harley looks that evoke the strong emotions that Harley customers have toward their products. Harleys have a way of bringing out strong emotions in people associated with freedom, daring, excitement, and adventure.

Harley’s Vice President of Styling William G. Davidson, who’s been involved in the design of every model since the 60s, says their products are more than just motorcycles and parts. They represent a unique recreational lifestyle that means Harley owners are part of a club, a family almost, and that comes with pride and identification of being part of something bigger than themselves.

Family Affair

William G. Davidson, known fondly as Willie G. in the company and in Harley culture, is the grandson of William Davidson, who started the company with his brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson and Walter Harley just over one hundred years ago. The company went public in 1965, merged with American Machine and Foundry in 1969, and then was purchased by members of the founding families in the 80s, including the current ownership. All three of Willie G.’s children are involved in the design and development of Harley’s products, and his daughter Karen oversees Harley’s MotorClothes, Inc.

Rich History

The strong emotional ties Harley customers and owners have with the brand are due to the company’s rich history. That history includes motorcycle racing, World War I military motorcycles, motorcycle rallies across the U.S., and an underdog love story with customers and the general public emotionally invested in the company’s ups and downs over the decades. The company’s history and family/club feel have been intertwined with marketing through the years. A prime example was Harley’s 90th Anniversary in 1993, celebrated with a “family reunion” in Milwaukee attended by 100,000 people with motorcycles. Another example is the Harley museum, a unique blend of company history that is also a destination for visitors around the world to introduce Harley to new customers.

American Innovation

Another strong factor in Harley’s marketing success is its reputation as a beloved American manufacturer. Harley continues to play on its history and tradition while innovating for quality and the wants and needs of its customers and the modern market. That innovation includes development of a counter-balanced version of the classic Twin Cam 88 engine in 2000, a swingarm-mounted rear fender and 2-into-1 trick seat in 2007, currently testing the market for an electric motorcycle with LiveWire, and introducing lightweight Street models for the market in India to take advantage shifting market trends.

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting

How Can Digital Signs Help Your Retail Business?


Digital signs have flooded the retail advertising market. Rarely can you enter a store--whether it’s McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, or the mall--and avoid encountering a digital sign.

Traditional signage is certainly not dead, but we believe digital signage has revolutionized the way retailers approach and use interior advertising. We also believe digital signage can seriously help your business (so much so that we dedicated an entire chapter in our latest book, Signs Sell, to explore the power of digital signage).

How exactly does digital signage help your business? The answer is simple: by improving the efficiency of your interior advertising.

Digital signs are easy to revise and digital menu sign

Think of digital signage less as an electronic device and more of an adjustable, customizable piece of software. You pay for the initial cost of the digital equipment. But beyond that, you’re not paying for a product over and over again (like you do with traditional signage); you’re paying for a service and the know-how of a design professional.

The digital format makes the process of adjusting the sign’s message much, much easier. To update or revise a traditional sign, you’re forced to start from scratch. You waste time visiting the sign store and waste money re-paying for printing costs.

Because digital signs work by uploading a file to a computer, you can easily update your signs by contacting your graphic designer. He or she can send you the updated file electronically or update your digital sign for you from a remote location.

You can update your signage almost immediately. Digital signage lets you spend less time creating your signs and more time experiencing the benefits of signs.

Digital signs are versatile.

A single digital sign can serve a variety of purposes. Consider the types of signs you display in your store, like wayfinding, educational, or entertaining signs. Because of their static nature, traditional signs can display only one sign type.

Digital signs are far more efficient because they can display several sign types and serve a variety of purposes for your customers. The first screen might display a welcome message. Thirty seconds later, the screen might feature a product and state why customers should buy it. Thirty seconds after that, the screen might display a special promotion.

Also consider delivery format. Digital signs can display engaging animation and video--something your traditional signs can’t do.

Contrary to popular belief, digital signs can be affordable.

Remember the cost of ordering traditional signs in full color? Digital signs eliminate that high markup. No paper means no ink. Color is now the norm and expectation.

You can sometimes save money on digital signage devices by working with vendors. Many times these vendors will actually pay for the devices, like LCD panels, if every so often your sign displays the vendor’s logo or ad.

Are you now considering digital signage for your store? You should. It’s a powerful and insanely efficient tool. Don’t let the fear of the unfamiliar prevent you from experiencing the benefits--these benefits will only increase as more and more retailers incorporate digital signage into their advertising strategies.

If you want an in-depth view of digital signage and its vital role in your interior advertising, be sure you grab a copy of our latest book Signs Sell. You won’t be disappointed.


Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting

Buy Signs Sell Now!

It's Not What Happens that Matters, It's How You Respond


This past weekend became a comedy of errors.

Because my original flight was cancelled, I was flying standby. I missed the next flight, which forced me to spend the night in the airport. When morning came, I missed the next six flights. When I finally reached my destination, I found out my luggage had been lost, and the airport clerk spilled coffee on my computer, essentially deleting the memory. I lost all data. To top it off, I was pulled over on the road by a state trooper, whom I almost hit by putting the car in reverse rather than drive.

Oh, and it was Father’s Day.lemonade

And my anniversary.

While this sounds like a complete and utter disaster (and it was), I’m of the belief that what happens to you isn’t as important as what you do with your circumstances.

At the airport, I rallied with a group of people who were also trying to get home for Father’s Day. We were all frustrated, tired, and wearing the same clothes we put on 36 hours ago. But I chose to handle it in a different way than the others.

I got up from my seat, and the gal next to me asked if I wanted her to watch my stuff. I told her, “No, you don’t have to. If they get stolen, I’ll deal with it. I’d like to celebrate Father’s Day if anyone would like to join me.”

I went to the convenient store and bought a Minnesota sheriff's badge. There was a Southwest Airlines sign that offered a seat upgrade for $215--the airport clerk let me keep it. I put these things in a bag, walked back to my seat, and proceeded to show off my Father’s Day gifts to the group I had rallied with. I said, “Here are my presents! My wife and kids aren’t with me, but I’ll still celebrate. And I’ll have these presents to remember this situation and share this great story for the rest of my life.”

What was our choice? We could have just been upset and cranky. Instead, I found a YouTube video of  Kumbaya and played it loudly for everyone waiting for the flight. Most enjoyed it and had a good laugh. Others thought I was just plain nuts.

It’s not what happens to you, its what you do about it. Life is a journey full of bumps. Enjoy the bumps. The child sees a water puddle and wants to splash; the old lady sees it and wishes it wasn’t there. Every now and then, you’ve got to jump in and splash.  

Apply this philosophy to every part of your life--even your business--and your lighthearted approach to everyday challenges will become infectious to those around you.

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting 


Independent Retailer or Specialty Retailer?


Lately, I have been asked to do several interviews with various media and journalists about the state of today’s retailer. It amazes me that in all of these conversations, they use the term “independent” and “specialty” interchangeably when describing retailers. In other words, they assume that being an independent retailer and a specialty retailer are the same thing – and that is not true at all!Getty Images

And this is the #1 reason why independent retailers don’t make it today – they stay independent, but they never become specialty.

Rick has often said, the first word in specialty is special and most retailers forget that. In fact, when Rick had his stores, the tagline was ‘Mothers are our Specialty.’ He positioned his store as a “specialty” store in not only practice, but in branding and marketing as well.

You see, you can be an independent without being a specialty store and you can be a specialty store without being independent. But the key principle of specialty is not focused merchandise selection (which is a must) rather it is the ability for the retailer to be recognized as the local EXPERT.

Is your store considered by the marketplace to be the premium place for your products and services? When people ask their friends, do they recommend your store? Are your customers evangelists for your brand and store? Let’s face it, a customer has a ton of choices today where to shop and the truth is that if they need shoes and you are a shoe store, most customers will drive by several places to buy shoes before they get to your store. So in today’s world of ever increasing gas prices, why would someone drive past all of those other places just to buy from you?

Well, you could say price, in other words, you have the lowest price in town. But a specialty retailer is not known for price. In fact, studies show that customers of specialty stores shop their knowing they are not getting the lowest price in town. (Side note: If your reputation is for lowest price in town – you are not a specialty store you are a discounter. How many discount stores can you name who are the “expert” at what they sell?)

If you want to be known for price, that is fine; you will just work harder than everyone else to make the same money. It takes more merchandise to get the same revenue, so you will have more bills to pay, more orders to make, more boxes to unpack, more shelves to stock (you get the picture.) But if you want to be a specialty retailer, then you will focus on being the local expert and not on price.

To be the expert, you need highly trained people. You can call yourself the expert, but that does not make it so. I visited a store one time simply because the ad in the newspaper in the hotel said, “We are the Experts.” But when I arrived, I find an awesome, focused selection, but no people who could answer my questions. I am sure the owner was a great expert, but how often does the owner serve the customer versus the staff?

To be the expert, you need to act like the expert. And the best way to do this is through education. Offer free classes in your store. Bring in vendors for trunk shows. Keep a regular blog on your website where you add tips and advice for free to your customers. This is an amazing way for people to see you as an expert.

Just yesterday, Rick and I were discussing a change we wanted to make in one of our software tools. Instead of searching for software companies, we searched for “advice on best tools for ________” and guess what we got? That is right, someone’s blog post where they gave the pros and cons to several options. We found an expert and not a software company. And the same is true for your store.

Think about the type of questions you get asked by customers on a regular basis and then write a blog post about each. You will see results from this approach. But you have to be consistent and it takes time. So, don't start out trying to post every day. Start once a week and then as you get a rhythm you can add more. 

My stores were independent, but I was more proud of the fact that they were specialty and that we got people who drove from 50 miles away just to work with our staff in the store because we were known as the local experts. While some people buy from a retailer because they are independent, more buy because they are specialty.

We just bought a bike for my 4-year-old daughters birthday present. And sitting here writing this now, I counted 14 places we could have purchased her a bike (and cheaper) between our home and the store we purchased from. But it was her first bike and dad wanted to talk to the experts to make sure he was getting her the best bike for her and the safest bike for dad.

Experts make the most money. 

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Top 5 Mistakes Retailers Make When Placing Signs and Visual Graphics


Guest Post: Clint Ehlers, owner of two FASTSIGNS® centers in Lancaster and Willow Grove, PA) 

Retail store signs and visual graphics have a great and immediate impact on customers finding and purchasing what they want. It’s estimated that 70% of a customer’s buying decision happens at the point of sale (at the shelf, cash register, etc.). Signage, both interior and exterior, shouldn’t be an afterthought in your business planning – it should be the first thought. Make the most use of your visual communications by avoiding these common mistakes.

1.     Not having a strategy.
Having a visual communications plan and aligning it with your business objectives is crucial in any organization. Do you want to direct customers to a featured sale? Educate visitors about a new product? Create a serene shopping environment? All of the above? Once you know your business goals, then an effective strategy can be created to achieve those goals and to plan the visual communications pieces that are needed and where they should be placed.

2.     Not knowing the needs of the buyer.
Wrong sign placement is often a result of not knowing customers’ wants or needs. How can you effectively market your products without knowing what your customers are looking for? Study your customers and discover their viewing preferences. For example, a buyer at a convenient store needs clear and simple directional signage to quickly find their way to the coffee station while a shopper at a department store might need a digital display to see the latest fashion trends.      

    3.     Keeping the same sign up too long.
    Nobody wants to go to the house that still has Christmas lights up in March and the same applies for signage. Avoid leaving outdated signs and graphics up. Show customers you care about your messages and their time spent reading them by keeping your signs and visual graphics current, replacing them as your marketing messages change. 

    4.     Having a design that’s hard to read.

      Don’t overwhelm viewers by including too much content. Remember to consider the four basic criteria for sign design: visibility, readability, noticeability and legibility. Focus on the single most important message with large, bold text and use compelling images.   

      5.     Limiting the types of signs and graphics displayed. 

      Don’t limit yourself to banners or sidewalk signs. Use a variety of visual communications solutions to make an impact on your customers and create a winning retail experience. Design custom interior décor graphics to enhance your brand. Catch the attention of people passing by your store or restaurant with colorful graphics on walls, windows, countertops or floors. Extend your marketing messages by adding a QR code to direct customers to a mobile website or social media fan page. The possibilities are virtually endless.

      Read more about the power signs and visual graphics have in your retail space in Signs Sell. Purchase a copy of the book here

      Buy Signs Sell Now!

      5 Things You Need to Know About Great Signs


      What is a great sign? The simple answer is one that works. But how do we know when a sign works? In our latest book Signs Sell, we discuss in-depth how retailers benefit from powerfulSigns Sell interior signage, and we explore the various elements that make a sign great. Let’s look at a few:

      1. A great sign gets the reaction you want.

      When a sign works, it causes customers to do what you intend after they read the sign. If the sign suggests a product, the customer will have bought the product. If the sign intends to lead the customer down a particular aisle, the customer will have walked down that aisle.

      If the customer failed to respond the way you intended, then the sign didn’t work.

      2. A great sign is a readable sign.

      Great signs display clean, easy-to-read text. Customers should never respond to a sign by saying, “What does that say?” or “The text is too small.” When designing your signs, make sure they’re readable:

      • Use a font size large enough for customers of all ages to read.

      • Beware of script and over-style fonts (they may look pretty or cool, but they’re often difficult to read).

      • Tilt signs at a 45 degree angle to optimize readability (most retailers position signs at a 90 degree angle).

      Avoid using handwritten signs, one of the most common mistakes of retail advertising. More often than not, they end up illegible and unattractive.

      3. A great sign uses color purposefully.

      Color is powerful--it can make or break the effectiveness of your visual merchandising, including your signage.

      Great signs incorporate colors that coordinate and compliment those used in the overall display, the product, or the store’s brand. Great signs also use colors that create high contrast, like black and white or black and yellow.

      4. A great sign has one message.

      Readers easily understand one message; they can become confused and frustrated when signs attempt to convey multiple messages.

      Think about creating your sign’s messages like you would a billboard. If you’re driving down the highway, you’re moving too fast to read heavy copy. The same goes for your customers: they don’t have time to read signs that are overly complicated.

      By reading the sign, customers need to understand the product name, functionality, and price or price incentive. That’s it.

      5. A great sign is like a silent salesperson.
      Great signs subtly suggest products, like other facets of your visual merchandising.

      For example, a large garden center (former recipient of our RAMAE Awards) created a large banner in the center of a plant display that read “The Ten Best Clean Air Plants.” The banner included a one-sentence description of each plant, describing why the plant worked so well. The garden center sold these plants like hotcakes, and they didn’t need their salespeople to do any of the selling.

      Do you want your store filled with great signs? Then make your signs work. Make them compelling enough to get customer doing what you want them doing. Optimize their readability by being intentional with fonts and colors. Include simple messages, and use your signs as silent but persuasive salespeople.

      And be sure to grab a copy of Signs Sell. You’ll discover surefire methods and tools for leveraging signage to improve your business and increase sales.

      Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting


      5 Reason To Go Brick-And-Mortar Over E-Commerce


      Despite the rumored imminent demise of brick-and-mortar retail stores, the numbers tell a different story. U.S. e-commerce sales, including transactions made from mobile devices, totaled $63.4 billion in Q1 2014, according to comScore.

      But the Department of Commerce estimated total retail sales, including brick-and-mortar store transactions, to be $1.15 trillion in that same time period. In other words, e-commerce still only accounts for 6 percent of all U.S. retail sales, even though it has grown at an incredible rate over the past decade.Customers wlaking by sale window

      The old brick-and-mortar store will remain a viable option for entrepreneurs for the foreseeable future. Here are five advantage of going physical over cyber:

      Location, Location, Location

      There are only two ways to find an Internet-based business: if its marketing team somehow reaches you via email or social media; or it displays it in search results. People drive and walk past brick-and-mortar stores every single day, amounting to 24/7 free marketing.

      The Pew Research Internet Project estimates nearly 60 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Steve Olenski, of Oracle Responsys and an influential social media strategist, suggested in a Forbes column that location-based advertising works in the favor of brick-and-mortar stores because smartphones are so prevalent. Mobile location data not only provides predictive analysis pertaining to consumer behavior, but also uses real-time data that delivers shoppers right to your store.

      A 2013 survey by the World Retail Congress found nearly 70 percent of business executives around the globe believe physical stores are the best tool for customer relations, engagement, and building trust. Another 55 percent said they planned to increase their international presence by building more stores to reach consumers directly.

      A good, high-traffic location comes at a premium price, however. Picking the right spot at the right price will ensure a healthy business for years to come.


      Customer iCare, a customer relationship management (CRM) solutions provider, said one of the most common consumer pet peeves is calling a customer service department only to get a representative in a foreign country who is reading scripted responses. A brick-and-mortar store gives customers a place to come and vent frustrations personally. It also provides the company an opportunity to immediately remedy the situation, and potentially retain a customer.

      A brick-and-mortar store also eliminates the chance of being ripped off by scam artists. Most people follow standard protocols to stay safe online while shopping, but even the most careful individuals are vulnerable to thieves who are getting smarter everyday.

      Impulse Spending

      Business consulting firm A.T. Kearney found in its 2013 Future of Stores study that U.S. and U.K. consumers spend 61 percent of their shopping time in brick-and-mortar stores. Moreover, 40 percent of consumers spent more than they originally planned in physical stores, versus only 25 percent of online shoppers.

      The more products you can put in front of a customer, the more they will buy. A brick-and-mortar store gives customers the opportunity to try things on and see them right before their eyes, which increases the chances of closing the sale.

      Eliminate Shipping

      Online retailers have the advantage of not having to charge sales tax in most jurisdictions. The Marketplace Fairness Act, which is currently being debated in the House of Representatives, could change all that if it gets through Congress. Still, consumers have to pay shipping fees which basically negate any cost savings.

      America has become somewhat of an instant gratification society which everybody wants everything right now. The customer who wants that big screen television or new tablet will gladly pay a few extra bucks to take it home tonight as opposed to waiting 7 to 10 business days for it to be delivered.

      Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

      Its extremely difficult for an Internet-based company to open a physical store once it is established as an online retailer. But the reverse is simple.

      A brick-and-mortar store supplemented by an online presence is the best position a company can possible be in for maximum profits. You have the best of both worlds and access to a much broader consumer base. All you need is a domain name, hosting, and a Paypal account and your business instantly becomes that much more viable.

      Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting 

      Is Growth the Best Thing for the Specialty Retailer?


      Is growth good or bad? Some people say if you’re not growing, you’re stagnant. And if you’re stagnant, you’re regressing.

      Why is it that we have to open a second store? Why is that we need to have a bigger store? Why is it that we have to employ more people? Are we making a store that’s better or one that’s just bigger? Is bigger better? If you’re Walmart, maybe bigger is better. But even Walmart is exploring the possibility of smaller stores.describe the image

      What all specialty retailers have in common is a unique product that requires additional services provided by a service provider, and in a way that a big-box retailer couldn’t possibly handle.

      The Secret to Being a Better Retailer

      The better brands of today are not carried by Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and Target--the better brands are carried by the specialty retailer. Ask yourself, “How can I make the shopping experience and the brands I carry even more special?”

      Exploit the specialty in specialty retailing. When was the last time you asked customers what they think of your store? How good are you at providing what customers want? Are you meeting the bare minimum, or are you doing things that make people say “Wow, that’s different.”

      The key is to be different, but “different” means different things to different people. Be the leader. Take the time to shop industries other than yours. See what they’re doing different than the competition, and use what you find to set yourself apart in your own industry.

      Professional golfer Tom Watson asked for advice from five colleagues about how to be a better golfer. All five answered the same: “If you’re playing with the best, you’re being the best.” If you’re shopping the best stores, you’re being one of the best stores.

      It’s time for retailers to make stores sweeter, more memorable, more special. It’s time they look for the wow. Some retailers are way ahead; others are behind. But to settle for good enough in this competitive climate just isn’t good enough anymore.

      Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting 

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