British Summer Shopping: A Review

I’ve just returned from a somewhat delightful shopping trip, where I was nicely toasted by the sheer heat that we’ve recently been experiencing in London, and other parts of the UK as well, assumingly. I say it was delightful, because I managed to locate and purchase nice things, but that was about it. The experience of shopping in a retail market not used to such heat was certainly off-putting; yet, I stuck at it until I’d found what I wanted to buy.

I visited TK-MAXX (TJ-MAXX to those of an American disposition) on my shopping journey. I love TK-MAXX, and its racks upon racks of bargains, and make a habit of shopping there first whenever I’m in need of new shoes, or similar. It was hot, it was very cramped, it was clammy, and yet, it was packed.

A major qualm is that there was no air conditioning. Despite the sweltering 27° heat, the lack of air conditioning in a first floor shop with constant strip lighting and no windows to the outside world, coupled with the sheer number of customers bustling around, generating heat, meant that we were all cooking. More than that, we were all perspiring, and we all had to endure the funk of stale body odours. This manifested itself no stronger than in the fitting rooms, causing me to ‘try on’ the various garments I was holding, by which I actually mean pulling on the garment in question, pondering over it for a couple of seconds, and then removing it. In the end, I decided between the three t-shirts I was holding based on feel alone. Simply put, my trip to the fitting room was wasted. To me, that’s not really a big thing, but (don’t kill me: generalisation alert) women could quite possibly see things differently, as suggested by some (in this book), who claim that people who spend longer in fitting rooms generally buy more things. I also have no idea if women, on average, are smellier than men (my female friends will most definitely tell me this is a falsehood), and I’m not going to make any claims to this effect, but whether or not female fitting rooms are nicer smelling/smellier than their male-oriented counterparts, the sheer heat that accompanies you into each changing cubicle is nigh-on unbearable, and I believe would make people ‘change’ and try on clothes differently.

However, this again may be a moot point. There was a queue for both male and female fitting rooms. In the male fitting rooms, men were actually willing to stand amidst the funk, and the pong, and wait for a cubicle to become free. I was lucky, as I snuck in during a lull in the flow of changing men, but when I hurriedly exited my cubicle, I could see that other, queueing men were far more bothered about using the changing facilities than I.

My point? Well, I think for one, creating a nicer, more pleasant shopping space is conducive to better sales. This is obvious. If TK-MAXX started using an air conditioner, who knows what would happen. Heck, I probably would have spent more time in the shop if I didn’t constantly feel as if I was about to collapse from exhaustion. Maybe I even would have purchased more things, but now we’ll never know. My point, however, is that despite the horrid shopping conditions, many, many shoppers either consciously or subconsciously put up with the heat, and the smell. It seems that a bargain is worth the personal discomfort, which doesn’t necessarily make the discomfort justifiable, but raises worrying questions about this human race. Are we really willing to put ourselves in such situations for some discounted goods? Well, clearly, at least in this case, we are. Why not revolt, then? Shopping shouldn’t have to be a chore, and definitely shouldn’t be physically discomforting. Next time you visit a shop which is uncomfortable, say, or do something about it. I was half tempted to borrow a bag of cheap ice-cubes from Poundland, and decorate the place with them. People are generally (quite rightly) concerned with their rights as humans. Why should retail environments pay these basic rights no heed?

I think I’ve said all I can on the subject. If you work in retail, please make sure your establishment is physically bearable, especially in the heat. If you don’t, don’t forget that you’re still a human being when you shop.

Enjoy the sun, everyone.


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.

Life, generally.

I’m now 21, and I’m just as clueless as to where my life is going. I have ideas of things I want to do, but not really any idea of how I’m going to get there, or what choices to make, or anything of the sort. My life is confusing.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’m on the verge of graduating from university with a BA in English. The world is literally my oyster, but I’m not at all ready to live in the real world. I’m only starting to really discover my strengths, and what makes me unique as a person.

I have worked, for the past couple of years, for various marketing agencies, in field marketing. That’s a rather posh way of saying I usually have to stand in stores and demonstrate various things to various people. Most of my work has something to do with the technology sector, so I spend my time explaining how mobile broadbrand works, showcasing and encouraging people to buy a certain kind of laptop, or demonstrating how a certain camera works, and what sets it apart from the competition. I enjoy the challenge. As I’ve also said previously, I love talking to people and communicating generally. I also enjoy learning about different technologies, and I love the new challenges that each campaign brings. It’s not glamorous, or, let’s be honest, hard, but I enjoy it. Very early on in my marketing career, I started wondering about the logic behind marketing. Last summer, I worked a job involving direct sales of a certain credit card. It wasn’t pretty, but I was quite good at it, I think, because I noticed quite early on that everyone thinks in a different way. This might sound stupidly obvious, but there’s a definite art to it. I had to approach each encounter differently. For instance, a man with business on his mind wants to hear about the APR of the card, the monetary benefits, the numbers. As I was selling the card in a supermarket, there were also quite a lot of mothers, who don’t really want to hear any figures, and prefer hearing how the card can help them with their shopping, by providing them with better value which can turn into an occasional free shop. I don’t need to say any more than this. It’s common sense. Some might call it ‘cold reading’. I did, for a while, but there’s definitely an art to it.

A while back, I purchased the rather excellent Why We By by Paco Underhill, who’s pretty much the founder of what is called ‘consumer psychology’, a certain kind of environmental psychology that considers the behaviour of shoppers. Some call it ‘the science of shopping’. Unfortunately, I haven’t made my way through the whole book yet, but what I have read is really quite excellent. It spoke to me, and validated my musings. I don’t really know what makes this certain facet of psychology appeal to me so much, but I just love it.  Mr Underhill is CEO and founder of Envirosell, probably one of the only marketing firms in the world who use consumer psychology to help their clients, but definitely the best. It’s quite a new area of marketing. I’d imagine that some people are quite adverse towards it, shrugging it off as rubbish, but it actually works. The numbers are there.

With this in mind, I decided to completely go against my English background and consider enrolling for an MSc in Marketing Management at my university. I went along to an open day a while back, and spoke to one of the lecturers, expressing my interest in consumer psychology. The lecturer said he thought it was great that I had some actual idea of what I wanted to learn about marketing, and recommended even applying for PhD funding. For me, this is kind of a dream come true. Because of my English undergraduate degree, I found very quickly that finding marketing, or any consumer/environmental psychology course that would take me on a bit hard. What’s more, I couldn’t jump straight into researching consumer psychology in either an academic or occupational way, because I need some sort of grounding in marketing first.  But, if I do get my PhD, I’ll get to become a consumer psychologist, and do what all consumer psychologists do, and watch thousands upon thousands of hours of store video tapes, looking at shopper habits. I’m also very interested in the differences between US and UK advertising. Advertising in the UK is just so creative, probably because of the great many restrictions we have, but it’s a diverse, wonderful industry. In America, things are very different, with advertising being very bland and to-the-point. I’d actually love to go to New York for a year, visit Environsell, and see how they do things over there. From speaking to the lecturer I mentioned previously, I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble getting on the MSc course because of my enthusiasm for the subject. Getting PhD funding might be harder, but as I’ve said previously, it would really be a dream come true.

That’s one option. On the other hand, and completely different from marketing, is exploring a career in writing. I am a writer, of sorts. I’ve dabbled in poetry in the past, by which I mean I’ve written a lot of angsty teenage stuff. I’ve also recently discovered that I have some talent in writing funny fiction. It’s something I’ve always had, but I’ve only just discovered that it could be considered a talent, as opposed to something that’s a waste of time. Case in point. I am taking a class at university called ‘Writing the Novel’, which is about writing novels. Duh. My seminar tutor is a really cool guy. Actually, he’s the one who encouraged me to start this blog. He’s also the one who encouraged me, today, to use my blog as a place to collect and collate my thoughts, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. For my past two assignments, I’ve written a novel opening about a monkey. This monkey also has rabies. This isn’t a joke, but it is pretty funny. The whole novel is a social critique, of sorts, and is narrated through the monkey’s observations. The other assignment is a short piece about two LARPers who go to B&Q one day to buy a picnic bench, and end up being taken down on charges of terrorism. I know now that I definitely want to turn the monkey story into a novel. The thing that really gets me, is the fact that I’ve discovered that my writing is…well, good, only now. In my younger days, I was always the ‘weird’ one at school. Even back then, I loved writing stories about generally ‘weird’ things, including a superhero alien called Captain Weirdo. I was always criticised for it, though. One of my strongest memories of this involves my Year 6 teacher, Miss Pirie. Whenever Miss Pirie would set us a creative writing assignment, I would always want to write about aliens. I loved aliens, for some reason, and I loved Captain Weirdo. I told all my friends about him, and we would all draw pictures of him and his Space Blobs on the planet Zog. I’ve still got them lying around somewhere, and should probably dig them up as source material for a possible children’s book. Miss Pirie didn’t like aliens, or Captain Weirdo, though. She always chided me for writing about him. Why was I writing about silly, fictional aliens? Things actually got to the point where she banned me from writing about aliens. I remember, for our final Year 6 creative writing assignment, I ripped off the story from Mission Impossible completely. She picked up on it, of course, and criticised me for it, but it would have been no different than if I had written about aliens. Thanks, Miss Pirie. So I suppressed my wacky side for a great while, until now. This creative writing class has given me the confidence to start writing again, and has made me realise that my ideas aren’t a load of bullshit. To cut this short, I plan on writing a lot more of my own writing from now on. As I mentioned to my friend, earlier, it’s like I’ve been harbouring this great gift all my life, but have always shunned it. I realise now that I can write about all these things. Sure, not everyone is going to like it, but some people do appreciate it. I showed my assignment to a friend of mine after I picked it up. I pretended to read something else, but was secretly watching his face the whole time he was reading. The smiles I saw made me very happy indeed. They made me so happy. I’ve always said I’ve wanted a career which involved making people happy, but that’s a long story for another day. This works. This really works, and I think I’m going to carry on with it. I just can’t thank my seminar tutor enough.

My university offer an MA in Creative Writing. That’s another option for me. I’ve enjoyed this year’s creative writing class a lot more than the one I took last year, as I still felt restricted last year in what I could write. I’d say the course has helped me a lot in giving me the confidence to start writing. I’m sure the MA would help me along the way even more. The only thing it wouldn’t help me with is finding a job later on. Think of the marketing as hedging my bets. It’s a tough life out there in the creative industries. I’ve got confidence in my abilities, but that doesn’t mean I’ll make it. It’s also something I’m passionate about, but in a very different way. One thing that my seminar tutor said today really struck me. He said that writing like mine needs to happen, as it’s the life-blood that will keep the industry alive. I’m not sure this is just about me. Maybe I have to write for the sake of literature. That sounds very conceited of me, but I can kind of see his point. We don’t want literature to become saturated with Dan Brown and Jack Higgins novels (those were two writers I could think of – I don’t read a great deal, ironically). That’s not to say I’m better than either of them, I just have a story to tell. A story about a monkey. That has rabies.

Well, I guess that’s what I have to say on that subject. I’ve considered many, many careers, and have many other aspirations, such as getting into the media, but the things I’ve considered in these blogs are my two main passions, so to speak. I’ve still got no idea what I’m doing, or where I’m going with my life. But, if you’ve got this far, thank you for reading.