Archive for March, 2012

Joined-up offers and multi-channel strategies

I read one retail analysist recently who didn’t understand how even if footfall went up for bricks and mortar shops sales would not increase accordingly or might even go down. As with the music industry which is now full of people who think that just by saying they are a consultant, management company etc etc and by having an email address and website that says so too that makes it somehow credible, retail consultants often clearly suffer from one major drawback. They are not in retail. Several years ago if these people were good at their job then they would pick up on trends as they were slowly emerging and being ahead on picking up on these trends was what made them good at their job. Now things move so quickly that unless you are actually at the “coalface” you simply don’t have any idea what is going on and in fact by advising on what was true last week but not this week can actually cause harm.

Also these consultants, media people et al at least used to manipulate the public but knew the truth themselves. Now while something like the increase in vinyl sales is a good story the truth is far different for new vinyl and yet fairly small bands are genuinely advised to press vinyl by people who believe the hype and should know better. As for an increase in footfall but a drop in sales the answer if you actually own a shop is obvious. Customers still recognise the physical advantages of going in a shop from being able to ask expert advice to to simply being able to examine the potential purchase. However there was in the past a certain guilt that would be felt if they then did all this and then disappeared to find a slightly cheaper price online. That guilt is now gone and has more to do with people perceiving information to be free than simply needing to save a few pounds. Interestingly this is exactly what closed down some of the best specialist music websites. In this case they could at least provide expert opinion and information if not the physical experience and in what became known as “two tabs” buying a customer would use all the information from the informative website but then buy from a slightly cheaper site that merely listed the item. A site’s traffic would increase as word spread but sales would not only not increase accordingly but in some cases would actually start to go down.

Bricks and mortar sellers are now not only faced with other retailers who simply list things online and hope that others will do all the hard work but also competition from the very people whose products they sell. For a record shop to promote a band or a label these days is to encourage that customer to deal directly next time something is released but it applies to most but not all industries now. To promote a beautiful hand made gift will only encourage that person to look online for the maker and in many cases now there will be a wee note in the gift box encouraging that very thing. While there is an argument that there are simply not enough record shops the truth of the mater is that in most other cases there are enough potential outlets but rather than concentrate on making a product as widely available as possible in shops the easy option of trying to divert customers who have bought from a shop is taken.    

Finally a lot of this has been recognised with the call for joined-up offers or multi-channel strategies. Unfortunately this applies far more to other sectors than the music industry. The plan is that even if a customer comes into a shop and does not purchase then at least they will use that retailer online if they then do decide to buy. There are problems with this for anybody but for a record shop they are multiplied. We may recommend the latest Meursault album amongst others to a customer. Even play it to them in the shop. Two years ago 90% of the time if they liked it they would buy it. Now the majority of the time they will say it is very good indeed and they will go away and listen to more. They will take one of our cards and ask how to spell “Meursault” writing it on the back or maybe input it directly onto their phone.

From then on there are many options to buying it from the Avalanche online shop for £9.99 if they want to buy the CD. They can go to the band’s label Song by Toad and buy it there for £10. They can look on Amazon and see that it is only £7.99 (easy to do when you don’t pay VAT). The 30 minutes of my time that they took up asking advice on local/Scottish bands not being considered to be worth £2. They may choose to pay to download it for even less or they may of course just download it illegally for free. Of course for most purchases in other sectors at least the download or even worse the “get it for free” options are not available.

All that is left to record shops in particular are the opportunities that arise from having a well respected store. A day does not pass when I am not asked to recommend bands/music to promoters, journalists/magazines, radio, advertising execs, websites and a host of other people whose paths cross with music and need advice/recommendations. A few do their best to sell such opportunities to bands and labels as shops are almost never offered any reward for their advice. Most however will freely give the opportunity to a band or label to be featured in a magazine or on the radio or put forward for an advert or film when any PR agency would charge a substantial fee.

While anybody can find a blog with 30 readers to mention them decent opportunities for profile raising are fewer than ever and yet the work that shops can do to help has never been more taken for granted. When asked to choose three favourite albums for a national newspaper or a track to be played on national radio does a shop pick the albums and songs they love from labels that may show little support or respect for what shops do or do they pick those who will reward them for doing so or at least appreciate the opportunity they have been given ? Do they try to ingratiate themselves with a bigger indie label or record company in the hope of future favours ?

In the case of Avalanche if you are reading this you will probably know we pick the things we love. Sometimes though I do question whether it is fair to those who do appreciate what we do whether that be Star Wheel Press more recently or our relentless support for Dan and Withered Hand over the last few years when others will simply take the opportunity given and possibly even use it to our disadvantage.  

However it is the fact that we only occasionally get behind something (funnily enough there isn’t something out “brilliant” every week as twitter would have you believe) and that people rely on us to be uninfluenced by outside pressures that gives Avalanche the position it holds today. While there are too many people now who take what we do for granted that isn’t to say there aren’t a large number of people who do appreciate what we do. As well as our regular local customers it is the customer from New York who comes in the shop and thanks me for all the great tips on our website and then buys a dozen CDs or the young band that comes in to say thanks just for mentioning them on twitter or the label that sends an email to say they’ve had more interest shown because of being mentioned by us that still makes it all worthwhile. 

Our strategy is to make people aware of music they may like and hope they buy it from us. I hope we do the former well. The latter is up to the customer.