Years ago, apparel retailer Sy Syms advertised, “… Where an educated consuma is our best customa!” Even with today’s ‘adolescent’ smartphones, I’d bet Mr. Syms would cringe at how educated shoppers can become while standing in front of his racks. Imagine just a few years from now what advancements in both handhelds and apps (that offer more than gimmicks) will do to transform a curious customer’s experience. What would Sy say then? “Oye!”
While there is a moderate degree of experimentation and trial & error regarding the impact of digital and e-commerce, we’ve not yet seen the full impact on store environments and the resulting shift in customer experience. But as with any pending paradigm shift, there’s often just as much disorientation, perhaps even confusion, while customers and retailers continue to figure it out.
Moreover, the impact of “marketplace” retailing (aka, Amazon.com) has not fully sunk in. The concept of a retailer being an omni-source for products and services could have a wildly impactful result. Then again, open source product aggregators could remain e-channel focused while the bricks & mortar crowd becomes an even more desirable option in the eyes of most customers. It’s really too early to tell. But one thing’s for certain: CHANGE is in the air!
Retailers (along with their consultants) have to stay on their toes and be ready to adapt swiftly and with confidence. The only way to do that is to look beyond the traditional approaches to decision support (marketing analytics, focus groups/surveys, silo thinking) and develop a more comprehensive strategy to unify customer interfaces. Without such an approach, retailers will continue to confuse their current and potential customers. Let’s remember that customers have to keep acclimating to new approaches too, and at an accelerating pace.
If it’s possible to narrow the challenge down to just one thing, it’s this: retailers spanning all segments must grapple with the rapidly increasing threat of a smartphone enabled customer openly challenging the retailer IN THE STORE, checking on prices, comparing features, texting friends and scanning bar codes to instantly survey customer reviews. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
In the future, Sy Syms’ best customers will need more than an education. They’ll need a reason to go the store showroom, and they’ll want a crystal clear and relevant experience.