In recent years, I’ve noticed my online shopping experiences have become more personalized. The data that online retailers have collected on me has been used to sell me the appropriate products at the appropriate time, creating an enhanced shopper journey. However, this trend has only occurred online and not in physical brick-and-mortar stores. So how do offline retailers adapt? During a recent panel discussion at the 2018 GMA Leadership Forum, this topic was discussed in-depth by retail industry thought leaders.
Innovation must be customer-focused
Online retailers can gather and leverage the data they collect on customers, but physical stores haven’t been able to do the same at that capacity. Without any mechanism to gather such large amounts of data, box stores are at the mercy of customer feedback given to them directly, and often the feedback they receive is of dissatisfaction. However, according to Jeff Donaldson, founder and CEO of Intriosity, that negative feedback might actually be a good thing for retailers. “It’s within a customer’s dissatisfaction with you, with your processes, with a particular problem you’re trying to solve that you really understand what their consumer experience needs are.” And with this feedback, stores can begin creating that personalization that shoppers find online.
Understanding the problem
When stores understand the problem they’re trying to solve with their customers, then they begin to create the appropriate experiences, whether in-store or online. GMDC President and CEO Patrick Spear emphasized the need for physical retailers to rethink how they’re connecting with shoppers who enter their stores. “Engaging with [the consumer] in a way that speaks to what they’re looking for and how you meet their needs is how physical retail will thrive,” he said. Things are happening fast in retail, but certain things are not happening fast enough, and we need to stress to smaller retailers the importance of embracing new technologies and forming partnerships that will help them keep up with the current pace of the industry.
Give customers more control
Consumers are becoming more aware of the data being collected on them, and there needs to be a greater emphasis on transparency. When your customers know you’re collecting data on them in order to enhance their shopping experiences, you may be surprised at the information they’re willing to share with you. A Toronto-based startup, Sampler, is doing just that. Customers who participate in their product sampling programs are asked for personal information specifically for the purpose of ensuring the products they recommend in the future represent the interests of each client. Marie Chevrier, founder and CEO of Sampler, noticed a trend that started to occur by implementing transparent data retrieval techniques. “What we saw with [being transparent] was customers going back and willingly adding more information to their profiles.” That information was then gathered and used to enhance their future shopping experiences.
The industry will continue at a fast pace
"We all know the industry is moving fast, and it’s only going to move faster," said Ankit Patel of Boxed Wholesale. "The people who are able to transform with it and move fastest are the ones experimenting and willing to take risks.” Physical brick-and-mortar can no longer afford to rely on traditional retail methods, but if retailers can leverage personalization to improve and enhance their customers' experiences, then they will keep those shoppers coming back into the store.
Christa Kilday is the digital marketing specialist at the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).
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