Friday, June 20, 2014

Manufacturing consensus - what Sylvan Goldman had to do to make the supermarket super

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Dr. Matt Barney is a business disciple of Dr. Robert Cialdini. He has cited Dr. Cialdini in his previous publications, and I recently attended a webinar at which Dr. Barney presented on behalf of Influence at Work. The topic of the webinar was consensus, and Dr. Barney emphasized that as social beings, we respond to (and exhibit consensus with) people who are like us.

As an aside, Dr. Barney shared the story of how Sylvan Goldman achieved consensus, and made a lot of money in the process.

I have previously talked about the rise and fall of the supermarkets - how they wiped out the markets, and how they in turn are being wiped out by the hypermarkets and the virtual markets. A supermarket, by definition, is larger than an old fashioned market, which means that you have the potential to buy more things at a supermarket. But if you buy more things, how do you get them out of the door? After all, you only have two hands, and two hands can only carry so much.

Sylvan Goldman, a supermarket owner in Oklahoma, was pondering this problem in the 1930s, and came up with the idea of a cart that could be used while shopping. You could simply place everything in the cart, and would therefore be able to buy more things. After a false start, he worked out the mechanics of this cart - we now know it as a shopping cart - and was ready to take over the world and make a ton of money as people bought more stuff in his stores.

Only one problem, according to birgit lohmann (who, as you will see, doesn't care for upper case letters). People refused to use the shopping carts.

men found them effeminate (you mean, with my big strong arm
that I can’t carry a darn little basket like that?);
women found them suggestive of a baby carriage
( I have been pushing enough baby carriages.
I don’t want to push any more...).

So Goldman had to lure the people into using these shopping carts, despite the social consensus that they were unacceptable. The first thing that he tried was marketing, via a series of posters that emphasized the benefits (not the features) of the gizmo. While his visuals were certainly creative, and while they were clearly customer focused, they were not enough to overcome the social consensus against supermarkets.

So what did Goldman do? He manufactured a new consensus.

but only after hiring several male and female models to push
his new invention around his store and demonstrate their utility,
shopping carts became extremely popular, and supermarkets were
redesigned to accommodate them.

Yes, that's right. If the people around you aren't supportive of shopping carts, bring in new people. Even though Goldman was not a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer (CMCT), he still knew that people can be influenced by people who are like them. So his models included both men and women - men to demonstrate to the male shoppers that shopping carts were manly, and women to demonstrate to the female shoppers that while baby carriages bring joy during infancy, pushing shopping carts brings lifelong joy.

Hey, you can't argue with success. Shopping carts are now standard in all supermarkets, and Goldman's original design with two small baskets has been redesigned to be bigger and to allow shoppers to buy hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.

But without the shopping cart - and without the effort that was made to promote its adoption - would supermarkets have become as super as they did?
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