Scott Silverman, Executive Director of Shop.org, recently asked a provocative question on the Shop.org Blog on whether or not now was the time for online retailers to stress saving gas in their marketing message. The short answer is “yes – it is definitely time!”. The longer answer is that there are many word-of-mouth oriented reasons to do this now but I predict that it will be hard to make happen in most companies (to be explained below).
First, there has never been more of an emphasis on gas prices in my lifetime, and certainly not in the history of eCommerce (being a relatively new field). On my flight up to Toronto yesterday, I was reading a NY Times article, “American Energy Policy, Asleep at the Spigot“. I was amazed to learn that oil was just under $10/barrel in early 1999. It has increased 1450% since then, closing at a high of $145/barrel last Thursday. Not surprisingly, most Americans are downsizing. But what is surprising is how quickly. Ford’s SUV sales are down 55% this year, and their sales of the Ford F150 truck, the best selling vehicle in the U.S. for 26 consecutive years, is down 40% this year. Detroit is reeling from this – this is an unbelievably massive change in consumer demand. To put it mildly, gas prices are dominating word-of-mouth conversations all over the country.
Second, a huge share of word of mouth is focused on the global problem of climate change. With gas prices running this high, it is easy to feel both guilty and financially irresponsible. This gives you a dual opportunity to strike now with this marketing message.
Third, home delivery is more efficient. Jeff Bezos’ clued me in to this in his recent appearance at WSJ’s D3 conference.
MR. MOSSBERG: Are you seeing the effect of this economic slowdown? Or do you worry about it?
MR. BEZOS: As you can see from the last-quarter results that we just put out, we haven’t seen that. You can never know for sure because I don’t know what our growth rates would’ve been in a stronger economy. There are some things working to our advantage in this kind of economy.
Gasoline is expensive. Driving to the store is expensive. You take a 2,000-pound car to pick up five pounds of stuff. It’s the least efficient transportation network in the world. So, there are some positive factors in our business in that regard.
To my co-founder’s point about the importance of authentic green marketing, it is time for retailers online to emphasize this. A very simple Web page devoted to educating consumers on why USPS, UPS, FedEx, and others are more efficient in their use of gasoline and, therefore, have less impact on the environment is all consumers need. They are almost begging for this message. Retailers should promote this message in stores, email, and throughout their website.
But here is the rub. It is hard to do because most retailers online are part of a huge multichannel business. And I know from experience that the store managers will not embrace this message for fear of losing their sales. Just like the book Freakonomics educates us on the importance of incentives, incentives in these businesses need to change. And that takes time. So, this is probably an immediate word-of-mouth opportunity for online-only retailers, but I would love to be surprised and see multichannel businesses embracing this message and gaining share as a result. I’m confident that the in-store message could be figured out (e.g., “buy accessories for this digital camera online instead of driving back – here is why it will cost you less and help our environment”).
What do you think?
P.S., to learn more about why the time is now, check out my previous posts (post1, post2, and post3) on how Netflix attracted Blockbuster’s customers with their simple marketing message, “the end of late fees”. You will find that the battle of these two giants offers many fascinating word-of-mouth insights.
Update 7/8: Peter Cobb, co-founder and SVP at eBags, just sent me the link to a recent email promotion (here) that they sent to customers, emphasizing free shipping and saving on gas. I also like the fact that this campaign highlights eco-friendly bags.