The Risk of Being Too Delicious

Shockwaves were felt around the wing-eating world last week, when Buffalo Wild Wings announced it will be discontinuing its Tuesday night half-priced wing promotion.

According to reports, the franchise’s decision was a difficult one as the promotion was “a major driver of traffic” and “boosted same-store sales” for some locations. Ultimately, the deal was just too delicious. With wing prices on the rise (jumping 11 cents per pound in a year), the promotion started to impact the company’s bottom line. In fact, the food chain blamed the historically high wing prices for its 63% profit drop in the second quarter, turning the crowd-pleasing promotion into a losing proposition.

It is an interesting risk that many organizations, especially in retail, must take, however. How do organizations develop a promotion that attracts new customers and entices existing ones to visit more frequently, purchase something new or add a service without causing any financial hardships? And, perhaps more importantly, at what point is the promotion no longer worth it?

The majority of promotions go off without a hitch. It is probably safe to say that most of them have either a positive or neutral effect. Companies must be prepared, however, for those rare deals that negatively impact businesses’ finances or reputation.

While Buffalo Wild Wings’ risk management approach to this promotion may have intervened in time to save them from a worse fate, others have not been so lucky.

Take, for example, seafood chain Red Lobster’s 2003 all-you-can-eat summer crab leg special that ultimately put the company in hot water. Parent company Darden’s then Chief Executive Joe Lee was quoted as saying, “It wasn’t the second helping, it was the third that hurt.” “And the fourth,” then Red Lobster President Dick Rivera added on a conference call to investors.

The deal lasted a bit too long and was linked to the wipeout of $405.9 million in stock value in a single session, with stock prices dropping 12%.

Red Lobster isn’t alone. In 2009, Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to introduce its new grilled chicken option by hiring mega star Oprah Winfrey to make an announcement during her show, giving away an online voucher for a free lunch. About 16 million people printed out the voucher. Stores ran out of food and eventually stopped accepting the coupon. Even worse, competitors jumped in and offered discounted meals to voucher holders.

Then there was McDonald’s, which gave away MP3 players with viruses; an unapproved promotion code for free Domino’s pizza was leaked to 10,000 people; and the obvious consequences of a 10 cent beer night at a Cleveland Indians game. What could go wrong? (Hint: chaos ensued.)

Risk management can play a vital role in supporting marketing initiatives, like the creation of an effective promotion. And, for practitioners managing an enterprise risk management program, it highlights just how important collaboration between different business areas really is.

Companies can be blinded by opportunities that include increased traffic, return customers and add-on purchases. Some deals are just too good to be true—not just for the consumer, but the company making the offer as well. It is apparent that the downside of the promotion must be carefully assessed and that tolerance limits be set in order to know when to pull the plug on a deal.

When developing a risk tolerance statement for a promotion, it’s important to also realize that sometimes the financial losses associated with a promotion is not the only thing to look at and might not be a bad thing at all.

Take a look at Costco, that refuses to raise the price on its $4.99 rotisserie chicken and $1.50 hotdogs.

“I can only tell you what history has shown us: When others were raising their chicken prices from $4.99 to $5.99, we were willing to eat, if you will, $30 to $40 million a year in gross margin by keeping it at $4.99,” the bulk wholesale giant’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti told the Seattle Times in 2015.

The philosophy is rather simple and has worked for Costco. Cheap, delicious rotisserie chicken brings people into their warehouses. And, hopefully, on their way to pick up dinner, they will also grab new patio furniture, a television, golf clubs, a 64 oz. jar of mayonnaise and a five pound bag of cashews. The wholesaler banks on statistics indicating that consumers spend on average $136 each time they enter the warehouse.

Developing a promotion should not be done on a whim. Careful consideration must be taken before the promotion is introduced. Many different groups within the organization should be included in the conversation…and risk management can take the lead on bringing those groups together and initiating the dialogue.

So, before the company serves up that next mouth-watering deal, risk management must realize that it has a real opportunity to support value creation and show its worth way before the pot boils over.

How Retailers Can Better Mitigate Black Friday Risks

Black Friday Shopping Risks

With the biggest shopping events of the season, retailers face tremendous amounts of both risk and reward as sales and door-busters draw in eager consumers all week. In 2013, Thanksgiving deals brought in 92.1 million shoppers to spend over $50 billion in a single weekend, the National Retail Federation reports.

The National Retail Federation issued crowd management guidelines for retailers and mall management officials to use when planning special events, including Black Friday, product launches, celebrity appearances and promotional sales. General considerations to plan for and curtail any crowd control issues include:

  • Remind and retrain all employees about your store’s emergency protocols to address potential risks facing employees and customers.
  • Dedicate knowledgeable employees to communicate and manage crowds, from arrival to departure, and resolve any potential conflicts that may arise.
  • Strategically place sale items throughout the store to help disperse crowds and manage traffic flow.
  • Request the assistance of local law enforcement if large crowds are expected and arrange for additional security services.
  • Educate employees about relevant policies and procedures and advise them who to contact in the event of a situation.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration also issued a public letter to retailers urging companies to plan ahead for better in-store safety for both employees and customers. According to OSHA’s “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,” crowd management plans should, at least, include:

  • On-site trained security personnel or police officers
  • Barricades or rope lines for pedestrians that do not start right in front of the store’s entrance
  • The implementation of crowd control measures well in advance of customers arriving at the store
  • Emergency procedures in place to address potential dangers
  • Methods for explaining approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public
  • Not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level
  • Not blocking or locking exit doors

Brick-and-mortar retailers are not the only ones at greater risk. Companies that operate call centers must also be prepared for a drastic increase in customer inquiries and purchases. According to communications intelligence firm Cognia, 69% of U.S. contact centers carry out credit card payments over the phone and 84% record calls, making their archives particularly vulnerable to potential breaches.

“The first thing to highlight with respect to call center compliance at peak times is that this pressure is unlikely to create new issues, but will amplify existing ones. Attackers / threat actors (the bad guys) will also be aware that this is the time at which procedures are most likely to slip, and social engineering vulnerabilities that have previously been identified can be exploited,” said Tom Evans, Cognia’s chief security officer.

“There are challenges but, from a risk perspective, there is also an opportunity to fine-tune the risk management system under pressure. At these peak times, issues will be visible that would go undetected during business as usual operation,” Evans noted. “There is an opportunity to be proactive and to use the pressure around these peak sales times to identify bad practice that, during less pressured periods, is probably limited to one or two individuals or occasional occurrences, and therefore very hard to spot. Even the most dependable employee under the pressure on big queues may resort to a shortcut to get the job done. Identifying these means that controls can be put in place to prevent them being used again, and therefore the overall risk management position improved.”

To improve security and PCI compliance, Evans recommends that companies focus on areas that have lower security controls overall. For example, seasonal employees, over-spill call centers, and work at home agents may all be components of a contingency plan for peak periods that introduce vulnerability that can be mitigated.

All Stores Want For Christmas is to Manage Retail Risk

With the retail industry’s biggest season quickly approaching, every facet of the sector needs to reevaluate plans to mitigate the increased risk that comes with increased demand. The holidays are certainly not the time to lose out on business due to breakdowns in the supply chain, loss of inventory from theft, or the fallout from credit risk. Yet a shocking 13% of retailers are doing nothing to manage their risk, according to a new study.

Insurance giant Allianz recently surveyed British retailers to see how they are managing changing risks within their business, and what steps retailers are taking to manage risk while growing businesses. This new infographic of their findings from Premierline Direct, which is part of the Allianz UK Group, offers some insight into the risks and concerns of major retailers, how these risks can be managed, and where insurers can better fit into the process.

How to Manage Business Risk in Retail Sector

Infographic courtesy of Premierline Direct

How Not to Fight Showrooming

As traditional brick-and-mortar retailers continue devise ways to combat “showrooming” (the practice where customers browse store shelves to check out items that they ultimately intend to buy online), it seems that one retailer has come up with a new plan — charge customers for “just looking.”

According to the above photo posted this week on Reddit, a specialty food store in Brisbane, Australia has decided to charge customers a $5 fee for browsing, which they will refund from the purchase price of whatever they buy. Somehow they think that charging what amounts to an admission fee to enter their store will be good for business, but treating prospective customers like the enemy sounds like the worst marketing strategy ever. It’s almost as if they’re encouraging people to go online. It seems to me that if their prices were truly “almost the same as other stores” as they claim, they wouldn’t have this problem. And if their products are unavailable anywhere else, how is showrooming even an option?

Logical issues aside, showrooming is certainly a problem for retailers. But wouldn’t a price matching policy, like the one Target chose to put in place, be a more effective way to fight it? Or how about making your store a more inviting place to shop by welcoming your customers with a personal touch they can’t get online?

As I understand it, usually the goal for retailers is to get more people into your store, but what do I know? I guess policies like this are yet another reason why not every business can be a success.