A day at John Lewis

This Saturday just gone was my final day of work in John Lewis, for the Acer Timeline campaign, another field marketing job. I’d enjoyed my time in John Lewis. I’m usually used to being placed in DSGi stores, such as PC World and Currys.digital, which are rather hectic to say the least. My job is meant to promote positive brand awareness, but unfortunately, my experience in DSG stores has been more akin to direct sales. The stores themselves are quite often packed, and you’ve got, if anything, around three minutes with each customer, to get them out of the door with your product in hand. It’s rather dog-eat-dog, if I do say so, myself.

John Lewis, on the other hand, is worlds apart. I’m sure that everybody is aware of their prestigious reputation in terms of selling, well, everything. It couldn’t be different from anything I’ve dealt with in a DSG store. Footfall is greatly reduced. Even what they consider as ‘busy’ is far quieter than what I’m used to. Customers demand your expertise, and instead of two or three minutes interaction with a customer, you’re sometimes required to spend up to an hour, or even more, with an individual customer. Truly, John Lewis provides a gourmet shopping experience.

Sadly, when I started the Timeline campaign, I was in the wrong mindset for the job. I’d worked in John Lewis stores before, but over a year ago. I approached customers with the intention of closing a sale as quickly as possible. The customers didn’t like this, and they soon reacted by complaining about me to the management. On my second day on the campaign, four individual complaints were made about me. I was utterly heartbroken, having never received any complaints about my methods. I put it down to stuffy John Lewis customers, and a bad day. Customers complained that I acted like I didn’t know the products I was selling, and that it was almost as if I “didn’t care”.

Now that I’ve finished the campaign, I can reflect properly, and say that they were right. I like to pride myself in my knowledge of technology, and receiving complaints about this was a great shock to me. However, I learnt a lot on my final day in John Lewis. Better late than never, I suppose.

I was talking to a customer early on in the day, who asked me directly if I knew “anything about laptops”. I asked him if it seemed that way, and he told me that I didn’t seem too confident on laptops. I thought this was quite rude, at the time, but then the truth soon dawned on me: I’d been patronising him, and my customers, all along. John Lewis tends to attract an older class of customer than DSG. I realise now, however, that their age doesn’t make them any less happy to comprehend technical jargon. On the contrary, it simply means that they need to be educated on the finer points of new technologies. Indeed, the customers I spoke to seemed to enjoy the technical jargon, and hearing about the ins and outs of what they were buying. It was almost as if they preferred a sales assistant who exuded a profound knowledge of technology.

In the past, I have thought of consumers in two seperate camps. You can either be a ‘techie’, or you’re not a techie. Here was my problem. I ended up ‘tailoring’ my sales pitch to non-techies, as I thought of them as unwilling to learn, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. I would approach, perhaps, an older customer, who I’d assume wouldn’t have the greatest tech knowledge, and start talking to him, in watered-down style, about whatever it was he was thinking of buying. I would patronise him.

On Saturday, I spent an hour or so talking to a man, a ‘non-techie’, and helping him find a laptop. With the comments from the gentleman I’d served earlier on in the day still fresh in my mind, I decided to go all-in. I would tell him everything I knew about these machines. I talked to him about the different models of Intel processor; the difference between Centrino, Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad. I spoke to him about Blu-Ray, about HDMI out, about the difference between 720p ‘HD Ready’ displays, and 1080p ‘Full HD’ displays. I even educated him about fluctuating capacities and ‘dead-points’ of older laptop batteries. I assume he didn’t already know most of what I already told him, but was struck me then as odd, was that he was more than happy to listen. He looked like he enjoyed listening to me talking, and after he had finished, he purchased an Acer laptop, shook my hand, and walked out of them shop a happier and better educated man. It was honestly a great feeling, and I went home smiling.

I think back now to my ‘debriefing’ from the floor manager at John Lewis a few weeks ago, and I understand fully what she said to me about not ‘being’ John Lewis. Sure, their customers might know as much about technology, than us, the sales staff, but that’s exactly why we’re paid. That’s also why John Lewis charge higher prices than most high street retailers. While being less knowledgable than some, John Lewis customers aren’t idiots. Indeed, the fact that they’re willing to fork out some extra cash to shop there, shows that they’re smarter than most.


An Acer Visit: Qualitative Marketing

One of the obligations of my illustrious field marketing job, is that I occasionally have to attend training days at various company offices. Today was one such day, where I visited Acer HQ in London to learn about one of their new laptop ranges that I’m meant to be demonstrating soon. There were presentations by Acer, Microsoft, and Intel. Without divulging too much information (I don’t want to break some sort of non-disclosure agreement I’m sure I’m bound by) there was a very interesting section of the Intel presentation that got my attention.

We were all talked through the various models of Intel processor (Atom, Celeron, Pentium, Centrino) and then a chart was brought up, which showed all of the different processor types. However, they were all grouped according to a newly devised ‘five star’ rating, to explain how powerful each processor was. The ‘five star’ category was deemed as “Best”, with the one star rating being referred to as “Good”. The floor was then opened, and we were asked what we thought of this new rating system, which I’m sure Intel are eager to promote.

The point came up that customers always want to buy what’s best on the market, even if it exceeds their needs. This is very true. I don’t like this five star rating system, and completely discourage Intel from using it. Firstly, I don’t like the way they rank processors against one another. Sure, some processors are more powerful than others, but you can’t really compare an Atom, which is made for netbooks, with a Core 2 Quad, and I think it’d detract from sales (not to mention being bad for their Atom line which was ‘one starred’) to compare processors in such a quantitative way. People talk, and think in words, not numbers. By telling them that a processor is only one out of five stars, you’re clearly going to put anyone off from buying it. Indeed, I can see that Intel tried to get around this by labelling their one star selection as ‘Good’ and not ‘Basic’, but I think words like this need to be avoided in marketing at all costs. In these hard times, you can’t afford to alienate your customers who are searching for a bargain by telling them that your entry level products aren’t great. Certainly, I’m sure they are great, they’re just built for different things. Instead of this method of ranking, why don’t we draw on human nature and label our products qualitatively instead. That is, to label them with words, instead of numbers. Intel, instead of presenting a chart with horizontal bars, representing their different ranks of processor, should instead turn that into a chart which presents the different processor types in vertical groups, to quell all notions of any superiority between processors (unless, of course, you’re looking at it from a consumer psychology angle, in which case either the left or right will have precedence, depending on what country you’re in). Instead of the rather garish and offputting five-star rating, why not simply label, say, an Atom processor as ‘Efficient’ or for ‘On the move’, and a Core 2 Quad as a ‘Performance’ processor? It makes a lot more sense, I think. People think words, so why not present things to them in a format they can easily understand?

Just something to think about.