Monthly Archives: January 2017

The sweet smell of Home Depot

Unexpectedly, it hit me square in the face – like walking by a bakery just as someone opens the door.  I can’t quite identify it….something between new tires and a lumber yard, though I’m sure I’ve encountered it a thousand times.  Walking into the Home Depot store today – I took a big whiff.  What an awesome smell.

Science tells us that the link between what we smell and the emotions and memories brought forward is due to the connection of the olfactory bulb to the amygdala and hippocampus.  Sight, sound and touch do not pass through the same area of our brain – hence the unique ability of smell to take us back in time and drum up a host of feelings along the way.  (For more, see “Smells Ring Bells: How Smell Triggers Memories and Emotions“, Pschology Today, 1/12/15).

Years ago, back in my college days, I used to frequent a small fly fishing shop on the outskirts of town.  The owner was a friendly, bearded fellow who shared his recent tales from the stream as he tied flies at a vise stationed on the front counter.  Being the novice that I was, watching him take bits of yarn and feathers and turn them into art-quality trout bait was magical.  My appreciation was compounded by the fact that each one he tied went for a buck a piece!  Upon opening the door to Fly Fisher’s Paradise in State College, PA you were greeted with the sweet aroma of Steve’s pipe tobacco.  I was transported there just the other day as I passed by a local smoke shop.  Made me want to dust off the old fly rod for some casting practice in the park.

Quite a different experience: a few weeks ago I bought a kitchen sink from for a remodel project.  Never thought that would happen – but they could deliver the same product the next day that would have taken Home Depot two weeks to fulfill.  No brainer.   Prime member…check.   No news that this is happening across the retail spectrum.  But the smell!  When I hit the homepage –   there’s nothing.  No memories of my late father and I rushing into the Depot before it closed so we could work late into the night remodeling the home my wife and I still love and adore.  There’s no new car smell.   Does an Apple Store have a smell?  I think it does!  Pottery Barn candles.  Gap denim.  REI…fleece and tents and kayaks….mmmmm.  It all smells so good…and can’t be replicated online.

The logic is simple but compelling.  Smell is linked to memory and emotion.  Emotion can equate to a powerful customer experience. These experiences drive customer loyalty…which drives revenue.  It’s this level of experience analysis – down to the smell of your stores – that can create an ongoing competitive advantage for bricks & mortar retail.

Clicking to a homepage is one type of experience.  Walking into a store is a different experience.  The bar for the physical retail experience no longer stops at friendly sales associates, neatly stocked shelves and cool jams over the sound system.

Visit a store and take a whiff.  What comes to mind?  How does it make you feel?


Have you ever met a “Gun Barista”?

Barista: “Hi Mike.  Your usual?”.

Customer: “Yes please!”.

Such a simple, beautiful exchange:  the customer receives instant acknowledgement and recognition; the employee a sense of accomplishment.  No long, drawn out order in “coffee-speak”…extra shot, non-fat, blah, blah, blah.  One simple question.

I often wonder why companies can’t replicate this simple exchange?  For that matter, why can’t Starbucks, as big and profitable as they are, consistently replicate this experience?  No doubt this is why much of the customer experience discussion has been devoted to employee experience.   In Australia, it turns out there’s a name for these highly valuable preparers of caffeinated beverages:  Gun baristas.

According to David Gee of the Baristas Basics Coffee Academy (see “How to be a Gun Barista” – Bean Scene Magazine) “Baristas vary in ability but few can claim to be a “Gun Barista”. You have to be energetic, technically proficient, creative and multi-skilled…”  Aside from what you might expect would be included in David’s list of essential skills to become a gun barista (proper training; a love of coffee; knowledge of espresso machines) is Knowing Your Customers:

“Gun baristas know not only what their customers drink but they actually get to know them. For budding baristas just starting out, we advocate starting by memorising the names of five new faces each week. By using their name every day they come in and trying to memorise their standard order, by the end of the week the customers’ names and orders will be part of the barista’s stored memory.”

Getting to know your customers.  Memorization.  The data and technology to replicate “Mike.  The usual?” is available.  When I go to, I’m greeted with “Hello, William” and product recommendations just for me.  Not exactly “gun barista” level stuff, but better than many ecommerce experiences.  There are basically four components necessary to deliver this experience:

  1. Customer data
  2. Data analytics
  3. A method to identify a specific customer at any given touch point (ie. a card, an app, etc,…)
  4. A communication vehicle (ie. a website, an employee, etc,..)

Most organizations have all of these components – just as all coffee shops have baristas.  The key differentiating factor is leadership: providing and prioritizing (and funding) a “gun barista level” vision of the customer experience.  Keep it simple.  Focus on a few critical customer interactions – in this case, when the customer approaches the counter to place their order.  Visualize what an amazing (ie. gun barista level) experience would be.  Tell that story to the organization (video is a great tool) – and hold them accountable to bring it to fruition.