Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

Mess with the check-out at your peril!

with 8 comments

How better collaboration can help avoid the negative consequences of our actions

Not many people deliberately screw up. Some might, but the vast majority actually do try to do a good job. As a manager, when our team makes mistakes, we learn that our first assumption is that their intentions were good. It helps diffuse any anger, and helps give better, less emotional feedback.

But if intentions are usually good, why are so many of the things that go wrong so obvious in hindsight?

Recently there has been a lot of debate about the future of self-serve check-outs. They were originally a cost-saving measure dressed up as improved customer service.  Operations directors will have considered the operational impacts, both positive and negative. They will have calculated the payroll savings, and they will have considered the biggest operational downside – shrinkage. It appears that some retailers may have underestimated this, but one assumes that tests will have been run, and the increase in theft will have been factored in (and perhaps mitigated by enhanced security).

But according to Retail Wire  there are other unintended consequences, and unfortunately they are negative. It appears that self-checkout dramatically reduces impulse sales. Not something an operations team would consider, but something that a merchandising director would, and also manufacturers of products from batteries to candy would have been all too aware of. Mess with the check-out at your peril!

Manufacturers and marketers are not always better. I blogged recently about the scourge of poor compliance in shopper marketing activities, and across a number of forums and here on the blog many people posted about their own “case studies from hell” – where simple, avoidable consequences caused issued which destroyed activity ROI. New packaging that was impossible to read at a distance – the message was perfect but no-one saw it. Display units that don’t fit; products that weren’t available in the right size in the right stores: small oversights that could often have been avoided with input from another party.

A recent favorite of mine is a product that was to be launched by a client in Indonesia. The marketing team decided to launch at a lower price than the market based on some product acceptance research. The consequence of this slight change in pricing? Retailers saw the product as destroying category value and refused to list. Not a consequence the brand manager saw, but something a sales manager would have spotted.

We don’t have crystal balls, and we can’t be expected to foresee every possible implication of our activity. And that’s the point. We may not be able to foresee these things ourselves, but there is someone out there who, by dint of their personality or responsibility will look at things from a completely different perspective. And that, for me, is the greatest argument there is for more collaboration.

My experience in deciding who to collaborate with and when to engage them is as follows:

  • If you’re not sure whether to consult someone, consult them.  Consulting someone you didn’t need to is far less likely to lead to misery than ignoring someone whose input was essential.
  • Brainstorm all of the people who might possibly be able to help, or who might be affected by your plans. Challenge to find a really good reason NOT to consult them – if there isn’t one – go talk to them.
  • Consult them much earlier in the process than you think. Much earlier. Ask why are they not consulted from day one?
  • Plan to connect with people twice as frequently as you think you need to. In that way, if a meeting gets cancelled for whatever reason, the delay in getting their input should not be critical.

So before you begin your next project, no matter how large or small, stop a moment and think who else out there might be able to help you predict the unintended consequences.


Written by Mike Anthony

May 10, 2012 at 8:02 am

Posted in engage, Retail

8 Responses

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  1. Mike, Great post. I try to instill this approach with my staff as well as with clients. The idea that if you ask, you may seem weak is just crazy. When in doubt, ask! That goes for directions as well. Yes, we all have GPS, but how many times did it send you on a route that comman sense would have stopped you from pursuing?

    Zel Bianco

    May 15, 2012 at 5:05 am

    • Hi Zel,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Great to hear we are on the same page! The idea that anyone has all the answers is just crazy. You can, and should, be an expert in your domain, but not in everyone else’s. I read an interesting blog from Seth Godin – at the beginning he talks about knowing your own area as an expert, but also knowing a little about lots of other stuff. The trick here is to use the “little” you know of other stuff to know when, where and who you need to collaborate with…
      All the best and thanks again,

      Mike Anthony

      May 15, 2012 at 6:19 am

  2. Mike,
    I do believe the self check out still present a very interesting proposition. while the risk and benefits of the check out itself is quite transparent,e.g. cost savings, shorter queues, higher shrink, etc, I do not believe that the unit has been fully utilised. From an operation point of view, the self check out replaces the labour by having the POS unit for the customer to use. That’s simple. However, there is an opportunity for other units,e.g. vending styled units that can compliment the check out (just like the old style checkout) by having it in front of the shopper rather than during queues.

    But I don’t think thats the point of your article. I do agree that we don’t ask enough and truth be told, we REALLY don’t have all the answers! However, to all those whom want to ask around, the precondition to just asking is the ability to analyse and accept the feedback. There have been enough examples of selective listening and we are no angles as well.

    Maybe, there should be more courses out there on listening skills.


    Kenneth Chuah

    May 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    • Dear Kenneth,

      Thanks very much for your input. I too believe that the self check-out is an interesting proposition (though I nearly always seem to have problems whenever I use them!). We are probably still very early on in the evolution of POS systems and I’m sure that used in the right way in the right stores, they will create significant value.

      As you say, the key point is collaboration – and thank you for acknowledging that people in all roles simply do not ask enough. Why is that I wonder? I see things often from the manufacturer side of the fence, and there is a clear reticence to asking retailers their opinion. Often this is because ideas are often born in marketing departments who do not typically meet with retailers frequently; and sometimes, dare I say it, seem to distrust retailers and wish to keep their ideas “secret” for as long as possible. What are the dynamics within a retailer that prevent manufacturers being consulted more frequently?

      And lastly – your final point is so true – there is no point in asking unless you are prepared to listen. Too often people seek validation only – if that is not forthcoming the input is suddenly irrelevant!

      Thanks again for your contribution!


      Mike Anthony

      May 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  3. […] created the breeding ground – in many ways, big retailers are again victims of the unforeseen consequences of their actions. Pop-up stores only go so far: High street landlords needed something, anything, […]

  4. Great post Mike.

    • Dear Christine,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment – much appreciated.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      May 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

  5. […] a comment » I recently wrote about some of the downsides of the self-checkout to both retailers and manufacturers, and how […]

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