NRF: Are Retailers Ready for the (Overly) Informed Consumer?
Commentary by Bill Bittner, president, BWH Consulting
I started out my first day at the annual NRF Convention intending to see the Association for Retail Technical Standards (ARTS) Annual Update. Because of the train schedule, I ended up getting in earlier so I saw a good portion of a prior presentation on "The Future Electronically-Enabled Supply Chain." What I heard at both presentations made me wonder if retailers are really ready for the impact of an informed consumer.
In the Supply Chain session, Peter Longo, president of logistics and operations for Macy’s, talked about their efforts in RFID. They have been using item-level RFID in their Manhattan Bloomingdale’s store for awhile. They raised their inventory accuracy from 75 percent to 97 percent. The reactions of both customers and employees were the same. Customers were happier because they could find what they wanted and employees were happy because they didn’t have to disappoint them. Many of the customers had used the online catalog before deciding to visit the store. These customers, who were looking forward to a cheerful in-store experience, were let down by an out of stock condition that prevented their purchase. RFID had minimized these occurrences.
My next session was with ARTS. One of the major projects ARTS worked on this year was version 2 of their mobile computing standard. They emphasized the broad impact of mobile on the consumer, marketing, and store operations. The goal of the ARTS standard is to establish common interfaces that can be used by various vendors to integrate features into mobile devices.
We have all heard the stories of consumers using their mobile phone to allow them to shop price at other locations as they consider products right at the shelf. We have also heard about them using the internet for product information. Consumers are also using the internet and their mobile devices to decide whether to make a store visit. Imagine the disappointment when they see the color they want online only to find it out of stock in the store. Worse yet is hearing the store employee say "it doesn’t come in that color."
Discussion Questions: With some of the larger, more sophisticated chains gearing up, will other retailers be left unprepared to handle the "overly-informed consumer"? Can most chains give their store associates tools to keep up with consumers? Can we at least arm them with the same mobile devices the shoppers are carrying?