Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Help Bri fundraise for indigenous communities

Like many Australians, I have used a busy life to protect me from contemplating the realities faced by people in our indigenous communities.  

 But now I have the opportunity to do something, and I'd like your help.  

Not-for-profit Indigenous Community Volunteers have invited 14 people on a fundraising trek of the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia in July 2012, and I am pleased to be taking part.  The trekking part is easy - Larapinta is ranked one of the 20 most beautiful walks in the world.

The part I need your help with is raising at least $3,000 for Indigenous Community Volunteers so they can continue to work with Indigenous Australian communities.

The fundraising target has been set because it costs;
  • Around $5,200 for ICV staff, volunteers and communities to complete a project
  • $355 for each ICV volunteer to attend a cultural awareness workshop before they can work in an indigenous community and
  • $180 to hold a community event to bring ICV and the community together to understand what needs to be done 

With each of the trekkers raising at least $3,000 that's $42,000 for ICV to make a substantial difference.  I will be personally funding the travel component of $2,400 and documenting my trip for those who have supported me. 

So are you able to help?  Donating is easy. Just visit my page.

A quick scan of other charity fund raising pages looks like donations range between $100 - $30, but I am most grateful for any contribution. Note that donations over $2 are tax deductible and you will receive a confirmation of your support.  

Thank you, and I am glad we can make a small difference to the lives of Australians in indigenous communities.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday book reading list

As we head into the Christmas break, I thought it would be worthwhile to note some of the books I have found most helpful on behaviour and behavioural economics.  A word of warning though, once you read these books the Boxing Day sales will never seem the same.

The book that got me started in the field of behavioural economics. Dan has a talent for writing in an extremely accessible, entertaining way and throughout the book weaves illuminating examples of human irrationality.

Dan’s follow up to Predictably Irrational which looks at the opportunities behavioural economics creates.  Whilst a worthwhile read I found that Upside of Irrationality dealt with benefits quite broadly where I wanted to understand the application of principles specifically to the work issues I encounter. (I subsequently wrote my book 22 Minutes to a Better Business to close this gap.)

One of the best change management books I have read and which will have you looking at your stakeholders in a completely different light…as elephants. Deals with the behavioural elements of change by encouraging us to appeal to both the rational and emotional being (and no, that doesn’t mean telling your stakeholder you love them…unless you want to).  If you are looking for new ways of influencing people, this book is very worthwhile.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein
Shamefully I haven’t yet read this book but do keep up with the blog, and Nudge is widely regarded as the seminal work for breaking behavioural economics away from academia.

A pet area of interest for me is how habits form and how you can break them.  If you are in sales, marketing or product development, an understanding of habits is an important element of your customer acquisition and retention plans and this little book is a very interesting read.

Have a great festive season and I look forward to more behavioural blogging in the new year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Meet Santa, master Behavioural Economist

Just think, a jolly fat man in a red suit gets billions of people to spend billions of dollars on people they may only see once a year to commemorate someone else’s birthday. This guy’s a genius!

If you are looking for an example of behavioural economics, look no further than Santa.  The man himself may be a fiction, but our irrationality is all too real.

Santa, and by Santa I really mean the rituals of consumerism associated with Christmas, influences us to do things that make no rational economic sense such as;

  • Buy more food than we can possibly consume
We find ourselves gorging at tables laden with very type of meat and vegetable as hosts delight in showcasing their generosity.  Such is the social construct that serving a normal sized meal just isn’t Christmas.

  • Buy Christmas Trees
We drive to a Christmas tree supplier, buy a $30-$60 tree that at any other time of the year we would not even look at and will survive only a few weeks, strap it to the roof of the car, drag it into the house, throw specially bought plastic bits all over, gather around the tree and distribute gifts. The next week, we watch the tree slowly turn brown before cutting it up to fit in the green waste bin.

  • Buy Snow
In Australia, in Summer, we (not me of course) buy snow in a can to spray on windows. Brrr!  Meanwhile we listen to special compilation CDs that trill about snowmen, sleigh bells, and white Christmases. Rational on a thirty degree day?

  • Buy Wrapping
We buy fancy paper to wrap gifts that are already packaged so that we can watch the wrapping get torn off on Christmas morning.

  • Avoid vouchers…unless we really have to
We worry about the stigma of giving cash or a voucher rather than a ‘gift’ even though the voucher may actually be worth more.  Retailers are working hard to de-stigmatize vouchers and experiential gifts like Red Balloon are helping reshape perceptions of these gifts.

  • Go to the supermarket…repeatedly
We tend to freak out that the shops close for one day and so pop down to the shops to get extra supplies just in case, forgetting the jammed car park and queues at the check out.

  • Boxing Day sales
The news footage should speak for itself but just to remind yourself not to let the thrill of a discount overwhelm your sense of dignity, check out scenes from the Thanksgiving sales in the US where a $2 Waffle Maker provoked a gob smacking, pant splitting frenzy.

Why do we find ourselves behaving this way at Christmas time?

Well, marketing probably has a lot to do with how we behave at Christmas.  "Special" Christmas deals, scenes of harmonious family gatherings and directive suggestions like “buy this TV for your Dad” use reciprocity (give to receive), loss aversion (make sure it’s a fair value exchange by buying expensive gifts), and social norms (everyone is doing it) to incite us to purchase. That our understanding of red-suited and jolly modern Santa is a marketing construct confirms how persuasive marketing can be, but it is more than that.

We are more influenced by how others act; the values and behaviours displayed by our fellow human beings.  That’s why shoppers went into a contagious frenzy for a $2 Waffle Maker, and why the rest of us, from the comfortable distance of our computer screens, feel we can mock them for their irrationality.  But that’s also the great thing about Christmas; a tacit agreement across much of the globe to devote one day to sharing time and tokens with loved ones.  Irrationality at it’s rational best.  Have a good one, and thank you Santa.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Should you charge customers an 'explanation fee'?

Retailers are doing it tough. Shoppers are coming in, speaking at length with the shop assistant about what the widget does and does not do, only to then leave the store and buy the widget cheaper online.  What's a retailer to do? How do they provide customer service but not lose the sale?

In his Fairfax piece last week, Terry Lane wrote that JB Hi-Fi has introduced a $30 "explanation fee" to recoup some of the cost of providing expertise to potential customers.  Think it will work?  Before you are tempted to follow in JB's footsteps, here are some behavioural elements to consider.

Customers are just doing what's smart
People do not believe they are doing anything wrong by speaking with one shop's assistant before buying from elsewhere; this is the very nature of shopper research and a deeply ingrained social construct.  It used to be hitting the pavement and going shop to shop.  Now it's research online, visiting a physical store if you need to sight, handle or try on the product, and then back to online to purchase.

Do customers feel guilty about wasting the shop's time? No way. In fact they are more likely to feel they deserve the better online price because they have worked for it through their research efforts.

Further, the customer does not consciously think about the overhead costs to that business.  I don't know about you, but when I wander into a store I do not calculate the cost of the assistant's salary, the electricity, merchandise and marketing that have gone into opening the store that day.  These are all lumped into the mental bucket of "sunk costs" that will have to be paid whether I buy from that store or not, and this protects me from any guilt associated with chewing up the shop's time.

So JB has a bit of an issue. They are introducing a fee for something people don't think of as a service. Now if JB's intent is simply to reduce 'tyre kickers', it may work because the fee most certainly will stop people seeking out their staff.  But in my view, disenfranchising potential customers is not a great move.

How to recoup payment for staff time  
As the nature of retail moves from in-store to online, and shops become more service rather than sales-centric, here are four thoughts about what businesses like JB might do;

1. Promote the benefits of buying in-store
Bricks and mortar stores have one massive advantage over online - stock.  "Take it home today!" should be the mantra because people hate to wait.  By the time they have come to the shop they have likely been thinking about the widget, so talking to them about taking it home and showing their loved ones tonight is a way of closing the gap between shops and online.  Make sure they are handling the widget to encourage ownership as you say "Mr Customer, whilst you might save a few dollars buying online, you can take this widget home right now and get on with things".

2. Spook them about invalid warranties 
As mentioned in Lane's article, people who buy goods from overseas often overlook the fact that the warranty may not extend to their country.  Shops like JB have a great opportunity to use people's aversion to loss to maximum effect by playing on our imagined distress if our widget breaks down.  We succumb to concepts like 'extended warranty' because peace of mind is worth paying a bit extra for.

3. Provide a value-add service 
Rather than calling the consultation an "explanation fee" that sounds condescending and a cost rather than benefit, call the service something like "expert consultation", "widget instruction session" or "how to widget".  Remember that people don't perceive shop assistant service as one that should be paid, so expectations of the service need to be interrupted.  Go to the extent of putting expert staff in a different uniform, position them in a different area of the store and even consider bookings.

The shop may suddenly find it has a whole new income stream generated by tutorial services which may also grow rather than disenfranchise its customer base.

4. Rebate service 
Offer the customer's who use the expert consultation the opportunity to rebate their fee against a product purchase.  So the $30 effectively becomes a voucher for their next purchase.  This will work in a number of ways. First, it will help overcome the objection to the upfront fee because it will feel less like the business is getting the money - it's more like they are just getting a deposit.  Second it will be hard for people to forgo their 'free' $30 so they will be more likely to buy something in store. And third, it means the business has an ongoing relationship with the customer and is more likely to get repeat business.

No doubt retailers like JB Hi-Fi are fed up with customers who take without giving, and in so doing provide online retailers with an even greater advantage through lower overheads and higher margins.  But this is the new world. I think it's great that we are seeing new models like JB's "explanation fee" popping up because it marks an attempt by bricks and mortar retailers to challenge the new online purchase cycle, and whilst this model may not quite succeed, it will at least make the retail sector consider new ways of balancing personal service with fair return.

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