BrainTrust Query: The Customer is Wired…Are You?
Commentary by Doug Stephens, president, Retail
Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from
the Retail Prophet Consulting blog.
There’s an impending "parting of the
seas" taking place with respect to the nature of in-store experiences as we
move into the future. It’s creating an ever widening gap between what I refer
to as "fully automated" experiences on one side and "fully animated"
experiences on the other.
The fully automated experience will involve in-store
systems that enable consumers to self-manage every aspect of their shopping
venture. In these environments technology is the hero and is merely supported
The fully animated experience on the other hand will be a very human
effort that goes well beyond simply providing service. Sales associates take
on the role of trusted advisers to consumers who are prepared to pay a premium
for their expert advice and personal attention. In these environments people
are the heroes and are merely supported by technology.
Opinions are likely
to vary greatly on this but here’s a short list of what I consider to be essential
technologies for small and medium sized retailers to support that animated
1. Local Search: The future of search technology is undoubtedly location-specific,
so at the very minimum, retailers should be making sure that their business
is listed with free services like the Google Local Business Center.
2. Social Media and Networking: Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr,
and YouTube are not only powerful tools to market one’s expertise and value
but actively using them will also make a business rank higher in web searches.
3. Mobile-Optimized Website: Increasingly, web searches are being done
while consumers are on-the-go. How your website appears on a mobile device
can make or break the customer’s decision to visit your location over a competitor’s
store. So, in addition to having a modern, easily navigable website, it’s worth
investing in formatting it to be visible and functional on the small screen.
4. Portable Point of Sale: One of the most common complaints among
customers is having to wait to pay for their merchandise. One way to alleviate
long lines is to equip the store and perhaps even each sales associate with
a portable point of sale device. Once reserved for major retailers, mobile
POS programs and hardware are now within reach for most retailers, provided
they have some basic system requirements.
5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems: Increasingly, consumers
are less homogenous demographically, more elusive and far more fickle in their
preferences. A quality CRM system will allow you to collect, manage, and act
on reliable customer data. With good information you can keep the business
in sync with the flow of customers and the pattern of needs and demand. Furthermore,
you can communicate relevant offers and value added information to the appropriate
customer groups at the right time.
6. Mobile Marketing: Mobile marketing, a comparatively new technology,
is already available in various formats to small retail. SMS (text message)
programs and even location-based couponing platforms that deliver offers to
consumers who come within proximity of the store, are available to forward-thinking
retailers who want to meet the needs of tech savvy customers.
Questions: What minimum level of technology do small and medium sized retailers
need to present an "animated" experience? What do you think of the
suggestions offered in the article? Which ones might be missing?