It's hard to say what shopping will look like in 10 years, or even 10 months, but it's probably safe to say that we'll still do the majority of it in brick-and-mortar stores. Which stores we choose for that shopping trip will vary by day of week, occasion and myriad other factors. The bottom line is that the utilitarian ideal of the "best for the most" is irrelevant in a world awash in individualism. It's been a wild time since that first iPhone, and there's no sign of stability yet. Product assortment is more important than store size, and someone who can actually help with advice and ideas is better than free shipping.
The ground has been shifting under the world of retail, but in my opinion, the real quake hasn't hit yet. There are three major factors causing this upheaval: economic uncertainty that's begun to split the middle class, the increasing share of wallet moving online, and the shift from the boomer generation to millennials as the driving force. While there's no "magic bullet" to address these changes, a deeper examination of these factors brings to light consistent themes and provides a jumping off point to ward off a real quake. There are immediate, low-risk changes that every retailer should consider implementing as soon as possible.
Last week while traveling I found myself in line at a Starbucks. The woman behind the counter knew just about every customer's name and, amazingly, what they wanted. For example, she would say, "Hi Stacy! An extra-hot caramel macchiato with soy?" I made that up, but you get the idea; she knew her customers and their preferences. People like that barista are worth their weight in gold in the retail world.
Anyone who has attended a retail industry conference in the past two years to three years has likely seen a shift in focus. Where once it was all about merchandising, which led to shopper marketing, it's now all about mobile and big data. Many retailers are struggling with both of these ideas; they know they should be taking action, but exactly what action is unclear.
Retail marketers have something new to keep them awake at night: the changing face of the American shopper that's well underway. Those changes are fraught with challenges we couldn't have imagined 25 years ago, largely due to the entry of mobile connectivity as a shopping tool.
Today's world is a transparent one. Shoppers can search for price information while in-store and find another price locally or order online — all with nothing more than a smartphone and the appropriate app. Clearly competing on price, while only partially effective 20 years ago, is an exercise in futility today.
If you’re not familiar with the term “big data,” or more importantly the concept behind it, it’s not too late to get up to speed. Big data is here and its presence is expanding to fill every aspect of business today and into the foreseeable future.
If you aren’t developing a mobile strategy, or implementing and refining one, there is a tendency to feel like the last one picked for the kickball team. With all the activity — and dollars — surrounding the mobile space, it’s easy to see why the primary goal for many marketers has been to just get in the game.
As we reach the midpoint of 2011, it's clear that mobile has become a formidable marketing channel and will continue to blaze its trail into retail. Nielsen predicts that by the third quarter of 2011 smartphones will be the dominant mobile device in the U.S., overtaking feature phones. At some point we may stop referring to these handheld computers as phones and come up with a more accurate name that conveys the multidimensional communications and connectivity they provide.