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New Insights into Shopper Behavior – with Some Surprises

Happy New Year to all my readers, and best wishes for 2014! Of course, the retail year starts off with a bang at the NRF trade show being held in New York on Jan.  12-15. Cisco is at the show expo on Jan. 13-14, and will be featuring four company thought leaders in the annual NRF Big Idea sessions. I sat down with Jon Stine, director of solutions development at Cisco and a widely recognized expert in retail analysis, to find out more about his NRF session.

Q: Jon, tell us what you’ll be talking about at NRF this year.

A: For the fourth year, we are featuring our annual “Catch ‘Em and Keep ‘Em” survey, which polls 1,200 demographically selected respondents across the US to assess current shopper behavior. This year we expanded the survey to collect information on personalization and the use of data gathering on shoppers in the store.

Q: Any exciting or unexpected findings?

A: Yes, definitely. I won’t give away everything, but let me give you just one example: Right now, we’re experiencing a flurry of fear in retail, and much negative press coverage, around how much information it’s appropriate to gather on customers. But guess what? Our survey shows that a large percentage of shoppers are actually willing to share personal data with retailers if they receive sufficient value in return.

Q: What do you think are the most important topics you’ll discuss at NRF?

A: We’ll talk about the frameworks and service models that retailers need to develop when it comes to thinking about their data relationship with shoppers. We’ll cover the new “uberdigitals,” an emerging group of new consumers who always shop using a device, and the latest news on Millineals now entering their primary consumption years. And, I’ll discuss consumer data preferences, how social media is being used in shopping decisions, and the latest trends in cross-channel behaviors.

Time and Place:

“Digital Shopper Behavior in Today’s Internet of Everything World” with Jon Stine takes place on Monday, Jan. 13, at 9:15-10:00 am, in Room 4 on Level 3 of the Expo Hall. For those who can’t be there, a recording of the session will be available after the show. Visit Cisco’s NRF website to learn more, and do take the time to stop by Cisco booth #1954.

I’ll see you at NRF!

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Omnichannel Is Changing How You Do Business – Sort Of

This is the final installment of a series on how retailers can address the challenges of becoming an omnichannel business. I’d like to wrap up by talking about a deceptively simple stumbling block – accepting that being an omnichannel seller changes how people work.  I spend much of my time talking to retailers, and this really is a big issue.

For example, I have seen stores install – and then turn off – Wi-Fi deployments because they worry that associates will waste time surfing the web. And, yes, some might. But consider the cost compared to customers knowing more than your salesforce because they’ve been doing online research. It makes your team look uninformed, lowers the quality of service, and impacts sales. Obviously, you don’t want workers to play games all day. Instead, train them to find and use online product information, social media, and reviews that will help improve response to customers – and deal appropriately with the exceptions.

Related to this are issues around Wi-Fi access for customers. If you provide it for employees, please just go ahead and extend this to shoppers. Universal store access allows you to optimize your brand with both employees and customers (and enables far more effective analytics). I guarantee that you will lose relevance over time as consumers learn your store is one of the few without mobile service.

As well, I’ve met retailers who won’t add Wi-Fi because they are convinced that the only outcome will be showrooming and ultimate desertion. It’s time to shed the fear of this increasingly common customer practice. Instead, leverage it as a new marketing tool. You can drive sales by being part of the customer’s social media experience, delivering your own identity, branding, and incentives. A recent Accenture study shows that younger consumers still want the in-store experience, but they also expect retailers to integrate personalized shopping across all channels.

Let’s talk more about this at the NRF Big Idea Sessions in New York, where I and Jon Stine, Lisa Fretwell, and Kathryn Howe will be speaking on Jan. 13 and 14.  Visit Cisco’s NRF website to learn more about these popular seminars, and stop by Cisco Booth #1954 to say hello.

The idea of omnichannel selling can be daunting, and getting the benefit may entail learning to manage a certain amount of risk. But you know – it’s just retail. The environment is becoming more device-driven and the way stores look is changing. But giving consumers what they want; interacting with, understanding, and nurturing them: It’s still the business of retail. And you know how to do that.

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Pick the Low-Hanging Omnichannel Fruit

This blog is the third of a series on how retailers are addressing the challenges of becoming an omnichannel business. We’ve talked about how omnichannel selling is not really about rushing to invest in some whiz-bang technology – in fact, I think stores often try to do too much at one time.

Instead, a smart approach to your implementation is to find the low-hanging fruit – projects that have the highest probability of effectiveness and can be measured against business targets as a whole. Remember that every store has its niche, and one size does not fit all. By achieving rapid successes up front, you gain funding for the next piece of your strategy, building from success to success to achieve omnichannel entry.

For example, some retailers look at how to make it easier for shoppers to buy and return where they want. Stores don’t carry the same selections from region to region, and they need processes and systems to make such an approach successful. The key is inventory management: figuring out how to sell, reorder, and exchange products in stores that also serve as fulfillment centers.

Other retailers focus on building a strong relationship with shoppers through excellent customer service. For example, instead of picking up the red bat phone or having “Customer assistance on Aisle 3” called over the loudspeaker, consumers can contact remote experts on their own mobile device or through a kiosk. Still other stores may put resources into user interfaces, branding, and site useability. These personalized approaches also pay off in better information about the customer, allowing retailers to use video analytics and sensors to get help to the shopper faster.

To help stores define their best path forward, they often make use of “innovation platforms,” systems designed to allow you to quickly set up and try out new merchandising, practices, or seasonal locations.  Innovation platforms let you experiment with capabilities that leverage organizational strengths, hitting on the cylinders you want to address. Each success helps build the business justification for the next stage, supported by your cost/benefit analyses, baselines, and measurements.

Let’s talk more about this at the NRF Big Idea Sessions, where I’ll be speaking on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2:00-3:00 ET, in Room 4. My topic is “Detect, Connect, Engage: Enhance your Customer Experience with Mobility,” and I’ll discuss how to personalize the mobility journey and new strategies for delivering a meaningful customer experience. Visit Cisco’s NRF website to learn more about these very popular seminars. As well, please take time to attend some of the demos in Cisco booth #1954. These include several technologies that fulfill the requirements discussed above.

I’ll see you at NRF!

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Omni-Tech for Omnichannel Selling

My last blog talked about the challenges of becoming an omnichannel retailer, and how stores are still learning how to make changes that cut across their entire business. We discussed how, appearances to the contrary, omnichannel selling is still about meeting a basic business requirement – finding the best outcome for you and your customer. However, finding these outcomes is a more complex proposition than it used to be.

Logically, to achieve consistent outcomes you need to achieve consistent consumer outreach, input, and sales approaches. But stores are also facing the demand to create a more personalized sales experience. How do you meet these seemingly contrary requirements? The key here is to find new ways to reach out to shoppers as part of the whole shopping experience, no matter what the channel.

For example, Cisco’s Remote Expert solution is a way to offer unique, personalized, yet centralized retail experiences for customers. It connects each shopper with a product expert wherever they are located, in real time, via mobile, immersive, or on-site channels. You save by leveraging your experts across single or multiple locations and devices using a pool of experts who may or may not be co-located, instead of providing expertise at every site or asking them to travel extensively. Retailers can also use the same solution to host training and corporate meetings, or to enable store feedback on products and merchandising. The result is a personalized shopping experience at a lower cost for the store.

Pretty sweet, don’t you think? To learn more, take the time to attend the webcast “Just Ask the Expert: Connect Your Shoppers to Virtual Experts, Anywhere, Any Time,” being held on Nov. 7. You can register here.

Truly omnichannel technologies are designed to support cost savings and efficiency, providing a more seamless interface for service that is customized for the shopper. As I said in my last blog, these approaches focus first and foremost on customer needs, making it easier to do business with your company.  A customer-centric strategy cuts across the business and all its channels, creating a different kind of relationship between you and your shoppers. See what Retail Systems Research has to say in their latest report about omnichannel strategies.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the second-most visited retail business in America? (Wal-Mart is first.)

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How the Heck Do You Omnichannel?

The buzz in retail these days is “omnichannel” – we see slogans such as “Engage with Today’s Omnichannel Consumers,” “Develop Your Omnichannel Business” frequently. Cisco itself uses this word often. But in all honesty, I don’t think many people fully grasp the concept and its potential. And I don’t know of any retailer that has a complete approach to it. That’s right: None. 

Omnichannel retailing is about opening the store, its products, and services to shoppers in an immersive way that drives customer interaction across any point of access, at any time. “Omnichannel” is not just about connecting existing systems, it’s a transformational way to look at how you conduct business.

Becoming an omnichannel retailer is a broad undertaking, and many retailers are creating new executive positions to lead this strategy. However, I think these companies may be missing the boat. When thinking about omnichannel strategies, consider three key points:

First, a customer-centric strategy cuts across all organizations in the business – it can’t be sidelined into one business function such as IT. I often consult with retailers who experiment with different capabilities in a disconnected way; essentially, they throw technologies at the wall and wait to see what sticks. Instead, why not start by asking, “What does my customer want? How can I build a loyal relationship with them?” It’s all too easy to assume that showrooming is the enemy. But, really, why, for example, is Amazon successful? It’s not because they are available on a mobile phone. It’s because they are easy to do business with, offer good pricing, and deliver quickly. It’s about the way they address customer needs.

Next, I think stores often try to do too much at once (see wall-sticking, above). Instead, I recommend a phased approach that starts with the low-hanging fruit – projects that have the highest probability of effectiveness and can be measured against business targets as a whole. Every store has its niche, and one size does not fit all. By achieving rapid successes up front, retailers gain funding for the next piece of the strategy, building from success to success.

Finally, accept the fact that an omnichannel business will change how people work. Are you avoiding Internet access because you think associates will waste time surfing the web? Some may – but your good salespeople will be able to leverage online information to help them serve shoppers. Concerned that showrooming on the floor will drive customers away as they find lower prices online? Build your own identity, brand, and incentives into the online environment to drive sales. Worried that an online storefront or call center will undercut in-store sales? Run the numbers on losses over time as consumers find your store is the only one without convenient mobile customer support.

Omnichannel is not about the technology. Rather, it’s about finding the best outcome for you and your shoppers. To achieve success, IT and business must work together to solve customer problems for the store as a whole – there’s no other way to do it with complete success. Check out this great blog by Cara Waters, Five Lessons in Retail Trends.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the oldest US retail company?

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