Monday, June 25, 2012

This Tide Truck Needs A Fix-Up

If you live in a major American city like New York City, you may notice a large vehicle resembling a food truck parked around town town this summer.  The difference is that this truck, which is the brainchild of consumer products company Procter & Gamble and retail giant Wal-Mart, will be packed with soaps, detergents and toiletries.   

The purpose of this joint marketing experiment is to capture greater share for P&G products and Wal-Mart's online ordering within big cities, as Wal-Mart is still not a city resident.  Further, marketers have discovered that online ordering is prefered by city dwellers because going to store and lugging bulking items like paper towels and laundry detergent home is a real pain.  The problem according to this article in AdAge, that Amazon dominates online ordering like Wal-Mart dominates retail.

Alas, the strategic partners have cooked up the @PGMobile truck, which is strategically parked around the city to save nearby residents some of the hassle involved in purchasing their products.  Or people with smartphones who pass the @PGMobile truck can scan the QR code on the side of the truck and be automatically directed to Wal-Mart's online shopping site where they can buy the products.    

The story published in AdAge about the P&G-Wal-Mart joint marketing effort strongly emphasizes its similarity to the food trucks that have recently risen in popularity and stature in inner cities.  But is taking their cue from the food truck trend the best tactic for increasing share? I wonder.

What's really driving the food truck trend is convenience.  Despite all the stuff that people credit for the food truck craze, like more options, better tasting food and social media marketing, it's still all about convenience.  A convenient location is really their only advantage over restaurants who also have plenty of options, trained chefs and yes, even Twitter accounts.  But unlike most restaurants, the food truck can be waiting for you when you head to the park on your lunch-hour or when you leave the bar at two in the morning.

Is the P&G-Wal-Mart marketing effort really making life any easier for consumer in the city?  If they pick up the items from the truck (once they find it), the still need to carry them home, and most likely up a couple flights of stairs too.  And if the bulky items are the same size found in the store, finding a place to store them in a cramped apartment is also a challenge.

They could order online with the QR code.  But finding a truck in a city of 8 million people for a link to a website isn't as practical as reordering from the retailer they already use.  Unless they unleash hundreds of trucks on the city streets, the @PGMobile truck isn't any more convenient than stopping by the Duane Reade that exists on every corner of Manhattan already or ordering online from Amazon.   

If the food truck really was their inspiration for this experiment, I think they overlooked one critical point.  The food purchased on the street is consumed within steps of the truck and often without utensils, and absolutely without plates.  If they want to make buying convenient for people in busy cities like New York, put the product at the point of consumption.    

A couple thought starters using the Tide brand for example.  Through vendor agreements with laundromats and housing managers, put detergent dispensing machines where people do laundry.  If people have their laundry sent out, a tag on the bag lets them know that Tide was used.  This tactic would also work for fabric softener.           
Second, create city friendly packaging for bulky space-consumer products.  They will be easier to carry home and store away in the tiny apartments of the big city. Perhaps a more streamlined package with a plastic handle attachment on the outside of package would help consumers carry bulky items like paper towels home.        

What are your thoughts on how consumer goods companies like P&G or retailers like Wal-Mart could improve design products to be used by people in the inner cities?  Please reply with your suggestions in the comments section.                  

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