Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an articlefrom Retail Paradox, RSR Research's weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
As most retailers think about how to extend their brand into the digital domain, and specifically to mobile, they are still thinking about "pushing" their offering towards consumers. But according to Ethan Song, the co-founder and CEO of Montreal-based men's fashion e-retailer Frank & Oak, for digital natives, "Mobile is an extension of you. Mobile isn't a destination; it's an extension of the individual. Stores and the e-commerce site are destinations, i.e. you 'go' to a store or a site."
At the recent Apps World conference in San Francisco, the entrepreneur talked about what he called "Consumer Brand 3.0," leveraging tech platforms to integrate the entire product and customer lifestyle across multiple touch points. The team at Frank & Oak believes that consumer always-on connectivity creates the opportunity for retailers to shift from the mass model to a personalized experience.
Mr. Song pointed out that Frank & Oak seeks to create unique relationships with different segments of customers, even while selling the same products. In other words, Frank & Oak wants to make shopping easy for men through personalization and curation, offering premium name-brand shirts and accessories at affordable prices. And the company leverages mobile to make it happen.
Mr. Song explained, "Mobile allows you to shop the same environment in a different way ... giving consumers more control over their experiences. Very few retailers are providing content based on the physical context. Content should inspire and educate. Mobile has the power to personalize the in-store experience by adding that content layer."
What is interesting in that statement is that it is from the consumer's point-of-view, not what the retailer wants the consumer's point-of-view to be.
That's worth thinking about. If it's true that digital natives think about their mobile digital devices as an extension of themselves rather than an appliance to be used on an as-needed basis, then retailers' view of the technology as the outer edge of the corporate information world is not quite right.
This analogy might seem like a stretch, but I'm reminded of something that someone wrote about why Jimi Hendrix was such a guitar revolutionary. It was that he viewed his "instrument" — the Fender guitar, the cord, the sound effects pedals, and the massive Marshall amps he used — as an extension of himself rather than just an instrument he was playing. Perhaps that's why Jimi called his band "The Experience" — to appreciate what he was doing, you had to experience it in a new way.
So, who knows? Maybe Ethan Song and the team at Frank & Oak is on to something. Perhaps retailers have to learn to listen in a new way.
What's the likelihood that mobile will lead to a much greater personalization of the in-store shopping experience in the years ahead?