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2013-02-06 23:06:57.248141+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

I was musing a bit for the ProjectVRM mailing list.

We talk a lot about personal identity, but as I was reading through the thread on advertising, I started to wonder about how I can be better about tracking vendor identity.

In a business's CRM system, there is, if I'm a high enough value customer, a mechanism for tracking various attributes about me. But in general, it's cheaper to deal with me in aggregate, do A/B testing with a bunch of people and if I happen to be in the group that goes off and finds another vendor, oh well, we'll try again later.

So let's turn this around: What can I do to track vendor behavior? How can I reliably aggregate vendor information to be a better informed customer? In short, how can I game the vendor, the same way they're gaming me?

This started out with me just thinking about how I can, for instance, track Twitter outrage and not do business with the companies that have incredibly sexist booths at CES (which seems to be remarkably coincident with "companies that have booths at CES", but I digress). Seemed like an app that had some notion of vendor identity (and a little bit more further down on the difficulties of that) and let me track various friends responses to that vendor could be useful.

But then I started thinking about how little information I can gather as an individual, so I started brainstorming on the whole notion a little bit more.

A couple of examples of how, for example, we might turn A/B testing on its head: Does this vendor respond with a better deal if I'm aggressive and angry on the phone, or if I'm calm and reasonable? How much under their first stated price should I counter-offer? What other comps am I likely to be able to negotiate from this vendor?

Because I'm happy to volunteer that I am far more likely to be a long-term customer if you don't try "introductory pricing" games on me, and I'll give you my email address in exchange for emailed receipts, and would rather you didn't try to lure me into the store with "rewards" and weekly coupons, but all of these things are largely implemented as part of an overall store identity strategy.

Whereas if I more clearly understand the marketing and branding strategy up-front, "we sell the cheapest possible thing that can be called an X" vs "we sell a mid-range X with a large markup and lots of hand-holding", or "we have high prices but reward long-term customer relationships by making you play coupon games" vs "we have the same price for everybody", or "we're open on Sunday afternoon, and mark up appropriately" vs "we're open 7 to 5 on weekdays to sell to the contractor trade", then I can pick and choose which vendors best match me.

Obviously many vendors are trying to game me, and so would rather not reveal this information to me, but the ones that are trying for a cooperative relationship with me frankly already largely know me on a first-name basis. I'm not as worried about finding ways to find systems to manage my relationship with them.

So how do I build that sort of Vendor Relationship Management?

And then, deeper than that, since so many vendors provide their value primarily by merchandising products designed and made by other manufacturers, how do I give individual products identity so that I can actually differentiate and compare between the $5 and the $50 pliers from one vendor vs the $35 pliers from another?

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Games Law Consumerism and advertising Marketing Conferences ]

comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2013-02-09 13:00:50.539442+00 by: DaveP

It was pointed out to me the other day that I've been shopping with Amazon since they were the scrappy underdog (compared to Barnes & Noble, Borders, and B. Dalton). The oldest order I still have access to is from 1997, because orders from 1996 were done on my best.com account.

But yeah, they have the inventory. Or when they don't, at least that's (usually) obvious. But the funny thing is the third-party fulfillment that happens with some retailers. I ordered a tap & die set this week that Amazon didn't have in stock. So instead it came from some third-party but still with free shipping. Turns out that third party is the hardware store I patronized as a kid in Monticello, MN (about 45 miles up I-94 from here). Weird seeing that return address on the package.

Anyway, at the moment, hardware and tools are the one thing where I favor a local retailer most of the time. But it's just a (fairly big and well-run) neighborhood hardware store, so there are things they don't have in stock. And they're okay with me ordering some stuff remotely, but very thankful that I usually check with them first. I just wish more local retailers tried as hard as they do.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-02-08 19:28:44.617576+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yep, on Sunday we drove to Home Depot because their web site let us tell that they had the product, and they had it in stock. We might have gotten a better price or selection at Lowe's (which is closer to us) or Friedman's, and it turns out we bought a different product, but we knew where our fastest in-and-out was, and that let us finish the project that evening.

And yesterday morning I was thinking "oh, man, I have to drive into work because I should stop at Friedman's to get...", and Charlene said "Does Amazon Prime have...?" and the light went on.

As Dave says, the clerks are friendly, but more important that the inventory is right there and the direct and indirect transaction costs become so low, solves all the problems.

And, yeah, merchandising mechanisms are a big deal. JC Penney got someone in from Apple who said "screw these weekend sales and coupons, we're just going to go for a single price like Apple does", and it turns out the weekend sales and the bargain shopping and that whole bit gets a lot more people in the store and buying stuff.

Not me, but consumers in general.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-02-08 13:09:15.77905+00 by: DaveP

I just gave up on Target. My prescriptions are now all with my insurer's in-house pharmacy, so I'll get them delivered (theoretically) by mail.

Which means one less trip to target every month. The 5% thing doesn't actually bother me that much, but there was a story recently about how Target was thinking that their competition was Amazon, and from my POV, Amazon wins pretty big. As I've been saying around the office, the clerks at Amazon are the best and friendliest in the business.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-02-07 16:03:22.524901+00 by: ebradway

DaveP: I broke down and got the Target charge card because it gives me 5% off everything all the time. I only go to Target.com to check prices and inventory at the local store (sometimes while standing in Home Depot across the street).

I also have the Amazon scanner app on my phone. A quick snap of the UPC and I get access to reviews and competitive pricing for a wide variety of items.

Two major FAILs I've encountered recently in retail:

  1. I needed to buy tires for my wife's car. We always go to Firestone because they are silly enough to sell a lifetime alignment in Colorado (where the winter roads are rough enough to require that we get the alignment adjusted with every oil change). I went to the Firestone website and compared reviews and prices with TireRack. I chose a set of tires and generated a quote for my local shop. When I called to double check (yes, I've learned that I have to call... part of the problem), I was told that the tires I wanted weren't in stock and are back ordered indefinitely. The local shop had no way of telling me what tires they have for my car that match reviews on their site! Target can tell me if a particular candy bar is on the shelf but Firestone can't tell me what tires they have? I've realized now that the tires the guys at Firestone "recommend" are really just the ones they feel certain they can actually get.
  2. I had to pick up a package at the post office that required a signature. After presenting the slip left on my door by my postal delivery person AND my photo ID, I had to sign an electronic pad (three form identification?)... But then I had to write my name under my signature on the pad... and then I had to write out my address on the pad. My name, signature and address were all correct on the photo ID and matched the delivery name and address on the package. How much verification does the post office need?

#Comment Re: made: 2013-02-07 13:12:47.082082+00 by: DaveP

I hope you come up with some answers.

One example that hit me recently is that Target can apparently afford to give 5% off of everything. If you join there Pharmacy Rewards program, every five prescriptions filled gets you a full day of shopping at 5% off. The flip side of that is that if you want to use target.com you must turn on promiscuous mode for cookies in your browser (accept cookies from third-parties who are not the website you navigated to).