Profit Is Not A 4-Letter Word

3 11 2010

I am in the often awkward position of being an Average Joe consumer, yet also an academic whose sole mission in life is to teach the very subject that many consumers come to loathe: Marketing. When people ask what I do, I half-jokingly tell them, “I teach people how to take other people’s money.”

Which is true. But I sure do hate it when people take mine.

That’s what makes this job tough. I am the very person (typical consumer) whom I teach marketing students to target. I don’t like having my pocket picked by sneaky marketers, but on the other hand, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not show my students how to do it.

So when I saw this list of 15 things retailers do that irk customers, I was instantly intrigued. I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly, for I am that customer. I truly am a part of “we the people,” an average person with average shopping needs.

But the marketer in me loves to ponder new ways to make money.

I realize that having the staples “conveniently located” in the back of the store is annoying, especially on those shopping trips intended to pick up just one thing. But let’s face it. The job of the retailer is to do everything within their power to stop you dead in your tracks. If they can do anything to slow us down, distract us, cause us to go off course, the odds are better that we will spend more.

So we find it is no mistake indeed when retailers regularly re-set their shelves. This keeps us from memorizing where everything is. It’s almost like starting over. And who among us can make it all the way to the back of the store and back with only a gallon of milk?

Successful retailing is calculated. It is cold. It is cunning. And it confuses the hell out of us.

I remember when I was doing my doctoral research. Long before I settled into my dissertation topic exploring how corporate buyers make their new product decisions, I hung out in a variety of supermarkets. I observed. I took copious notes. I interviewed managers. I will never forget one manage telling me, with a sneaky grin on his face, how he used the aroma from the bakery to entice customers.

“We pump the exhaust from the bakery throughout the store, and even into the parking lot,” he said.

Which explains why I would be hungry before I even set my hands on a shopping cart.

Other managers told of how they purposely create a rat-in-a-maze store layout so that customers are forced to wade through the items with the highest profit margins first…the fruits, vegetables and deli. Why? Easy. Because our carts are empty, we have a lot less resistance to impulse items. It is after our carts are nearly full that we gather the resolve to say “no more.”

Are retailers (and the rest of their marketing ilk) going to spend eternity right beside the lake of fire? I doubt it. Well, I hope not. Because at the end of the day, responsibility for staying within one’s budget lies squarely on the shoulders of the individual, not the retailer. It is the retailer’s job to not only sell you what you need, but also a bunch of what you want. Whether you need it or not.

While I may utter a few choice oaths and curses while trying to find the salsa (by snack foods? or Mexican foods?) and Gatorade (by beverages? Juices? sports drinks?), I must remind myself that profit is not a 4-letter word. And the more commas the retailer can include to the left of the decimal point, the better off the company is going to be.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Dr “Profit Prophet” Gerlich




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