What we can learn from street hawkers

I was in Shanghai China last week and had another experience with street vendors or ‘Hawkers’. The hot item that week seemed to be light flashing rolling heels for kids shoes. I lost count how many times I was approached to buy some. It got me thinking about what we can learn from their hustle.

Hawker China

Lessons for Startups from Street Hawkers:

It’s a numbers game. They approach every single tourist. (I stand out in China). Even though we may or may not want the toy they are selling, they don’t let their perception ruin the chance for a sale. They’d rather get a ‘No’, than miss a potential yes.

They take rejection with a smile. They don’t get upset when you say no thank you. Especially if you say it nicely. They understand that you are not rejecting them, but the offer. It’s not personal and they know it.

They go through the range. If one product isn’t right, they pivot and offer another from their range. They give every prospect a few options and work out what they might need. They try and solve your ‘gift or memento’ problem.

They are proactive in retail. If you’re looking, they ask questions and interact with you. They don’t wait at the counter for you to bring an item up to buy. They don’t sit and ignore you looking at their smart phone – like some retail workers do in western markets. They know how to sell in retail. And here’s why, they live on commission, not hourly rates – no sale, no money. What a difference that makes for sales people.

Make an offer: They often let you make an offer. Your price is probably higher than the minimum they’d accept. (Something we could do more often in B2B selling).

They Negotiate: They have flex in their pricing, let the customer have a perceived win through negotiating on price. A large part of what we buy is how we feel when we buy it. They know this and make it fun.

They know the rates: They’re great international marketers, they know the exchange rates of every country and give you the numbers immediately. They live in the customers world.

They are thankful: When you buy, they thank you for your custom. Appreciate your support and do business with a smile.

If we ever want to learn how to sell, then we should pay attention to people whose livelihood depends on it, not those who get a wage for doing it.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight.

The one thing you can do better than Apple

Apple store genius bar

You’ve probably been to an Apple store. They’re a very different proposition to what computer retail stores looked like in the first 30 years of the PC revolution. They are super busy, it’s no surprise it’s the most profitable retail outlet in the world per square meter. But the thing that impressed me the most isn’t the slick architectural design and visual brilliance, it wasn’t even the knowledge of the genius, it was this one thing:

I went in to get my macbook fixed after I made an appointment on line. When I arrived a staff member checked me in for my appointment, and then I stood in a line with other people waiting for help. I didn’t have to wait long. But when it was my turn a different guy turned up and said, “Hey Steve, come take a seat and lets get your sorted out.” The thing that threw me was that I was in a bunch of 10 people, I’d never seen this guy before, and yet he knew my name, and come right up to me. He didn’t yell “Steve?, is Steve here? you’re next..”

So I asked him how he knew who I was among all the other random people. And he told me what they do. When you check in on the iPad they write a description of what you look like. Clothes, colour hair, tall, short, red back pack and so on. So there can be no mistaking who is who. There could always be more than one Steve…. there could be two people wearing black t-shirts. This detail ensures they always get it right. He told me that they are told to come up to the customer and great them personally and intimately. And it really works, I felt good.

Now, I know you think that this is not so innovative. It’s hardly a new idea, and anyone could do it. And that is exactly the point. Anyone company could, but not many do. If the worlds biggest company can make a single customer feel like they are getting personal service, what could your startup or small business do?

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.


Why Beacons will become the Pocket Spam of the web of things era

There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things beacons will be able to do at retail level. And all of it is true – at least from a functional perspective. For the first time products will be able to directly interact with potential customers at store level. Physical spaces people spend time in will be able to interact with the people inside those spaces. Department stores, farmers markets, concert halls and  football stadiums are all being filled with beacon technology. And it will give birth to a new era of pocket spam. I wonder if what we really need right now is more vendors shouting at us with offers we didn’t know we wanted? I doubt it.

So, here’s the startup opportunity for Beacons which few are focusing on just now.

How to stop them.

Yes, the spam filter equivalent for the intrusive beacon. And I know you’re thinking that this time it’s different, because it wont happen unless we allow push messages. But when was the last time you read all those terms and conditions for a web based service? Often we say yes to something before all the details emerge and when the world was slightly different. It’s our legacy decisions which get taken advantage of.

Often the market for the hotdogs around the stadium is bigger than what is on the main playing field. And there’s always less people watching that game while you set up shop on the sidelines.

Random Soundbites

In the past few weeks I’ve been in the audience a few times when some smart people have taken to the stage. The presentations were largely retail focused. As usual I took notes and thought I’d share some random soundbites from what they had to share. I haven’t got the sources for each quote, because I couldn’t write those down quick enough without losing the information. But the thing that really matters isn’t the exact figures, but the patterns they are part of:

  • 10 years ago car buyers used to visit the dealership an average of 6 times before buying a new car. Now the average 1.5 times. When surveyed about the cars they bought more than 90% of buyers knew the specs in more detail than the car salesman.
  • Retail Delivery Gap: Australian retailers believe their customer shopping satisfaction rates are 80%. When surveyed the actual satisfaction rates from shopper was 8%.
  • There are a significant amount of retailers who are now treating the customers as employees: Airline check in – Supermarket check out. This is all fine so long as it reduces friction and increases joy. It shouldn’t be the default approach, but a considered one.
  • Retailer measurement used to be all about foot traffic and transactions, now they can measure everything in between, before and after. But smart retailers will need to ensure they have permission and share the prize with those providing the data.
  • Big data is a bit like teenage sex: “Everyone talks about it. No one knows how to do it, and everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, but not many actually are.”  Not my quote – but made me laugh.
  • Advertisers need to get ready for revised TV. A television that knows who is watching it, what they’ve bought, where they’ve been and what they car about.  One that can serve up specific, permission based  and relevant content for a single person. 1 to 1 television creative executions – the TV’s can already do it – but it seems no marketers can?
  • The delineation between physical and digital is over – pointless and and us versus them zero sum game. The intersection is now mandatory, or even tables stages – it’s now phygital.
  • People like buying stuff, but not so much paying – but the money isn’t the pain point, it is the process and the friction they hate. Sellers need to get out of the way.
  • Network Survival: A network stays alive so long as it provides trust and reduces friction. What’s interesting is that friction is often reduced by routing the long way round.
  • The top 12 Australian retailers have $700 billion worth of currency convertible loyalty points on hand – a giant liability, or is it an asset?
  • The phone is now becoming the personal life controller. It is the new location for commerce – literally where the phone is: simple example is Uber.
  • We are entering the wallet wars era. The digital wallet as spruced about by Bill Gates way back in 1995 – every tech player, bank, payment system and hardware developer is in the battle.
  • Mobile payments growing at an astounding rate in e-commerce. In the past 2 years payments via mobile phone grew 57 fold in Australia alone.
  • Mobile provides a leap frog opportunity. Many players who missed the first web iteration, can now disrupt the disrupters by doing an amazing job on mobile – this game is still open.

What does this tell us. Just that there is so much happening, and no matter what business we think we are in, we are all in the startup business now.


A mist of innovation

Today is a hot day in Melbourne 34 degrees celsius or 93.2 degrees fahrenheit. It seems though it is never too hot to retail coffee in our fair city of Melbourne. Looking for a java fix I quickstepped down to the nearest caffeine haunt in docklands. I happened upon a new outfit called Cafenatics. Their coffee and food were both good. Their outdoor air conditioning was the total bomb. I freaking loved it.

They had set up a nice water misting system in both their outdoor dining area and even inside. It was just perfectly soft so that you didn’t feel wet, just cooled down. So amazing, I tweeted about it, posted in on Foursquare and even made the effort to write this and share some pictures of it (below). A simple idea I’ve never seen before.

The thing I like just as much is that this is clearly not a new technology…. the Romans probably invented it. Proving again that innovation is an attitude and there are probably a thousand low cost ways any of us could employ tomorrow to wow people. This certainly got me talking.


cafenatics 2

cafenatics 3– – –

The curious thing is that, their coffee is what I came for, and their mist cooling system is the story I left with.


The Fish & Chip shop rules

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 5.57.58 pm

There’s a lot of talk in Australia about what makes a good Fish & Chip shop. It just so happens I know the answer to this question, and based upon this tweet by Heath, it has become clear I must share my rules right here.

Fish & Chip Shop rules:

  1. Cannot sell other food items which traditionally live outside of the Fish & Chip ecosystem. Namely pizza and kababs.
  2. Cannot be attached to another retail outlet such as a Milk bar. Must operate single business operation.
  3. Must have fish tiles on the wall.
  4. Must have wall poster of local fish population.
  5. Must wrap Fish & Chips in paper. Boxes are an unacceptable packaging material.
  6. Must not provide tomato sauce. Only salt and vinegar. Tomato sauce you have at home or go without. It’s just the way it is.
  7. Must sell pickled onions in a plastic tub on the counter, with the price written in a marker pen on the side.
  8. Must have traditional retro cans of beverage for sale in the drinks fridge such as Creamy Soda and Passiona.
  9. Drinks fridge must have a sign which says: “Please make selection before opening door”.
  10. Must make hamburgers and include a hamburger with the lot which has the options of beetroot, egg and pineapple.
  11. Hamburgers must be built on the grill while they cook by an expert burger cook.
  12. Must be run by hard working immigrant Greek family – the inventors & stalwarts of the local Australian fish & chip shop tradition.
  13. Must have home made chips from own potatoes. Frozen chips from bag are unacceptable.
  14. Must make potato cakes in house and dip in batter, just prior to dropping in deep fryer.
  15. Must provide both fired and steamed dim sims. These of course, must come from the frozen bag variety.
  16. Pricing board must be above the cooking fryers with prices written in chalk to allow for inevitable price inflation.
  17. Must have retro 1980’s arcade machine with a single game such as Galaga or Pacman.
  18. Must claim to be ‘local fish supplier’ of some random restaurant or pub in the local area.
  19. Must be located in working class area, preferably in the Western Suburbs.
  20. Should not be in obvious seaside location and counter intuitively be far away from waterway or estuary.
  21. Must be closed on Mondays.
  22. Must only be staffed by family members.
  23. Must have wide multi coloured plastic strip at door entry – to keep flies out.
  24. Must have cabinet at the front of the store window to display the ‘fresh’ fish.
  25. Must have semi inappropriate Chiko Roll poster on wall.
  26. Must sell ‘apple turnover’ oily apple pie with thick pastry.
  27. Must sell banana and pineapple fritters.
  28. Must wrap non-fried items in separate paper.
  29. Must use metallic industrial sized salt shaker to deeply cover chips in salt.
  30. Insert your rule here…. 

So why am I telling you this here on Startup Blog? Because sometimes the real innovation is about having the presence of mind to maintain a tradition in the face of change. While fish & chips might not be a thing where you live, I’m sure there is some kind of equivalent food or retail outlet. When change is the order of the day we can become worth talking about when we don’t change, or even bring back things of value which got lost along the way.

Leadership ironically, is sometimes about being a stalwart of the past.

Can I help you? Why retail customers always say no

These are the four worst words anyone can utter to a customer in retail. We all know they answer it gets 99% of the time – because we all give it.

“No thanks – just looking”

These 4 words are revenue stoppers, barrier creators, and empathy evaporators. It just says to the potential customer – I’m too bored and uninterested to even use a sentence that isn’t expected, practiced or considerate of the fact that you are the person who pays my wage. But rather than simply pointing out that it doesn’t work, let’s discuss a couple of simple and effective alternatives. And I’ll do this by giving you an example and a retail sales person who gets it.

I was recently shopping for some new jeans in a Myer store in Melbourne. When the sales guy approached me he asked me a simple question:

“Are you after pants or tops today?”

A very smart move. Either answer starts a conversation we he can ‘be help’ instead of simply asking if I need it. If I answer ‘pants’ – we can start narrowing down the selection. Same if I answer ‘tops’. Or he might even get lucky and I say ‘both’. If I say ‘neither’ I just look like a fool, and we can both wonder why the hell I walked into the store in the first place. Needless to say, I told him and he helped me find a nice pair of jeans.

blue jeans

The trick is simple:

First – never ask an open ended question. They don’t solve problems or lead to results.

Second – ask two pronged choice questions for which both answers are good for the sales person.

Third – don’t feel guilty or pushy doing it. People wouldn’t (especially men) enter a store just for the sake of it, they want help.

So next time you go into a store with sales assistants, pay attention to the language they use and you’ll start to notice those who get it and those who don’t. This example might also serve as a good question or test when recruiting business development staff for your startup.