Quintessential Seattle: Starbucks, the Space Needle, and Pike Place Market. When tourists visit Seattle you can bet they will see these three things. Seattle is also known as the home of Microsoft, and as a tech city. As a newly hired worker at Pike Place Market and an MCDM student, I was curious about the ways vendors at the famous market use social devices to promote and sell their products. The answers I found were surprising.
Pike Place Market opened in 1907 and is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country. Everything you can imagine is here – food, wine, souvenirs, clothing, shoes, flowers. The whole neighborhood caters to the tourists and visitors to Pike Place. With such a picturesque and special place, I thought there would be social media everywhere. There wasn’t. After interviewing vendors and observing the market ebb and flow, I’ve found that social media is hardly used at all. Some permanent stores utilize social media, but many vendors rely on face-to-face contact.
At City Fish Co., much of the business comes from loyal customers. They have a Yelp profile and interact on Facebook, but it is not used to gain new business in the same way as direct contact at the market. Farther down the market is Pike Place Fish Co., the famous fish-throwing hotspot. While I didn’t speak with anyone there, I researched online and found that Pike Place Fish Co. is very active on Twitter and on Facebook – they are just one of many fish vendors at the market but attract the most tourist attention with their theatrics. Both approaches, word of mouth and online marketing, seem to work.
Day stall vendors (mobile, seasonal vendors) tend to stay away from social media due to staffing issues. Many day stall vendors can’t supply their employees with smartphones or social devices, said Monica Shumacher who works at Sherwood Silkscreen. At Sherwood Silkscreen, there is a traditional credit card machine, but no smartphone or tablet app for charging credit cards. While Sherwood has been in the market for 30+ years, Monica said that many vendors keep the old word-of-mouth mode of selling goods because it is an old-school place. The names of the donors are inscribed in the bricks beneath our feet to remind us of the people who helped make Pike Place Market better.
From my own experience working at farmers markets (2+ years running a winery booth in eastern Washington) I found that smartphone apps such as Square Up are amazing for quick and easy credit card processing and accounting. However, to use a smartphone app one has to have a device to use it on. Monica also pointed out that Pike Place Market was originally a grassroots community and the old fashioned ways of doing things are often the best.
Stackhouse Brothers Orchards is incredible in that this California company is sold purely through word of mouth. As I chatted with Stackhouse Brothers Orchards, it became evident they don’t advertise online anywhere at all – and they still do very well at the market. The more I chatted with vendors, the more I started to think the market’s soul is purely an organic grassroots place tourists and regulars flock to based on the market’s reputation in Seattle. Pike Place has survived for over a hundred years by word of mouth, and changing that mode of advertising is slow.
However, last week I had a chat with John Brink who works at North Star Trading Co. (a sheepskin hat and slipper company) about the power of social media. John is adamant that many vendors in the market are missing out on opportunities to advertise online. While many items are seasonal and one of a kind, which makes updating a website difficult, an online presence is key and very easy, he says. He is an artist at Scrapblasters.com, independent of North Star Trading Co. and says that using Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter are extremely important in spreading word of mouth digitally.
After speaking with John, I did some more research on Pike Place Market and its online presence. The website is user friendly, and they feature a Pinterest board for folks who may want to pin items from the market. I think this is a genius move, especially for a market with seasonal items. There is also a mobile app called Edibly that tracks grocery lists for you as well as keeps an updated list of each vendor and what the vendor sells. While I have worked at the market for nearly three weeks now, I haven’t noticed anyone using Edibly. As far as I can tell, the demographic of people at the market are tourists passing through, and locals who already know exactly what they want.
Is Edibly useful? Yes, I think it is. Will people get into the habit of using this tool? I think that is a question every mobile developer asks themselves. As far as Pike Place Market goes – it is a magic place where the Facebook “F” is seldom used and people go to vendors based on their relationship with them, not an online review.
I think there is a bridge for social media and the personal service of the market to meet in the middle. Social media can be useful for individual vendors, while still maintaining the personal touch that tourists like so much. An organization 100 years old will have a little trial an error when acclimating to new media, but I think that the market is a perfect place for it.