Anthony: Today we’re going to talk about what makes retailers switch from one product to another. This is important because retailers will likely already have your competitors’ products on our shelves when you ask us to buy your stuff. It’s your job to make us feel that we’d better off giving our money to you instead.
Clare: That’s right, we’re probably not going to say “Oh, wow, we’ve never even heard of candles before!”
Clare: “Oh my goodness. Candles? Am I even pronouncing that right?”
Clare: No, if we’re one of your most likely buyers, we’ve already got a candle range but we’re not completely happy with it.
Anthony: Which means your goal when you approach us is to persuade us to stock your candles instead of sticking with our current supplier. And if you want to succeed, it helps to understand the forces in play and the process retailers go through.
Clare: Yes, it’s good to understand this stuff because it applies not just to retailers, but to regular customers too. In the period before someone switches from their current product to your product, there are four forces at work. And that period can be days, weeks, months or years. Buyers are individuals so there’s no fixed time frame. But in the run-up to someone switching products, what we might call the pre-switch phase, these four forces are present.
Anthony: Let’s take a look.
Clare: The first force is an “urgh” feeling. Somehow, life is not how the retailer wants it to be. For example, he might be saying to himself: “Urgh, these candles are just sitting on the shelf. People don’t want them. They’re hardly selling at all.” It’s a feeling of dissatisfaction with his current situation.
Clare: The next force is hope. The retailer starts to think “You know what, maybe my situation could be better. Maybe I could be feel happier about the candles we stock.” That hope is like a magnet pulling him towards a brighter future. It might not be fully conscious yet, but on some level he’s thinking “Perhaps another candle range would sell better, and I’d make more money and I’d be happier.”
Anthony: So he’s receptive to change. He’s longing for this roadbloack to be gone.
Clare: The third force at work on the retailer is fear. The universe is an uncertain place. Every shopkeeper has ditched an unsatisfactory product range, only to end up with something that’s even worse than what we had before.
Anthony: We have. I actually did this once with our card machine, didn’t I?
Clare: You did.
Anthony: I won’t bore you with the details but you know the machine that takes debit and credit card transactions? I decided to switch to a different provider but it was a total disaster and we switched back. It was an awful lot of admin and we nearly had to pay a very big severance fee.
Clare: You had to talk fast to make sure that didn’t happen.
Anthony: I certainly did. But I mention it to prove this is a real thing. Let’s say I’ve got that range of candles and they’re just sitting there, only selling occasionally. Yes, I want a better solution, but what if I get a new candle range and my customers hate it? Then I’ll feel like an idiot and I’ll have wasted all that money.
Clare: This is the amygdalae at work – the parts of the brain that regulate our experience of fear. Changing to something new is uncertain and anything that’s uncertain is risky. Your brain wants to keep you safe from risk and bad feelings.
Clare: And the final force is inertia, which is more like an anti-force. It’s the retailer going “This sucks, but it sucks in a familiar way, so why rock the boat?” There are just so many other things for independent retailers to do and think about. It takes energy, will and effort to make a change from one supplier to another. And sometimes we just don’t have that energy to spare. So that means we stick with what we’ve got even though we’re not happy with it.
Anthony: When this force is acting on him, the retailer’s thinking “Oh, these candles aren’t all that bad. And anyway, I haven’t got the bandwidth to look for anything else right now. I just can’t face it.”
Anthony: So here’s the retailer in the middle of all those conflicting forces. He’s being buffetted and pushed and pulled in this pre-switching phase. Some forces are pushing him forward, some are holding him in place. This might last for days or weeks or even years, but eventually something happens to break the status quo.
Clare: Yes. The retailer can’t ignore an under-performing candle range forever. For his store to thrive, every item on his shelves must pull its weight. Maybe external events give him a push. If Christmas is on the horizon, having shelves full of candles your customers loathe isn’t a good idea, is it? Candles are an important gifting category and he needs an appealing selection if he’s going to make the money he needs. So that could spark a change. Or maybe he has a good month in the store and there’s a bit of extra cash, and that makes him bold enough to take the risk on a new collection. Or perhaps a friend offers to take his kids on Saturday mornings and that gives him time to actually think about stock.
Anthony: Whatever the catalyst is, the cost of doing nothing finally becomes too high. And then what happens?
Clare: Well, first the retailer admits to himself that there’s a problem. That sense of dissatisfaction we talked about becomes conscious.
Clare: It might only have been in the back of his mind up to this point. But now, for some reason, something happens and it kickstarts the switching process. But that doesn’t mean he springs into action.
Anthony: No. The retailer starts shopping for something new, but only if it comes along. He’s just keeping his eyes open at this point. He knows there’s a problem and he’s now receptive to possible solutions, but he’s not setting aside specific time, energy or money to fix it.
Clare: That’s right. And it’s important to pay attention to that word solution. As I talk about here, retailers don’t actually buy products, we “hire” products to do particular jobs in our stores. So when we spend money on stock, we’re looking for solutions to problems that we – or more accurately our customers – experience.
Clare: Then, something happens to make the situation more urgent. So as we said before, that could be because Christmas is coming. This retailer knows that he has to get a better solution in place very soon or it’s going to affect his bottom line.
Anthony: Or maybe it’s a conversation with a customer. Sometimes your customers just tell you what you need to hear. If he suggests his old candle range to someone and they say “You know, I don’t like these scents” or “That’s more than I was looking to spend,” well, that can be enough. It can make you go “Okay, that’s it. I need a candle range that people actually want to buy and I need it now.”
Clare: Yes, Whatever the catalyst is, like before, it spurs the buyer into action. He’s been passive before, now he’s active. So this retailer is searching through his inbox for candlemakers who’ve approached him.
Anthony: If you’re a maker who wants to sell to this store, this is when your smoking-hot, personalised pitch email comes in.
Clare: Absolutely, the retailer is very actively looking to buy so a strong pitch email is likely to get you noticed at this point. And he’s also looking at what other stores are stocking. He’s going through all the catalogues he collected at recent trade shows. Finding a new solution has suddently rocketed to the top of his to-do list.
Anthony: And then the shopping comes to a peak. It’s time to decide. He has to make a decision, even if it’s just so he can get on with his life.
Clare: Yeah. He wants to be done with the candle drama.
Anthony: So he moves into the deciding phase where he consciously weighs out the options. Now, by this point, he’s very clear about what’s important to him. That is, the job has changed from being a vague, “maybe we need a new candle collection” to “we want soy candles in clear jars, in attractive boxes with at least six different scents, one of which must be citrus and one of which must be vanilla.” All his passive and active shopping have shown him what matters to him and what his criteria for success are.
Clare: And that’s a big difference from where he started out, which was a vague feeling of “Oh, I’m not happy with these candles.” He’s got real clarity now, hasn’t he?
Anthony: He does.
Clare: The next step is getting beamed up by the new product. He takes that leap, he makes a decision, he pays the money and he switches. And it takes him to a new planet, a new reality.
Clare: And lastly, he goes into the consuming phase, where he’s using the product. Or in the case of the retailer, he puts it on the shelves of his shop so customers can buy it, and he’s in a period of figuring out whether he’s happy or not. He’s assessing his satisfaction level by saying to himself “I’ve hired this new candle range to do a particular job in my store – is it being done in the way I want it to be? Is my situation better or worse than before?”
Anthony: So that’s the journey that customers go on when they switch to your product, or to any product. And it is quite a journey, isn’t it?
Clare: It is. And here’s something important to know about retailers. We’re rarely completely closed off to the idea of buying something new in the way that regular customers can be. Regular buyers are more likely to get a solution in place and stick to it – for years, sometimes. They’ll say “I like this toothpaste so I’m making it my toothpaste from now on. I’m sufficiently happy with all aspects of it, so now when I go into the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket, I don’t even need to LOOK all those other options. This is my brand for life.”
Anthony: It’s a way of speeding up daily life, really, isn’t it?
Clare: Yes, and in our personal lives, retailers do this too. It saves time and mental energy to make buying decisions and stick to them, unless something much, much better comes along, or the quality or price of your preferred product changes in ways you don’t like.
Anthony: But when we’re buying for our shops, retailers don’t do this so readily, do we?
Clare: It just takes a bit longer. I mean, if you sell to shops, this is what you really want to happen. You want to become a store’s preferred supplier. It’s what you’re working towards. And it happens all the time. We’ve been buying from one of our suppliers non-stop since the day we opened. One pitch email has unlocked thirteen years worth of orders for her, which is just incredible. She’s enjoyed the stability and regularity of that income from us for all of that time, which is why it’s so important to make your pitch email as good as it can be.
Anthony: We must’ve spent well over £20k on her work over the years, maybe more. We don’t make huge orders but they’re regular. And now it wouldn’t feel like our shop if we didn’t stock her work. We HAVE to keep buying, and we love to do so. And that’s all because she sent us one great email thirteen years ago. It shows what’s possible, right? If you’re a maker starting out in wholesale, imagine having a stockist like that.
Clare: And imagine having three, or five, or ten. How much would things change for you then? It’s potentially life-changing for artists and makers.
Clare: But retailers don’t get to this stage as quickly as regular customers. It takes us longer and it requires more effort from you. That’s because we’re always somewhat receptive to being switched to a new solution. We have to be or we might miss out on something really good.
Anthony: It’s not like, you sell to us once and you’ve got our money for life.
Clare: Not at all. It’s absolutely possible to get us to that stage, but it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. And this cuts both ways. If you’re already selling to us, our natural receptivity to switching to another solution is what you’re up against. It’s your job to make sure our heads don’t get turned by another supplier. This is something clients often want to talk about in Advice Calls. They can get one order from a store, but then it’s crickets. All their effort goes up in smoke. So we talk about how to fix that.
Anthony: But what if you’re approaching a store for the first time?
Clare: When you approach a store for the first time, our natural receptivity is working in your favour. Retailers are always a bit interested in switching to someone – if you play your cards right, it could be you.
Anthony: And there are things you can do to make yourself more attractive to a retailer who is looking for a better solution, aren’t there?
Clare: Yes. It’s like waving hello. Some makers approach stores in a way that waves hello to retailers, and some makers don’t. The second group write very ignorable pitch emails, or they make mistakes with their catalogues that mean retailers don’t make it past the front page.
Clare: It’s about learning how to say “Hey, I’m over here, it’s me you’ve been looking for.”
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