By Robert Liljenwall
Retail isn’t the same anymore. Consumers are marching into their favorite retailer with their smartphones at the ready … these handy data companions are helping customers analyze retailer offerings and give focused advice on their shopping list where and when it’s not available from the retail shelf. Shopper engagement is not managed by the retailer as much anymore as by the shopper, who is now in control. Armed with new ‘shopping weapons’, today’s shoppers know exactly what they’re looking for. And if they don’t find what they want, they either move on or order online when they get home. Shoppers are on the hunt, especially in these challenging economic times (and, yes, we know that recession was officially over in June 2009.)
It is not always ‘bad news’ that consumers are now empowered with more information than ever before. Retailers and brand marketers who truly know their customers’ needs and wants are able to capitalize on the shopper desires. And as Internet sales continue to rise in all sectors (e-commerce rose 18.4 percent through the first six months of 2013 compared to same period in 2012), we spent more than $64 billion online during the second quarter of this year according to the US Census Bureau, which tracks these things … an increase of 4.8 percent over same period in 2012 of total retail sales of $1.126 trillion for 2013 2Q.
So what does this all mean? We know several things: One out of four Americans work in retail services. Retail sales is increasing … slowly at a rate of 0.09 percent for the second quarter, and, no, retail is not going away. Also, we know that mobile commerce is not going to take over retail (projected that only 1 percent of total retail sales will be on mobile devices by 2016.) And according to latest consumer research, the average consumer uses 10.7 different sources to make a purchase decision. It all doesn’t just happen in the store. But we know that, too, don’t we?
But what is happening is that individual retailers are fighting to keep their customers happy and keep them buying “in-store.” Best Buy is notable for its struggle against Amazon and was able to make a dent in their California market by forcing Amazon through legislation to pay sales tax, but is that enough? Target kicked out Amazon Kindle products – each were tired of being “showrooms” for Amazon and its own products.
Enter POPAI – the Global Association for Marketing at Retail – which published their fourth edition this spring of “Marketing at Retail – Understanding, Influencing and Winning Today’s Shopper.” POPAI itself has experienced a metamorphosis in its 76-year history – starting out as a vendor-driven point of purchase trade group attracting producers, retailers and brand marketers. But as technology expanded across all fronts, POPAI today reflects the broad array of “interests” that serve the entire retail industry – both in-store and online.
In this 386-page text – the largest ever – you will certainly recognize the change in the retail and technology landscape. New chapters on mobile commerce, social media, and technology advances and online integration with in-store merchandising. You will find an expanded offering presented by 23 of the top professionals in marketing at retail. This publication is also available on an e-Version. You can order your copy at http://popai.com/book/buythebook. Hard copy sells for $39.95 and the e-Version for $35.95.
Starting in summer 2011, we found that in putting this publication together we wanted to have the most complete resource for everyone serving the retail industry – and subjects not previously covered such as mobile commerce and social media were going to play a major role. Throughout the editing process, too, we were constantly updating the chapters because technology and new retail initiatives were coming into the industry and we wanted to insure our readers they had the latest.
We do recognize that retailers certainly know that their #1 goal is to gain customer insight. Consumer behavior, as Dr. Dan Flint (University of Tennessee) points out, is changing as technology changes, because consumers now have more data available to them than ever before. “They can make choices quicker and more accurately because they have current data at their fingertips.” And the authors point out that retailers are learning how to provide better customer technology support inside their stores with Wi-Fi and local data points on what’s on sale and to guide them to their own personal shopping needs.
Speaking on behalf of the authors, I want to share with you one grand example of how stupid some major retailers can be.
I have a Macy’s revolving account and pay my monthly bill online. When I made a ‘confirmed’ payment on my Macy app. via my iPhone, I noticed that the payment had not been subtracted from my account within a week’s time. I called Macy’s only to learn from the Macy’s customer service rep that…”We’re sorry, but we’re finding that many payments made on the iPhone do not get recorded even though you receive a confirmation!” “Well, is this new?” “Oh, no, it’s been going on for some time. We’re sorry.”
Sorry!!! I couldn’t believe it. But wait … the nightmare continues … I went to make my payment online with my iMac, and then I can’t seem to get a confirmation, so I called customer service again. The Macy’s rep asks what kind of browser I am using. “What do you mean? I am using Safari.” “Oh, sir, we don’t really support Apple. Do you have a PC you can use?” True story, so help me Steve Jobs. Can you believe that a major retailer would allow this to happen? My next purchases were with….guess who? Amazon. (We awarded Macy’s the Lemon Award for August.)
Retailers who don’t give the same kind of attention to detail and support that an Amazon gives to its customers is going to find defections growing.
Is there a ‘war’ going on? You bet. Retailers who understand the stakes are Disney, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Starbucks, In & Out Burger, Nordstrom’s and Apple, of course. They have their customers in focus – they have gained keen customer insight, which should be the goal of every brand marketer and retailer. There are many great retailers who are embracing the “new, smarter shopper” and are eager to support them online and in-store with technology that enables them to easily get the ‘stuff’ they want.
Shoppers have more choices than ever … and when retailers make it difficult to do business with them … you lose them, perhaps forever. You have to win the shopper battles to win the war! – RJL
[Note: both editors of BrandTech News are also contributing authors to the POPAI textbook, and Robert Liljenwall is Co-Editor]