Retail is at an inflection point. Customers are changing the rules of the game. For 100 years retailers have known more than their customer, but today with the Internet and mobile technologies it is not unusual for a customer to have more information than the sales person that they are interacting with. The entire value chain has been broken. The reasons why people have gone to stores no longer apply.
Take books as an example. Bookstores used to be a quiet relaxing place to browse the aisles with a spirit of adventure and discovery. You never knew what you might find, what might tickle your fancy. Then along came Amazon with a bigger selection, more product information, expert and customer reviews; and they knew my history and tastes better than I did. How could Borders compete? Immediacy: the ability to pick the book up right now and read it. Then Amazon created the Kindle and you could download the book right now. But Borders still had hard copies—the tactile experience that we all love. And Amazon introduced same day delivery, so you don’t even need to get in your car on that rainy Saturday and fight the crowds. We all know what happened to Borders and know that experts are declaring the end of loyalty.
But is it over? Retailers need to do 4 things to compete in this new world.
Get On the Floor
Retail associate have always been hidden behind the counter at a safe distance away from the customer. These counters were primarily to hold the POS terminal, but they provided a nice barrier to interacting with the customers. Today you can virtualize the entire IT infrastructure in the store and deliver the capabilities to a multitude of devices. Management reports and programs can be delivered to an iPad. This allows store managers to get out of their office and work with the associates on the floor and even interact with customers. Store associates can check out customers on the floor with smartphones or hand-held terminals. This allows the removal or reduction of the counter and much more flexibility in the store.
Get To Know Your Customer
Once you start interacting with your customer, you need to get to know them better. Advanced analytics allows you to analyze every data point that you have on the customer to understand them on a much deeper level: analyzing what they looked at and bought or didn’t buy online, their frequency of visits both online and in-store, and the things they are saying on Facebook and Twitter. All of these are clues to what your customers want and how best to interact with them.
Improve Your Dialogue
After learning everything you can about your customer, it is important to change the nature of the dialogue. Imagine walking through a high-end department store with an iPad and being able to see the sport coat or dress that you bought last season and finding things to complement it. Or you are in a drug store, and by scanning the bar code on the cough syrup with your smartphone, you can learn all about the pros and cons of what this product can do for you as opposed to the other options. This entire dialogue is enabled by having well-designed apps that are intuitive and delivering relevant data to the customer.
React and Be Nimble
Technology is changing at a very rapid pace. Six months ago no one was talking about Pinterest. Six months from now everyone might be talking about Binja. Retailers need to be extremely nimble in building their customer-facing apps. New technologies like Spring allow for rapid development to keep up with changing customer demands.
Can your team earn your customers’ loyalty?