It’s less about the last three feet. It’s more about cold feet.

I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that we’re seeing a significant change in the way people buy.  I’ve no empirical evidence to offer whatsoever, but all logic suggests that a greater proportion of people will walk out of a shop empty handed today than would have been the case 12 months ago.

To grossly generalise, people have, if not a disinclination, at least a nervousness, around spending. But as a society we’ve made shopping a big part of our lives – it’s unchallenged as our leisure activity of choice.  So we’ve got people who are doing more and more research, increasingly online (and Search Marketing is doing a great job of helping brands in this space).  Then we’ve got people who are still doing lots of ‘leisure-shopping’, which is why you don’t see fewer people in Newmarket on a Saturday morning, just fewer bags.  So how do we help clients send people out of their stores with more bags?

Over the last few years the in-store driver has been brand choice – how to get someone to choose adidas over Nike – and so POS/ collateral etc was the appropriate focus. This idea was captured rather nicely in the phrase ‘the battle for the last three feet’, the idea of brands jostling for position, all flying elbows and raked shins, clamouring for attention on the retail floor.

But I’m thinking that the focus is becoming more fundamentally about driving purchase. Any kind of purchase. It’s not a decision between this brand or that brand.  It’s a decision between spend or don’t spend.

So if I were a retailer I think I’d be talking to partners about taking the money they’re investing in POS etc and investing it in training for staff, or simply getting better staff. Smarter, more experienced, and, ultimately, more persuasive.

In a market in which people are starting to err on the side of not buying it becomes a confidence game – do I have confidence that my money is being well spent? And while this shift doesn’t diminish the vital role played by a strong, trusted brand, it does increase the importance of a compelling, confidence-building in-store experience.   So it becomes less about the winning the battle in the last three feet, and more about preventing a customer from getting cold feet.  And that’s what a good salesperson does.

(I think this shift also has significant implications for the kind of advertising we produce, driving a requirement for our work to move (some might say return) more to an informed persuasion role, rather than an awareness or memorability goal. But that’s the subject for another post.)

It’s less about the last three feet. It’s more about cold feet.

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