Deliberate irritation marketing

In the grocery store on Friday evening, right in the middle of the pre-weekend, pre-dinnertime crush, negotiating my cart down aisles cluttered with plodding, aimless shoppers, and there, in front of the meat case, was a long table/bin sort of thing filled with remaindered beach toys.

This obstacle was causing an incredible traffic jam of head-on confrontations, ooching and banging of handles. The complete assholishness of the table prompted me to stop, walk over, lift up one end and move the table out of the way. The aisle cleared, people were on their way.
This scheme was doubtlessly hatched by a grocery store consultant who wrote about “impediment” marketing techniques for Bain, the same jerk who came up with the astonishing insight that most people turn right when they enter a store, or the milk should be tucked in the back. The scheme was taught in a regional grocery store management seminar and became posted in the operations manual of the Northeastern Region, replete with diagrams, maps, traffic flow diagrams, and the wisdom to park the obstacle right in front of the meat.

This is the marketing consultant I was happy to defeat yesterday at Ikea, when my wife and I bought three bookshelves in about 15 minutes by swimming upstream and entering through the exit, through the checkout lines in reverse, and into the furniture warehouse without having to navigate a forest of candles and picture frames that greets every Ikea shopper who arrives looking for furniture-in-a-box but leaves with Lutefisk napkin rings and enough votive candles to power a cathedral for a month.

I get the whole “slow-em-down and up-the-attach-rate” model of marketing. This is why, when you authorize a new credit card, you get to hear a recitation by the customer service representative who tries to sell you credit report services, and lost card registration, and identity theft insurance.

In media, this is also known as jumping pages. Why blow a perfectly good story on one page? The reader may find it convenient to read it all in one place, but hey, “click here to continue” and tah-dah, another page view more ad impressions.

I guess, as I ramble, that the table in front of the meat was the retail equivalent of the pop-up ad or the interstitial. Get in the consumer’s face, force them to go around, and hope they are dumb enough to get distracted and on an impulse buy that ham.

I have a choice in grocery stores. One makes it aisles obstacle courses, the other does not. Guess which one I go to more often, even if it is a little farther away?

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Deliberate irritation marketing”

  1. Like every other consumer, I prefer a world without popups and interstitials and checkout candy and meatcounter obstacles. And I so for every business I advocate a please-the-customer approach (within reason – there’s a time to call certain customers jerks and refuse to seat them). But so many businesses continue to choose the Way of Irritation that it gives me pause. Maybe all appearances to the contrary, it works from a pure profit perspective. (Heavy sigh.)

  2. Annoying your customers is nothing. Try my planet where the company actually sues its customers.

    The music industry…where long distance was 20 years ago…a beautiful ski slope to nothingness…

  3. So true. In my town there is an Albertsons and a Smiths. Navigating Albertsons is like being lost in a labyrinth, while Smiths keeps their aisles fairly traditional in layout. Smiths is farther from my house but I chose to shop there. Smith’s liquor store has better prices, too. Go figure.

  4. Bravo, David! I applaud your sense of duty to the consumer, who was obviously being consumed by the sheer arrogance of the grocery store staff.

    Navigability – whether on the web, or in the supermarket, department store, etc., is a right (no pun intended) the consumer has, but rarely recognizes. Which means that, you, because of who you are, make the conscious choice to visit the grocery store a mile down the road. Unfortunately, the consumer who does not recognize the obstacles for what they are, often trudges through them, and wonders why they get home tired and irritated.

    I am afraid you may be giving some retailers too much credit. I’m a 25 year vetern of speciaty retail. That table in the grocery store very well could have been put there because someone just wasn’t intelligent enough to realize that customers actually might want to walk through there…

    @ Adam: I used to live in CT: Stew’s has the most amazing cheddar cheese bagels. But I used to take the shortcuts to get in and out quickly!

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