Making Sense of Today’s New Shopper Journey

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Guest Contributor

Responding to today’s new shopper journeys doesn’t come with a silver bullet-like quick fix. Rather, it’s dependent on a purposefully and thoughtfully planned series of incremental changes and improvements.

Retail, by its nature, has always been dynamic, ever-changing and ultra competitive. In that regard, nothing’s really changed.

Other than that, of course, everything about retail has changed.

It wasn’t that long ago retail was driven by a brand’s chief merchant, who decided what products could be bought, as well as where, how and for how much. The brand, as dictated by the merchant, controlled the entire shopping process.

Then along came e-commerce, empowered by the Internet and the rapid advancements and proliferation of mobile technologies, and it has resulted in a shopper-led retail revolution.

The uprising has pushed the tyrannical chief merchant out of power, and that power now rests collectively with us all, with shoppers. Shoppers have unprecedented access to information on products and services, and they quite often approach purchase transactions with more product knowledge than retailers’ own sales associates and staff. Moreover, in addition to information, shoppers also possess an almost endless number of global alternatives in which to shop and spend.

Make no mistake about it: shoppers are in control and they will be forevermore.

So, what’s the retail industry to do?

The industry’s initiative is to do what it’s always done, and this is adapt and change.

Retail was once all about stores and markets. Then, in 1498, some Venetian genius invented the mail-order catalog (really – look it up), a hand-written, hand-bound pamphlet of books available for sale. And that was the dawn of retail “channels” and, really, omnichannel retail.

Ah, so that’s where all the trouble started!

Pre-Internet, retailers grew their businesses by opening stores in new and underserved markets, often leveraging extensive debt financing, and adding additional channels like catalogs, call centers, outlet stores and the like. Retail’s time-tested and trusted paradigm accommodated the decisions of the chief merchant by adding channel after channel, sometimes with completely different pricing, supply chains and supporting organizational infrastructure.

With the advent of the Internet and e-commerce, the response of almost every legacy retailer was to add on yet another channel, this one a digital channel. And, it almost worked too. Or, rather, it delayed the inevitable.

Rule number one when you find yourself in a hole: Put down the shovel.

In the new retail reality, the industry has to forget everything it’s ever learned – and, in turn, has taught us – about channels. Farewell thee, channels and omnichannel, as that’s just the industry talking to itself, for shoppers, you see, simply call it … “shopping.”

Channels are retailer-centric and these days, that gets brands pretty much … nowhere. To survive and thrive, retail must be shopper-centric. Remember, this new era of retail is controlled by shoppers, and the only “channel” that matters is that of shoppers, collectively, and increasingly so, each individual shopper. That’s right, the shopper is effectively the channel, and the quicker the industry can wrap its head around this new paradigm, the better.

Channels don’t make sense anymore simply because shoppers no longer shop within a singular channel or move somewhat linearly and predictably between channels, one channel at a time – for example, “showrooming” and its rather abrupt movements from physical stores to online stores and, perhaps, back again.

Today, shoppers bounce effortlessly – or, at least they hope to – through and across a variety of online and physical branded touchpoints, and are frequently engaged with multiple touchpoints at the same time. Think about some of your recent shopping journeys and consider all the touchpoints you engaged: online price comparisons, social media platforms, traditional and digital advertising, brand ambassadors and influencers, peer reviews, physical stores, sales associates, and on and on and on.

With apologies to Nicolaus Capernicus, today’s shopping journey sees the shopper at the center of the retailing universe, with all of the industry’s various touchpoints orbiting around her. She has lots of choices, and when faced with too many choices, she proactively looks for brands that make it easy, that “get me.”

To succeed in today’s retail, a brand has to cut through the noise that comes with every other brand trying to make an impression. Rather than impressions, a brand needs to seek engagement, and on a human level, that means listening every bit as much, if not more, as talking.

Retailers need to engage shoppers when, where and in ways they – shoppers – want. Within that universe of retailing touchpoints, retailers need to present and deliver a seamless, branded experience throughout. Plus, in the very near future, what with the capabilities afforded by big data analytics and tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence, retailers need to continue to advance personalization and customization – no two shoppers are truly alike, and therefore no two campaigns should be alike.

Responding to today’s new shopper journeys doesn’t come with a silver bullet-like quick fix. Rather, it’s dependent on a purposefully and thoughtfully planned series of incremental changes and improvements.

There’s a Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” For retail, the best time build a branded, direct-to-consumer shopping experience was 20 years, at the dawn of the e-commerce era. That didn’t happen. As a result, the next best time is now.

What’s stopping you?

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