In the “old days” of marketing, the physical location of the bricks and mortar retail business was paramount -- hence the watchword: “Location location location”. Today, especially in the world of online retail, the singular element of business success is: “Consumer consumer consumer.” Everywhere you turn, the consumer is in the driver's seat. The consumer is driving the bus. Consumers are dictating how they want their information, purchases, and customer service to be. Technology is now the big driver of the future of retail. And while online retailers have the analytics and competitive intelligence side of the equation in hand (you do, don’t you?), guess who’s driving the personal technology? The consumer.
Overall Challenge: The customer is firmly in the driver’s seat. Without a customer you have no sales. If you have no sales, you have no business. So the solution is to do everything you can to attract, please, and keep customers. Check out these challenges and solutions for making your business irresistible to online shoppers:
Challenge #1: The customer is ultra-connected. “The consumer is more instrumented, more inter-connected, and more intelligent than ever.” In a recent blog post, we reported that nearly half of mobile phone owners in the US now own smartphones. Consumers go into stores armed with information, including that of the store’s competitors; they look up and compare information and prices when they’re in the stores; the consumer is positioned to make purchases then and there -- or online.
Solution: You have to connect with the ultra-connected consumer. Reports show that as many as 29% percent of consumers who shop in retail stores then buy online. So give customers a direct line to you, for information, for ordering, for service, for pricing, and more. Develop smartphone apps and give the customer as many ways, and make it as easy as possible to deal with YOU.
Challenge #2: Web presence and social media are key elements of the online experience. There will have been 57 different consumer touch points -- i.e. Facebook, tweets, blogs, questions, emails, and reviews -- before making the purchase, per Cisco’s Internet Business Group report.
Solution: Be involved with social media as much as possible. You have to see and be seen -- communicate and comment -- you have to be one of them. Be sure you don’t make one-sided, “here’s what’s great about my product and why you should use it” positions. Social media is a place to be interactive and empathetic. Hire someone or have someone specifically look after your social media activity as a large part of their job -- it’s that important.
Challenge #3: Customer demographics are changing. After the baby boomer boom, those born between 1977 and 1997 (called The Millennials) are coming on as your next major customer group. They will be a large part of your work pool as well. This group boasts the highest percentage ownership of personal technology of any generation, spend five times more than their parents did at the same age, and will have used electronic media since they were born.
Solution: Cater to the capabilities and inclinations of The Millennials. Millennials are smart and connected. They want fun, fulfillment, more fun, instant gratification, and they want to be liked by their peers and known as savvy and connected. They also want things fast.
Challenge #4: Your staff demographics will be changing. In a few years, the millennials described above will also make up the largest retail employee demographic. They will be in demand -- and there will be competition to find and hire the best. This group also will have a tendency to move from job to job in fairly short time periods.
Solution: You need to have staff that can “speak” to your internal AND external needs. You need staff that can “speak” the same language as the customer. These staff members will be very valuable in knowing the skinny on what customers want and need. Include them at all levels of the company -- planning, information gathering, strategy, sales, education, fulfillment, customer service, etc. -- and keep their line of command simple and direct.
Challenge #5: Customers are attracted by added value and fun. Customers want fun and games, samples, promotions, reviews, product ratings and suggestions or help. They want to be served, informed, educated and entertained.
Solution: Provide tools and information that are fun and will aid the purchases. Suggest wine pairings and food combinations; give the customer creative ideas of how to use a product; recipes seem to fit almost every circumstance (I saw one recipe to wear a suit by); offer the capability of building a clothes ensemble online; give style or color variations, choices, and usage tips. Tell the customer why a price or policy is thus and such. When they have the information, explained nicely, they understand and accept the reasons.
Challenge #6: Customer service is supreme. No matter how you slice it, the way you treat your customer is the most important key to your retail success. Your challenge is not only to secure customers, but to keep them happy and make them loyal.
Solution: The consumer wants to be catered to, communicated with, and most of all, respected and involved. Most customer service solutions are remarkably easy, yet the most overlooked -- and great customer service is the best or only way to keep your customer. (I will tell you the secrets of successful, highly effective retailers, in an upcoming blog post).
Challenge #7: Today, more and more, people are looking for a more personalized experience. We don't just mean customer service, but in all aspects of the shopping relationship.
Solution: Identify with, personalize, customize and interact with the consumer. Gather customer email addresses and other contact info to use for ongoing, personal communication -- share information, socialize, tell about promotions, specials, and just plain show the customer that you care about your valued customer relationship. And mean it. And show it in how you act, not what you say. Take Zappos’ example of its company “personality of fun”, its way of constantly surprising the customer, or its dogged customer service and communication. Look at Nordstrom’s unparalleled customer service; and note Trader Joe’s employees’ genuine knowledge and enthusiasm about their products. (More about all of them in my next blog post).
No matter the size of your business, the consumer is your very lifeblood, your reason for existing, your future, your income, your longevity, and your survival. Service and socialize the heck out of the consumer. Do everything possible to keep the consumer engaged, entertained, and satisfied if you want to be successful and stick around for a while.
If the fingers that rock the smartphone, the IPad, the email, the SMS, the socials -- aren’t treated fast and well -- they’ll quickly “disconnect”. On the other hand, if you help them “like” you, they’ll happily promote you, treasure you, love your services, and keep coming back for more.