Thursday, January 25, 2007

SEB's Stockmann Strategy

SEB is a Scandinavian banking corporation that owns the second largest consumer bank in Estonia. (The first largest is owned by a different Scandinavian banking corporation.) SEB has been playing catch-up quite usefully, undercutting the top dog on most of the important services. Their newest customer drive, very worthy of E-stonia, is the pildikaart - the ability to get a debit or credit card with your very own picture on it. You go to the SEB website, upload a digital image file, use a simple little applet to arrange it, and they'll print a shiny new Visa Electron, Visa Classic or Mastercard for you. The face of the card will still have the payment system logo, chip, and a thin strip of signature SEB green on the bottom, but it's still very cool.

The cost of this to SEB is negligible, while the boost to usage of their cards will likely be significant. This is a simple, ingenious move on their part, reminiscent of the Stockmann Christmas special.

Stockmann is another Scandinavian corporation, this time a chain of department stores. The Stockmann store in Tallinn has been around not quite as long as I can remember, but for a very long time indeed. It was one of the first places in postsoviet Tallinn that had an escalator, which impressed me hugely as a kid. It's still in the same building, though expanded and now covering five floors, with a massive parking annex.

Stockmann is an upmarket store, slightly more expensive than rivals. Its successful promotions include the regular Crazy Days sales, which are a proportional equivalent of Black Friday shopping sprees; and the fact that the Stockmann loyalty card gives you 90 minutes of free parking downtown. (As I once discovered, this is actually a clever ruse on their part to force their lady shoppers to make decisions in a hurry.) But the most awesome thing about Stockmann is that for many, many years it ran a Christmas promotion: during the month of December, the store provided free, professional giftwrapping services.

Chief rival Kaubamaja attempted to emulate Stockmann's signature attractions, with its own big sale at the same time as Stockmann's one, and eventually, free giftwrapping too. But by that time Stockmann had the advantage of word-of-mouth and consumer awareness. This means that the default, first choice holiday shopping location was always Stockmann.

Like all true genius, this was incredibly simple. Getting to design your own bank card is also a very simple idea. And that's why it's awesome.

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