Welcome to the the Ivey HBA Retail Marketing Management blog. Retail marketing is an exciting, dynamic, important, and very visible aspect of the overall field of marketing. Throughout the year, students will be posting comments regarding contemporary retailing issues. Although this is intended to be used by Bus 4411 students, industry marketing professionals are also invited to join in if they like.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Focused RVP Proves Successful for American Girl

While watching a re-run of one of my favourite television shows, Jon and Kate Plus Eight, I was exposed to something that sparked my interest for this blog – American Girl. In the episode the girls went to the American Girl store, created dolls that looked just like them, and ate lunch at the American Girl café, where their dolls were seated in miniature doll chairs. Now, I don’t want to mimic the intro to a typical grandfather’s story, but when I was young I usually received my toys, specifically dolls, in one of two ways. One, I got my older sister’s dolls when she was done with them, or two, if I was lucky I could go to K-Mart to choose a doll of my own. After researching this unique doll merchandiser, it was clear that American Girl has an extremely focused RVP. This led me to ask myself, with the unique RVP American Girl offers its customers, could it be that the days of hand-me-down dolls, and crowded mass merchandiser doll hunts are numbered?

American Girl is a retail store that sells dolls, books, outfits, and accessories to young girls. Unlike some doll manufacturers seen in mass merchandisers -think Bratz dolls- American Girl takes the responsibility of shaping young girls actions and images, through their products seriously, which is evident when examining their mission statement:
American Girl celebrates a girl’s inner star – the little whisper inside that encourages her to stand tall, reach high, and dream big. We take price and care in helping girls become their very best today so they’ll grow up to be the women who make a difference tomorrow.
This statement is key. With the constant controversy in the media in regards to positive self-image for young girls, American Girl hits the nail on the head, considering parents are the actual purchasers of the product and would appreciate this type of sincere responsibility from a toy merchandiser.

With a recorded 23 million visits to American Girl retail stores, combined with 14 million dolls sold through retail stores, website and catalogue , it is clear that American Girl knows what it is doing. The American Girl RVP is unmistakable. With a premium price ($95 for a doll with no outfit), and minimal store locations, neither convenience nor price is the focus of American Girl’s brand. It is selection and experience that sets them apart from the competition. In my opinion, American Girl exemplifies how a focused RVP can lead to success.

I was blown away with the product selection available to customers shopping at American Girl. Young girls have the opportunity to choose from multiple product lines; historical doll characters, the doll of the year, a bitty baby (smaller size doll), twin dolls, or a ‘just like you’ doll, all of which the customer can choose from 15 different skin tones, hair colors, and of course choose their dolls’ gender. This is a great example of the mass customization we spoke of in class, which allows customers to feel as though the product is extremely unique to them with only some slight manufacturing variations.
The selection is carried over into the doll accessory realm where customers can choose specialized clothing, furniture and accessories for their doll. As an added perk, American Girl offers clothing for young girls in the same styles and patterns as the clothes for dolls. A tailored book also accompanies each doll and games, puzzles, movies and music are also available to shoppers. This array of selection is key when you consider our class lecture on how people buy, during which we discovered that most buying decisions happen on the floor. Thus a key advantage to the selection offered at American Girl stores, especially when children are encouraged to join in the shopping experience, are the number of unplanned purchases. Overall American Girl is unmatched in the doll world in regards to the selection of products they offer to their customers.

It is however, the experience that makes American Girl stand out from the competition. American Girl dubs their stores, ‘experiential stores’, and that is undeniably what they are. The stores include doll friendly cafes and bistros, a photo studio where a girl can take pictures with her doll to be published on the doll’s tailored book, and last but certainly not least, a specialty doll hair salon. American Girl also accommodates birthday, themed and late night parties for customers looking for an extra-special experience, which run at about $200 a pop! The icing on the experiential cake is what American Girl calls the Doll Hospital, where a girl can take their doll for a cleaning or ‘major surgery’. I would urge you to check out their website , the American Girl experience is unreal.

In my opinion, American Girl proves that by focusing on two areas of the RVP, and really dedicating the direction of your business to those areas, a retailer can provide a stable and unique offering to their consumers. With the increasingly competitive retail environment, setting yourself apart from the competition is crucial. Although American Girl can never replace traditional ways for dolls to reach the hands of young girls, it has definitely created a market for itself in which to succeed. Through mass customization and creative retail stores American Girl provides it’s customers with superior selection and experience, which justifies a higher product price point and continues to keep customers barreling through the doors. I just wish I had been able to experience the American Girl stores when I was a child!


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