Thursday, December 13, 2007

Restrooms drive draffic, but is it the right kind?

I love this. I'm sitting here, up to my neck in high-tech systems and solutions for driving store traffic, imparting useful information and generally improving the in-store experience, and at RetailWire they're talking about restrooms. You know, toilets and plumbing and whatnot. Apparently in London there's a new trial service available that will tell you where the nearest public restroom (or friendly retailer with an open restroom) is when you text a message from your mobile phone. Using fancy cell triangulation tricks (or something) it simply gives you a list of addresses, ordered from nearest to furthest, and leaves you to decide where to go. Participants in the system agree that it's definitely driving traffic, which lead Bernice Hurst, the Managing Director at Fine Food Network, to ponder whether all of that new traffic is necessarily a good thing. After all, there are lots of people who might only be interested in your facilities, and not necessarily your products/services.

As expected, the comments range across the spectrum from "more traffic is always better traffic" to "there's no way I want a bunch of non-customers in my restrooms." With a few exceptions, I tend to agree with the latter group. However, if all public restrooms were handled like Charmin's (and there's a new one on Broadway between 45th and 46th streets right now, apparently), I might change my mind. Of course, it's nice when you have an army of 200 to clean the stalls after each use, and I'm sure a lot of the equipment and decor was donated by companies looking for a share of the brand recognition and positive glow that Charmin nabbed when it first tried out the high-end public toilets idea in Times Square last year.

That's really what it comes down to for me. Nice, free facilities can be a major differentiator, and if you're having trouble separating yourself from a close competitor, that might be enough of a reason to take the plunge (no pun intended). But doing so at the cost of a plummeting activation/conversion rate and the added expense of upkeep, maintenance and insurance (yes, even your liability insurance may go up if you have a public restroom) isn't likely to be profitable.

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