As I write this, the music for Disney’s “Frozen” is selling like the proverbial…er, hotcakes. The House of Mouse hasn’t had this big of a success in years, and the sheet music is following the trend. Even Taylor Swift’s music hasn’t had the surge—let alone the staying power—of this hit. Of course, the coupling of Disney fan-milies and the rabid hordes of Idina Menzel Broadway geeks doesn’t just increase numbers; it also multiplies sales exponentially, hitching the “OMG, it’s so a-MAZE-ing! I’ve seen it 12 times and I’m using ‘Let It Go’ for the audition this week!!!” wagon to the Disney Princess juggernaut.

It’s nice to get that sales bump in our print department: it’s been years—not since “Titanic” in 1997 (although that was primarily the title song) or “The Lion King” in 1994—since we’ve had such a sustained, order-twice-a-week, stock-them-at-checkout seller.

Seeing those sales prompted me to remember something important about the brick-and-mortar venue: it works in ways that online cannot. As long as that difference exists, there is not just hope for, but also importance in, the meatspace buying environment.

What’s different? In a word, Contact.

I don’t care how many algorithms you spout, having a product in your hand trumps a thumbnail under the “also bought” banner. Sure, online buyers click a reasonable number of add-ons…that’s why you see the suggestions. But, increasingly, people are aware that everyone’s buying habits are constantly monitored to (ahem) “enhance the user experience.” Right. Although many still succumb to the power of suggestion, I don’t know anyone who’s so un-jaded as to say, “Oooh, look! Amazon picked these out just for me!”

I don’t care how many algorithms
you spout, having a product in
your hand trumps a thumbnail
under the ‘also bought’ banner.

VEDDA-MAYThat’s also assuming the algorithms are as accurate as one would hope. Facebook’s are laughably inept (a suggestion for “People That Inspire Me” immediately displayed iconic mentors Buddy Hackett and Wilma Flintstone, for example), and even Amazon regularly makes the mistake of assuming that anything I look at is an item I wish to own. Over the last year, the track record has not improved, so I am constantly showered with a barrage of “who cares?” items when I shop. Perhaps a person with less eclectic tastes might fare better…or perhaps not.

No, the in-person experience, I believe, trumps anything the machine can currently provide when it comes to add-on sales. I find it fascinating that the overwhelming majority of my sales for the array of “Frozen” titles were impulse purchases. The customer didn’t come in looking for the book. Often, the sale came after the purchase as customers noticed the books on their way out. Other sales came after we mentioned how hot the title was—or even because a different customer gushed over the books and, in effect, sold them for us.

It’s the classic “tribal” experience in a physical store: we’re influenced by what others buy, what staff members suggest or what a teacher recommends. And, the fact that we watch it happen (or hear of it from another person who makes eye contact) and have the product at hand is more powerful than an online mention. Shopping with friends or family ramps it up even more.

By contrast, most consumers don’t seem to shop online with the whole nuclear family gathered around the Wi-Fi device. The push to buy via tablet and phone has continually reinforced online shopping as a somewhat solitary experience…something that is shared, perhaps, but only after the decision’s been made. However, a mom in my store with the family in tow is regularly swayed once the kids catch sight of a counter display. Our companions can of course caution us to act less impulsively—and spouses or parents can kill a sale with a firm “no”—but, over the years, I’ve seen impulse win gratifyingly often. If anything, we’re more impulsive now in this one-click-buying era, something for which we can actually thank our “frenz on teh Internetz.”

“Frozen,” of course, is an extreme example, but the intensity over the last couple of months has served to remind me how well good, old-fashioned selling can work. It has prompted me to rethink merchandising, reposition displays and pay renewed attention to the interaction we all have with customers. Not that I forgot…but let’s just say it’s a good time to refocus.

We’ve spent so much time talking about social media, Web presence and SEO, mobile buying and all the other new-stream marketing that I think we risk losing sight of what makes a physical store unique and powerful. I don’t begrudge the new channels, and we ignore them at our peril. But, if we don’t keep our “in-person” skills in shape, we might lose the one thing that differentiates us. In a seemingly screen-obsessed world, we need to remember that there are people who still prefer human contact. As long as we remain human, these skills will be important.

Finally, we need to take charge of our position as Facilitators of the Music Experience. Perhaps you’ve noticed ads from companies like Travelocity and Sports Authority that exhort people to “get out and experience things.” Driven partly by backlash and partly by self-interest, these and other companies realize that the “all is not screen” message must be heard. They’re also letting the experience-driven folks who are NOT ready to don the VR goggles know that they get it, and that they’re here to help. I think as time goes on, we’ll see more people consciously take time away from their devices.

If so, we need consumers to notice music—immersive, interactive and human—as a perfect personal experience. This is our next big market opportunity and, obviously, others are vying for the same recognition in travel, sports and other leisure activities. Perhaps this is a good task for a NAMM initiative. But don’t wait for help from above. Let’s get the message out alongside the others—and let’s practice what we preach at every level, all the way down to eye contact.


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