We recently wrote about brick-and-mortar retailers in a SoLoMo world, and concluded with the idea that focusing on the consumer is the first step to earning attention, trust, and loyalty. In order to focus on the customer, we need to think of them in the context in which they are making purchases today, and their expectations in a shopping environment that is immediately available at their fingertips.
So, what do consumers expect these days? And what can retailers do about it right now and in the near future?
Here are four things retailers should keep in mind based on the expectations of today’s always-on, ultra-connected consumer:
1. Consumers want to interact, browse, purchase, and get support on multiple devices… from anywhere and at any time.
It’s absolutely essential to deliver a truly integrated customer experience. Retailers can transform multiple digital touchpoints into a single, evergreen digital platform that leverages the unique opportunities offered by SoLoMo.
Implication for today: Design for mobile. Mobile usage is becoming prevalent and this means every customer experience must be a great one on-the-go. And it’s not only the look and feel that matters, but also how it works, and how easy and fast it is to find, discover, and shop. It’s the consistency in messaging, content, tone, and information across various touchpoints. Walmart excels in this. During an interview with AdAge, Walmart’s CMO Stephen Quinn said the following: “This concept of social, local, mobile — SoLoMo, as we like to say — I think becomes a tool not only for us to get our point across from a marketing standpoint but for a lot of our vendors who are our best partners to get their point across.”
Implication for tomorrow: Design for the future of mobile — this will include wearable technologies, which are hands-on, always-on, environment-aware devices like Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Eventually, information and content will need to be surfaced in all kinds of screens and devices, and retailers will need to be ready to help consumers make informed decisions. In Deloitte’s Consumer Review Report from May of 2012, Tesco’s CEO Phillip Clarke illustrated just how critical mobile apps are becoming: “In the future, app development is going to be as important as property development.”
Fashion retailers, like Zara, are already investing heavily in mobile and creating apps across all four major mobile OS platforms. We strongly suspect consumer preference for “all you can app” and smartphone-based commerce will gain marketplace clarity.
2. Consumers want to showroom AND reverse showroom.
Showrooming, which occurs when shoppers browse offline to purchase online, is happening at every brick-and-mortar store. Retailers must elevate the overall customer experience both in stores and across digital properties in order to benefit from showrooming. Alexandra Samuel and David Sevitt wrote a Harvard Business Review article, How Pinterest Puts People in Stores, in which they concluded that “instead of feeling threatened by showrooming, retailers should study their customers’ paths to purchase and use the insights gained to hone their online marketing efforts.”
Implication for today: Beat the competition. Target, known for its unique approach to design, now offers free in-store Wi-Fi, a fantastic mobile site and Target app, and a digital savings program + app called Cartwheel.
As of June of 2013, mobile purchases constituted over seven percent of Target’s digital sales, and mobile traffic was over 25 percent of overall digital traffic. Target is also enhancing the overall shopping experience with “Baby Advisors,” “Beauty Concierges,” and local vendor sections in many of their stores. Target’s Casey Carl recently blogged about winning at showrooming: “For retailers to survive and thrive in the future, we’ve got to up our game, play to our strengths and seize the upper hand by enhancing both our physical stores and digital channels.”
Implication for tomorrow: Consistently broaden the competitive set. Amazon, Fab.com, The Fancy, Le Tote, Etsy, BuzzFeed, Miley Cyrus, cat videos, and anything that can be digitized is competing for shoppers’ attention in stores, and at home. Elevating the customer experience means going beyond what consumers expect from your brand. This may seem unnecessary or intimidating, but it’s best for retailers to methodically pilot and iterate on innovative ideas in order to drive results. In fact, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and other large retailers are now opening innovation centers and labs near Silicon Valley with aims to reinvent the shopping experience.
3. Consumers want to find out about products and services through recommendations from their closest friends and family.
Unique and highly personalized shopping experiences — from discounts and videos, to mobile apps and geo-fenced in-store microsites — should resonate with the audience you’re trying to reach. Valuable and memorable experiences, not ads with the biggest budgets, are the items that get shared.
Implication for today: Make sure owned + paid media lead to exponential earned media. When creating and curating social media content, microsites, websites, mobile sites, apps, and other digital experiences, retailers must ask themselves two main questions: Will anyone care? Will anyone share? Without answering these two questions appropriately, owned and paid efforts will not be as powerful as they could be. As Walgreens’ Eric Gottloeb and Zach West put it in Sprinklr’s latest eBook, “‘If you build it, they will come,’ doesn’t work. It’s true for microsites, it’s true for Facebook pages, and it’s true for Twitter handles. Build long-term products that customers can keep coming back to. Social is a long-term game, not a short-term ad buy.”
Implication for Tomorrow: Build differentiated and intrinsically social digital experiences. Word of mouth and the media are incredibly powerful, but thinking like a startup will enable retailers to create growth engines that facilitate how consumers disseminate information with their friends. Companies like LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Mint all grew through intrinsically social experiences that engineered viral effects by considering questions like: What’s the probability that someone will share this? How many people will this are shared with? How do we maximize sharing without turning the experience into an annoyance or distraction? How many referred users are we actually retaining? These are the same kind of “growth hacking” questions that Nike is likely tackling as it becomes a technology company with products like Nike+ and the FuelBand. They are the questions every retailer should be considering.
4. Consumers want to be known and rewarded for their loyalty.
Companies like Nordstrom, Publix, and Starbucks built their businesses around enhanced experiences where their team members (aka “baristas,” in the case of Starbucks) seem to consistently care more. Brick-and-mortar retailers can raise the bar for themselves to show they care in new and unexpected (digital) ways. For loyal customers, nothing is as good as meaningful, personal attention — whether it be online or offline.
Implication for today: Connect the dots and add value to customers’ lives in unexpected and emotional ways. Lululemon’s “Om Finder” app, which allows you to find yoga studios and yogis in your area, is a great example of a SoLoMo branded experience that provides utility. In addition, Lululemon provides its customers with a community called heylululemon, a place where they can voice their thoughts, ideas, and feedback. Another great example is Chipotle, which is creating awareness about its food philosophy while deepening relationships with its biggest fans through quality content — the latest being an animated film and mobile game called “The Scarecrow.”
Implication for tomorrow: Tread very carefully when it comes to consumer data and privacy. As retailers make better use of big data to personalize experiences, it’s important to stress the importance of privacy. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” said Julie Bernard, Macy’s VP of Customer Strategy at the D2 Digital Dialogue conference in Cincinnati. Macy’s doesn’t want to “get ahead of consumer readiness” in a way that could lead to “brand erosion,” she added. Gaining insights, personalizing experiences, and targeting potential customers should never come at the expense of losing trust.
In the end, a retail strategy is only as good as the results it gets with customers. The value delivered from leveraging new technologies should revolve around consumer value, not just value to the retailer. The advent of SoLoMo enables brick-and-mortar companies to deliver better experiences in the right place, at the right time, in order to satisfy and exceed expectations in new and exciting ways. This should be seen as a privilege and an opportunity to connect more deeply with existing and potential customers, both online and offline.
About the authors:
Esteban Contreras, author of Social State and Director of Strategy at Sprinklr, a leading enterprise Social Relationship Platform used by top brands like Microsoft, Samsung, and Virgin America. Sprinklr was recently called “the most powerful technology in the market” by Forrester.
Scott Doniger is SVP of Strategy + Services at Sprinklr and has two decades’ worth of experience in strategic marketing, consulting, analysis, and research leadership.
©2015, The Tomorrow Project, LLC