Relevance and Integration Are the Future of Retail

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
The importance of being relevant to consumers, whether they're shopping in store or online, and ensuring a seamless experience between channels is imperative for retailers to be successful.

Being relevant to consumers, both online and in store, and integrating the Web experience with the brick-and-mortar one is key for retailers, experts highlighted at this week's National Retail Federation conference.

"Customers are no longer simply buying a product. They have journeys," said Steve Ladwig, Toshiba's president and CEO said. This phenomenon means that organizations cannot terminate their engagement with customers when they leave the store. Instead, savvy organizations are getting to know their customers, using the data to provide them with relevant offers, and providing a seamless transition between the in-store and online experience.
Alison Paul, Deloitte's vice chairman and U.S. Retail & Distribution leader, said customers no longer use one channel, but all channels all the time, and retailers need to recognize this trend. "Customers don't view the online and in store experience separately," noted Thomas Belk, Belk's chairman and CEO. "They want to move seamlessly from one channel to another." In fact, integration leads to financial gains for organizations that do it well, and Belk found that while customers who shop online only spend around $100 a year and those who just shop in the store spend $300, consumers who shop across channels spend an average of $1,000 annually. Belk said this information triggered a strategy rethink and the organization is investing a staggering $600 million in branding, service excellence, store remodels and expansions, and technology.

Mobile has also entered the fray, presenting a new opportunity for organizations to interact with their customers anytime and anywhere, but especially when they're in store. Susan Jurevics, Sony's senior vice president for Global Retail CRM and Brand Marketing, said mobile is presenting retailers with the opportunity to enrich the customer experience. "Mobile has fundamentally changed consumer behavior," she said, adding that mobile is no longer a one-way pipeline to the consumer but a tool to interact. "The more we understand the why, how, and how often consumers are using their mobile devices, the better we can reach them," she said.

Suzan Kereere, senior vice president and general manager of American Express' global network business, said mobile commerce is reaching critical mass because of the changes in consumer behavior. "Mobile commerce is more than just payments," she said, adding that many shoppers use their phones to check prices, look for other products, and get additional information. Macy's, for example, is leveraging mobile to provide its customers with a wealth of information, the company's chief marketing officer, Martine Reardon, said. For example, the retailer teamed with cosmetics giant Bobbi Brown to provide customers with a how-to guide on creating a smoky eye. Reardon said that while this wasn't a sales pitch, many customers who watched the video would go to the Bobbi Brown counter and buy all the products to create the look, highlighting the value of information. Further, Macy's is using mobile apps to help its customers navigate through its massive Herald Square store, helping them find what they need quicker.

The popularity of social media is strengthening mobile further, allowing consumers to interact with their contacts and getting reviews and recommendations while on the go. "Social is the new CRM," said Jurevics. "Consumers are telling us what they're doing, what they're thinking, and what they want." She highlighted the importance of using this data to serve customers with relevant information and experience. "Consumers will only seek you out if you've proven to be relevant to them," she said.

But leveraging the latest technology is not enough. In order to be successful, organizations need great leaders. Bill Simons, Walmart's president and CEO, spoke about the biggest leadership problem--settling for average. "Average isn't good enough in anything," he said. Instead, great leaders should guide and push their employees to become the best that they can, which will in turn have a positive impact on customers. Simons said Walmart listens, talks, and tells the truth to its employees in orders to establish trust. "We tell them the truth even when this hurts," he said.