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    eCommerce & Main Street // The Four Ps of Retail (Part 1): Sense of Place

    • 5 min read

     

    "Our focus is on seeding small local brands and helping them gain initial traction (locally and in the age of Amazon). So, place means something entirely different."

    What are The Four Ps? It’s a retail (and marketing) principle, first documented over 60 years ago by Michigan State Professor of Marketing, E. Jerome McCarthy. The Four Ps include: Place, Price, Promotion, and Product (though not necessarily in that order). 

    The Four Ps have evolved over the years with new media and technology. Opinions vary as to which of the four are most important or relevant for the time. Essentially, they outline four perspectives. Some might say The Four Ps are also strategies (or tactics), of marketing in the broader context of retail. 

    For our purposes at the SBDC, and for our new local eCommerce Incubator, Clicks2Bricks (which aims to plant digital-first businesses into physical retail locations), we think the Four P’s should be ordered as follows in 2021/22: 

    1. Place
    2. Product
    3. Price
    4. Promotion

    To write thoughtfully on each of the Four Ps above in a single article would be pushing it. We’re not going to do that. Instead, for now, we’re going to focus on Place and make this topic its own chapter in a mini-series delivered via small, digestible chunks. So please stay tuned to future newsletters from the SBDC for more on this topic.

    Before we get going here, you may also be interested in our last article as a preface: eCommerce & Main Street: A Brief History & State of The Union, which will lay a strong foundation for understanding our unique position on The Four Ps.

    Let’s get after it... 

    "Place is accomplished through content, the composite personality of our service experience, and the aesthetic of our digital property."

    Traditionally, “Place” refers to physical merchandising, shelf space, and presentation-- basically. Think place-ment. But what differentiates an eCommerce merchant in terms of merchandising when there are endless virtual storefronts and shelves that can be accessed within seconds? There are literally endless websites and marketplaces, and therefore an endless number of products to scroll in myriad ways on an increasing number of devices. Got a smart fridge? The context of that scrolling experience is different from others and that matters.

    The following may sound like an ill-considered response to the problem of decision fatigue above. And it may sound like one that limits access to the “global market”, which we’re often told is the sole benefit of eCommerce. However, at Clicks2Bricks, our focus is on seeding small local brands and helping them gain initial traction (locally and in the age of Amazon). So, place means something entirely different in our case. 

    Instead, at least initially, we need to rely on the goodwill of the locally conscious shopper and give them what they want: 

    1. A place to identify with and local people who can provide the service we’re all sorely missing.
    2. Delivery of a quality product, in a timely manner (advantaged by the rise of local delivery and the software for small merchants to offer it).
    3. Quick response time, empathy, and seamless returns and refunds if there’s an issue.

    Additionally, the brands we choose are a statement of identity. If I’m a dedicated patron of (for example) O’Neill Surf Shop, I sport their latest and greatest wetsuit, and clothing. And if I surf a Pearson Arrow as well, that is possibly telling the world… something. It might say “I’m local and support local brands”. If, on the other hand, I’m wearing a custom made, $1,100 AXXE wetsuit at Capitola or Cowell’s and I’m surfing the latest Firewire carbon shortboard (an expensive board, but not necessarily that well made or even functional in the wild), that tells the world another story. Likely, it says “I live and work in Silicon Valley”. We are obviously generalizing here for the purposes of illustration (and to have a little fun), but you get the gist, especially if you surf in Santa Cruz.😉 Also, this is probably not news to anyone, but it is worth repeating here for context.

    What all of this means, in our humble opinion here at Clicks2Bricks, is that place is accomplished through content, the composite personality of our service experience, and the aesthetic of our digital property-- ie: our website, social media accounts, and overall branding-- closely followed by the product itself. 

    "That first big step is to gain traction, and therefore a following that will (over time) spread beyond neighborhood, city, county, state, and regional borders. Ultimately, it will allow an eCommerce merchant to leverage the immense opportunity of the global marketplace."

    A sense of place is not easy to accomplish for most burgeoning eCommerce retailers. It’s an abstract design concept. But it’s also a somewhat abstract concept that MUST be carried through to our service mission. And that (service), is obviously the key to success in a saturated marketplace. Ace Hardware, for example, has bottled magic beautifully in this sense: It’s corporate, but still local, and of course, it’s “The Helpful Place”. How many times have you gone on a walkabout at The Home Depot, struggling to find the nearest associate? Ace Hardware is the alternative to that in the same way that small local merchants can be the alternative to Big Box online.

    If an aspiring eCommerce Entrepreneur were to follow the typical, homespun path of setting up their own website via Wix, or Squarespace, or similar-- they're likely going to choose some generic template with no idea about how to make it their own-- to give it a sense of place. Eventually, they’ll start to hone the logo they’ve been marinating on for years (though not very well). They'll probably use some generic product imagery from a Google image search and equally generic product information pulled from a competitor or the manufacturer. Any thought of user experience and customer experience through service and support workflows won’t come until later, if at all. Assuming this eCommerce Entrepreneur actually makes their first sale, there’s still nothing special there to warrant a return visit. There’s no sense of place as a result of following that path. 

    "A critical first step: to ingrain a sense of place from conception and to outline how that sense can be executed throughout the brand, merchandising, customer service, and support."

    In the example above, our Entrepreneur is missing a critical sub-step (if you will), in accomplishing the first big step. And that first big step is to gain traction, and therefore a following that will (over time) spread beyond neighborhood, city, county, state, and regional borders. Ultimately, it will allow an eCommerce merchant to leverage the immense opportunity of the global marketplace. 

    And this is our primary argument for the importance of an eCommerce Incubator such as Clicks2Bricks. To allow others to navigate these subtleties successfully. It’s what drives our mission to spread the good word of localism as it relates to eCommerce and as a critical first step: to ingrain a sense of place from conception and to outline how that sense can be executed throughout the brand, merchandising, customer service, and support.

    So, we truly hope that this concept of "Sense of Place" gets you thinking about eCommerce in a different, ironically local way. And please stay tuned for our next installment of this mini-series, which will explore the remaining three tenets of The Four Ps: Product, Price, and Promotion.

    - Jake Nelson, eCommerce Advisor

    Clicks2Bricks (C2B) is an eCommerce Incubator and a project of the Santa Cruz SBDC. C2B offers multiple cohorts each year. The program lasts for 3 months and aims to offer the participant an opportunity to build a viable local eCommerce business with lasting support, not only from SBDC Advisors, but also through collaboration with their peers in cohort. Successful participants, when ready, will then be guided through the process of acquiring or occupying their first physical location in Santa Cruz County. Whether that means high-traffic retail in Downtown Santa Cruz, or simply warehouse space to continue growing a digital-only business. C2B is here to help.