Monday, 10 November 2008

Retailers Need to Start Thinking Imaginatively

I was reading an interesting article today on retailers and their use of mobile within the buying process. I was quite surprised when it said that 40% of those surveyed said they already had an information-led mobile internet site or were considering building one – I'm guessing that there were more within that 40% that are considering it versus those doing it as the mobile channel is not something I've experienced in a major way from online retailers or any retailers for that matter. 30% of retailers questioned felt the use of mobile was unimportant and almost 50% didn't feel that the success of mobile and e-commerce are interlinked.

The article went on to say that the "survey showed the use of mobile among retailers is high but the benefits of having m-commerce capabilities are yet to be recognised"

Theodore Levitt said in his article "Marketing Myopia - Harvard Business Review" in 1960 that "Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing customer value. It must push this idea into every nook and cranny of the organisation otherwise the company will be merely a series of pigeonholed parts, with no consolidating sense of purpose or direction". That statement is probably truer today than at any time before as customers are dealing with retailers across many more channels and are expecting the same level of service and recognition regardless. The buzz words in retail are "Multi-Channel Retailing" – having one cohesive customer centric experience across all channels rather than pigeonholed parts.

For many retailers though this is still a pipe dream – their e-commerce solution is completely separate to their EPOS solution, vouchers issued in one can't be redeemed in the other; customers (and hence purchases) in the online channel are known, customers in the offline channel are not. For some retailers there is almost a rivalry between online and offline with no real cross promotion of either channel, acting as if customers are either on or offline – but never both.

Retail loyalty programmes can help bridge the gap in this regard, acting as a centralised solution to bring together customers and transactions from all channels – providing a single customer view and a solution for creating and delivering relevant promotions back to all channels whether these are via email, SMS, direct mail or POS receipt. Even here though many retailers get it wrong – running a loyalty solution only for offline and ignoring online, or further muddying the water by running two loyalty solutions, one traditional and one via their store/credit card product – never the twain shall they meet.

In an ideal scenario I should be able to walk into a retailer and seeing something I like, text the product code to an SMS short code to get real time product reviews – if I like it I can order it there and then to be delivered, or pick it up and take it to the till. At the till I should be able to swipe my card and have the cashier know who I am, what I like to purchase and make a recommendation for something else I may like that is coming in next week. On my till receipt is an offer for something that I would like which I can go online to purchase. Going online I can see a history of all my purchases across all channels and can see items I've viewed before whether online or in-store via my mobile requests. If I choose I can post these to my social network profile so that my friends can see what I've purchased and react to this, comment on it and if they like it they can purchase it (and I may even earn some commission on the referral).

None of that is particularly hard to implement, but it's about putting the customer at the heart of the buying process.

Theodore Levitt went on to say that "the belief that profits are assured by an expanding and more affluent population is dear to the heart of every industry. If consumers are multiplying and also buying more of your product or service, you can face the future with considerably more comfort than if the market were shrinking. An expanding market keeps the [company] from having to think very hard or imaginatively."

Well we're not in an expanding market anymore – so retailers who continue to have expanding profits will probably be those who are thinking imaginatively and putting the customer at the heart of their organisation.


Anonymous said...

How comfortable to you think customers will be with retailers holding all that data when even the government can't be trusted not to lose it?

You'd have to be VERY clear on the benefits to be had for risking sharing that breadth and depth of information...

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