NRF: Consumers Buy On Their Own Terms

Jan 13, 2011
Al McClain

A new IBM survey of more than 30,000 consumers released at this
National Retail Federation convention shows that consumers are optimistic about
the future and willing to spend. They are also more selective about their expenditures
and require more personalized service from retailers where they choose to spend
their hard-earned dollars.

Just off a major recession that changed many of their
habits, shoppers are still looking to buy just what they need, find items on
sale and delay purchases.

With this “new reality,” retailers,
according to IBM, need to:

  • Listen – Interact with consumers via social media such as
    Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and product review sites.
  • Know – Make sure the shopper gets a personalized shopping
    experience by offering them promotions on items they buy often and remember
    preferred payment and receipt types.
  • Empower – Enable seamless shopping across channels, and let
    consumers decide how to interact with them.

Not surprisingly, IBM sees that technology is part of the answer to personalized

  • Forty percent of those surveyed want to check product prices in-store and
    get promotions based on items they scan.
  • Fifty percent will use a mobile device to skip the checkout lane. 
  • Forty-nine percent use two or more technologies (website, in-store kiosk,
    mobile device, etc.) to shop, up from 36 percent from a year ago study. 

Jill Puleri, IBM’s global industry retail executive said, “We’re
seeing consumers who are finally optimistic about the future. This new attitude,
however, doesn’t mean they’re rushing to stores and spending like
the pre-recession heyday.”

One of Ms. Puleri’s suggestions is that
sales associates be redefined as “service
associates” since shoppers said they don’t want to be sold to. 
Presumably, retailers who go this route would need to be sure to back their
associate relabeling up with training and new technology.

Have we finally reached the point where innovative technology can markedly improve customer service and retailer loyalty? What retailer(s) are doing a great job of using technology to drive better service and loyalty?

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8 Comments on "NRF: Consumers Buy On Their Own Terms"

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Bob Phibbs
10 years 3 months ago

While I’m about to blog on this, mobile is trying to make cold technology warm. If you want better consumers it takes a human. That was the one thing missing in all the sessions I attended. Pretty amazing for an organization that touts itself as the voice of retailing worldwide.

Personalization is about knowing your customers, not using their smartphone as a discount generator.

Dick Seesel
10 years 3 months ago

No question that technology is reshaping the consumer landscape, and RetailWire panelists have weighed in recently about the impact of mobile apps, tablet computers, and so on. The ongoing question is how retailers choose to respond to these changes, especially the consumer newly empowered by the smartphone in her hand. I expect retailers to adapt by continuing to move toward exclusive brands (to reduce price competition), and by developing new ways to “close the deal.” If a store is out of stock on an item, they ought to use kiosks or other methods to satisfy the consumer from their e-commerce site, and you should see retailers rapidly moving toward this technology.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 3 months ago

Call me a troglodyte (many do), but technology serves primarily to more efficiently deliver on the the company’s fundamental value proposition. It does not, in and of itself, replace the core principles of effective retailing.

For example, over my career, retailers became convinced that technology could enable merchants to sit in an office, never visit stores, and effectively merchandise their assortments on a national basis. The result was homogeneous assortments offered to heterogeneous markets. The latest “breakthrough” is the discovery that localized assortments are a competitive advantage. Will technology help enable this? You bet. But it’s not the technology that will make it successful, it’s the (in retrospect) recognition that customer’s preferences vary in different geographic and demographic segments and modifying those assortments accordingly will be rewarded.

For all the admittedly eye-popping technology, the principles are the same as they’ve always been–right product in the right place at the right price at the right time.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 3 months ago

I agree with the concept of changing the terminology from Sales to Service Associate because, in reality, that is what they are there to do. The Associates are there to assist the buyer with their needs and finding ways to fulfill plus expand on them.

To do this, the Associates need better training. I mean more than knowing how to work the check out lines with speed. We are now speaking about a level of concierge service. It does not matter if the buyer can speed up the checking out process by using available apps if the buyer can’t find what they want or be shown available options.

Paula Rosenblum
10 years 3 months ago

Bob Phipps has it right. But the human has to be at least as educated as the customer he or she is talking to. And the store manager has to be on the selling floor, armed with the right information he or she needs to manage the operation.

In my view, the single biggest question confronting retailers today is how to keep the store relevant (and profitable, vs. a showroom for low-cost providers) in the 21st century. It starts with technology-enabled HUMANS.

Herb Sorensen
10 years 3 months ago
In spite of (or because of?) the source, IBM is right on track here. Eventually retailers may understand that SELLING is not just providing an environment where shoppers can sell themselves, nor is it about better training and execution by store staff. It is about a relationship with the thought process in the shopper’s mind, that at this advanced state of shoppers and technology, MUST be mediated by technology, almost certainly the shopper’s own device. Amazon IS the preeminent SELLING organization in the world, and their methods–if not the company itself–must spread through the world like the frogs of Egypt. There WILL BE massive sales lifts as a consequence. I would not put Modiv Shopper on a sales footing at par with Amazon, but they have a very effective proprietary “PDA-type” device that is already achieving very substantial lifts. But note that it is tied to a proprietary retailer. Amazon is not, They are tied to the shopper themselves, with the technology that the shopper brings with them. There is money aplenty for everyone here,… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
10 years 3 months ago

I believe we were always at the point where innovative technology could improve customer service and retailer loyalty. We needed customer service to be the prime motivation, and technology to be the accomplishment, not the other way around.

Take digital screens for instance. That industry has been pushing retailers, with articles and research that are self-funded, that putting up their screens in stores was the solution to all there problems. It is a technology first, customer service second strategy that they are proposing. I’ve not been to a trade show in the US for several years now, but is there a company whose sole purpose is developing proven, customer-motivating content, no matter whose equipment and software is used?

I’d rather promote old fashion marketing-savvy merchandising first, and dipping into the latest technology toolkit for the best way to deliver what the customer needs to make an informed buying decision.

Marge Laney
10 years 3 months ago

Sell has officially become a four letter word in retail. We’re even renaming the sales associate the service associate and everyone’s nodding and clapping. Hurrah! We’re so enlightened, we’ve truly evolved! Technology is so much smarter, faster, efficient, accurate, and way less whiny than real people. The brick and mortar retailer can now feel good about hiring and training greeters and cashiers and letting technology lead the customer to make the correct buying decisions that fill their needs.

Is this onslaught of technology empowering the consumer? Or are these simply tools used by retailers to promote Pavlovian responses by their customers to do the job that was traditionally that of the associate? I still maintain that service is personal and the retailers who will thrive will use technology to enhance those personal connections and not destroy them.


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