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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.

Last Friday evening, while waiting to meet a friend to attend the Mariners game out in Seattle, I decided to stop by one of my favorite bars and restaurants, Etta's Seafood, for a quick beer. Well, it was a fortuitous beer, since I had a chance to glance through a couple of newspapers…and found two stories that illustrated how retailers can effectively compete in tough marketplaces.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer there was a story about the new Kress IGA store scheduled to open in downtown Seattle. The store is being designed to cater to three different kinds of customers - passers-by, busy workers and nearby residents, "with 40 percent of its floor space devoted to prepared foods, including self-serve hot-food tables, a salad bar, a made-to-order sandwich counter and a taqueria … To expand its service area, the IGA also will use small vehicles to make deliveries as far as the waterfront, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square and the base of Queen Anne Hill."

And one of the points made in the article is that the owners are working hard to connect with regional suppliers in order to have a product selection that not only covers all the traditional bases, but also is as unique as possible. That should give the IGA the kind of differential advantage necessary to be successful, though it should be noted that it also could find itself in competition with the nearby Pike Place Market. But the good news is that the neighborhoods seems to be fairly teeming with foodies…so there ought to be a ready-made customer base for a smart and unique supermarket.

The other story wasn't about a food retailer, but rather was about Nordstrom and how the upscale department store chain is coping with the current economic downturn. The story noted that Nordstrom is doing a number of things to keep traffic and transactions up, like advancing the sale date for women's clothing and shoes and developing a program that allows people to order online and pick up at a local Nordstrom brick-and-mortar store.

What caught my attention was the reference to how regular Nordstrom customers are getting phone calls from their regular salespeople telling them about new products that had come in that they might find to be appealing.

On the one hand, this sort of sounds intrusive. But on the other hand, if my local store called me to tell me that, say, the first shipment of heirloom tomatoes was in, or that a new brand of pasta had arrived, or that a new Syrah or Pinot Noir from the Pacific Northwest was in stock…well, I think I’d respond to that favorably, especially since those are all products in which I am interested. (Call me about a new brand of cat food, however, and you’re only going to make me more ornery than I usually am. I hate cats. Which I know is going to annoy a whole lot of you, but what can I say.) And it doesn’t have to be a phone call. It could be a well-timed email. The point is that it would be relevant.

Not only is there nothing wrong with figuring out what products and categories your best customers have an interest in and then reaching out to them, but that strikes me as the essence of smart retailing. There will, of course, be people who will say that it is too much for a supermarket to do, that they have other priorities, that they can't afford to take such an approach. I would argue, however, that in a tough competitive environment you can't afford not to use such strategies and tactics to connect with your shoppers.

Differentiated products. Engagement with the shopper. It doesn’t sound like it is all that difficult, but these are facets of retailing that are, in fact, far too rare.

So let's do something about it. Now.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I'm Kevin Coupe.

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