Business course gives retail transaction insight, in store and online

11/13/2017

MKT 455 E-tailing and Retailing aims to make students aware and well informed of sales strategies and consumer behavior.

E-tailing and Retailing
Senior Justin Johnson, left, and senior Brian Glow, right, brainstorm retail strategies as a group and share ideas with Marketing Lecturer Chris Samfilippo, center.

You get what you pay for. Sometimes it’s an experience. Occasionally you perceive value. Other times it’s actual cost.

But no matter what it is—College of Business Marketing Lecturer Chris Samfilippo wants his Marketing 455: E-tailing and Retailing students to be aware and well informed of sales strategies and consumer behavior when they make financial business interactions in the retail space.

Samfilippo said awareness is important for all people—in the business community and beyond—to learn the complexities and nuances of shopper behavior.

“The bottom line is that we’re all making these financial decisions every day,” said Samfilippo, who notes that the course introduces students to significant issues and analysis of 21st century retailing strategy and management and teaches them about customer experience, service and satisfaction. “It is beneficial to have knowledge in an area that’s such an integral part of our lives.”

As Samfilippo uses examples in class and involves his students in the discussion, his message becomes even more apparent.

A slide with an American Girl doll shows up. In the Wednesday night class, he asks students why a product that has materials that most likely cost under $10 could have a retail price—which is cost plus markup—of $100 or more.

Raised hands, many from students having owned one, shared answers. “You could customize her appearance to look like you.” “She was a special occasion only, not an everyday doll.” “She was more than a doll; she’s a friend.”

Samfilippo then asked if the doll was worth the asking price. Nods of yes were seen around the room.

“This is what I want to point out. Price is obviously a factor in sales, but so is value. That company has turned their doll—essentially plastic, buttons, fabric and a variety of synthetic materials—into something priceless. They are selling friendship, a childhood experience. This has increased what people are willing to pay for it,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that—there is nothing dirty about making money. But it’s important to realize these things on both sides of the sale.”

He said successful marketing—both online and in stores—typically sells more than just the item. They sell brand image.

“Dove sells beauty, not soap. The Ritz-Carlton sells an experience, not a hotel room. DeBeers diamonds sell forever-lasting love, not a stone,” he said. “You probably know this on a surface level, but do you stop to think about how it affects your buying habits? Or how it can affect your buyer’s shopping habits?”

Marketing senior Zeinab Zein said she added the course because she wanted some “behind-the-scenes” insight into the retail process. And she now uses the knowledge when she shops.

Recently looking to buy linens for her 2-year-old son’s toddler bed, Zein saw Thomas the Tank Engine sheets in a Pottery Barn Kids print catalog. “I was on the fence because the sheets were a bit pricey, in my opinion. So I wanted to go to the store and see them before deciding to purchase.”

While at the store, Zein noticed the soft lighting, the use of bookshelves and peg-style hanging racks for home-like product placement, and the friendly sales staff.

“Taking Professor Samfilippo’s class, I recognized these things for what they were—a well-done sales strategy—and I appreciated what went into the interaction even more. The atmosphere was clean, relaxing and comfortable—how you want your family to feel at home. And the saleswoman was so personable that I felt like I was just having a conversation, mom to mom, about the item.

“I came out with those sheets and feeling good about the purchase.”

In addition to understanding a good sales strategy and consumer behavior, the course examines how new technologies impact the retail world and discusses predictions of retailing in the future.

Samfilippo, who taught the course in the 1990s prior to the course adding e-tailing to its name, said online shopping is an important part of the ever-evolving retail sales strategy. He said it gives more opportunity for both consumers and businesses to interact with one another.

Even with online retail sales increasing—Forbes reported during the 2016 Thanksgiving shopping weekend, 40 percent of sales occurred on a mobile device. That’s up 15.2 percent from the same time period in 2015—Samfilippo said physical retail spaces aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

“Online shopping offers convenience, price comparison and customer reviews, which is my favorite part,” he said. “But we, as humans, still want that social interaction; for shopping to be an event, an experience to share. And it’s up to the businesses to continue to give people positive transactions—through promotions, price and atmosphere—to keep them coming back.”

And having both is a good thing, he said. With a layered retail landscape, there’s more room for creative business marketers and savvy customers to thrive—and find satisfaction in getting what was paid for.