Thursday, 19 May 2011

Good Luck on your……business overhaul

Earlier this month, Clinton Cards, a mainstay of the British high street, posted a 3% decline in like-for-like sales for its year to date. As a result, it has announced a number of new initiatives and store improvements in order to turn trading around, including a new smartphone app, a loyalty card which will appear this autumn and an in-store web-based kiosk which will allow customers to design their own cards. The company has also been working with a branding and store design specialist on four redesigned stores.

But will that be enough? Can Clinton engage with consumers and persuade them again to buy in bigger numbers? Or is this a case of traditional bricks and mortar businesses being usurped online for good?
I think card shops are a bit like book shops or the Royal Mail in that that their core business (physical communication/media) feels a little like it is in terminal decline. However unlike some physical media businesses which have been sluggish to diversify, anyone who has recently been into a Clinton store might have been struck by the already evident diversification.

But the Internet, once a dark, serious and impersonal place, is now more able than ever to compete with cute, fluffy person-to-person affection – whether that is the brash and direct approach of Funky Pigeon or the ever increasing social networking, smartphone interaction amongst Clinton’s target audience. A web kiosk also sounds like fun, but feels like it relies on people being in the store rather than being a reason to visit in itself.

Customer insight will be key to sending Clinton’s down the right track. Research will help them understand what people want from a card, what a card can do like no other medium – so that they can leverage the physical equity of sending something tangible and understand what the card needs to convey so that the offer is aligned. They can explore specific card occasions and behaviours around them, understanding what pulls heavier and lighter buyers of cards apart so that you can find ways to encourage heavier buying (buying for more occasions, for more people, gaining a greater share of all purchases, …).

Clinton’s will have explored buying behaviours (ad hoc vs stocking, planned vs impulse) so that offers can be tailored to maximise purchasing, as well as reviewing what other lines can be offered (for example, cards and wrapping paper) and what role they can play
They will also be very aware of their position relative to the competition. Brands that do well tend to really stand for something in the consumer’s mind . If Clintons’ positioning statement is ‘cards for all occasions’, where does that place them in the context of W H Smith, M&S or Funky Pigeon? Where is their point of differentiation?

Consumers want, as much as ever, to connect with each other and to express how they feel, to share, to gift – all the things that Clintons is about. But they have an infinite virtual world of possibilities with which to do this; so success for bricks and mortar businesses is all about embracing the multi-channel world which is so fast moving. This means that ongoing consumer connection and insight is absolutely essential to deliver the innovation in store that is needed to bolster the business. Here’s hoping Clinton’s are on for some congratulations cards of their own before too long.

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