Move Over Experience, Make Room for Empowerment

Be'Anka Ashaolu
Be'Anka Ashaolu
Sr. Manager, Digital Marketing

There is value in targeting and developing journeys on common attributes, but the nature of shopping has changed because shoppers have changed, and make no mistake about it – retailers who do not engage shoppers in every possible conversion channel at every possible stage will fail.

The way shoppers shop has fundamentally changed.

Your customers are no longer requesting personalization and individual attention, they’re demanding it. And this burgeoning need for autonomy will allow them to choose when, where, how, and why they interact with your brand.

This goes beyond experience alone. We are now living in the empowerment economy.

So how did we get here?

There have been several impactful moments in recent years that have brought shoppers from being passive to active participants in their shopping experiences, with the expectations and freedom to drive them.

Of course, the giant elephant in every room is Amazon, which started over two decades ago and completely disrupted the entire retail industry, only to further catapult shopper expectations with the release of Prime just 11 years later.

Then came smartphones. Specifically, Apple released the iPhone in 2007, which made the app store and our modern definition of “social” a thing. This granted unprecedented access to information and people all over the world right in the palm of our hands.

And we’re still just beginning to see the evolution of voice-activated devices since Amazon Echo, aka, “Alexa,” and Google Home were released in ’14 and ’16 respectively. We’ve yet to truly see what impact these smart devices will have on the shopping experience, but we do know it will be huge.

There’s clearly been a shift in the role shoppers play in retail. And we’re starting to see that ignoring that shift leads to grave consequences.

According to CBS news, 2017 has been one of the toughest years for physical retail in history. This year alone, 35 retailers have filed for bankruptcy or bankruptcy protection. And many of these were household names like Toys R Us, who just recently filed, RadioShack (yet again), and Payless ShoeSource.

Every retailer should be looking for ways to escape this fate, because if and when they do, there will be tremendous upside.

Take Nordstrom, for example.

Nordstrom has been a huge winner throughout what appears to be a retail crisis. While others are closing down shop, they’re actually expanding with not only new stores, but new ways of empowering their customers.

Shea Jenson, Nordstrom SVP of customer experience says their Reserve Online & Try in Store expansion will provide a better experience for shoppers whether they’re “online, in-store or a combination of both.” And 80 percent of customers who have tried the service agree. That’s the percentage of shoppers who choose to shop that way again.

There’s also Ulta Beauty, whose CEO Mary Dillon has stated, “People want to buy online, and they want to come into the store and try things.”

In How Mary Dillon Turned Ulta Beauty Into The Leading Cosmetics Retailer, Dillon continues that Ulta has to participate in every channel to give their shoppers what they want, when they want it. And as a result, their celebrated loyalty program has 21.7 million active members and now generates more than 90% of Ulta’s overall sales.

Why, then, has Nordstrom, Ulta, and other thriving retailers – like Warby Parker, TJ Maxx, and Walmart – managed to go from retail apocalypse to retail renaissance?

The answer is simple: They believe, like RetailNext believes, that every shopper deserves the best shopping experience. And perhaps most importantly, they understand that it’s shoppers who get to decide what that is – not us.

Our job as technologists and retailers is to move shoppers from inspiration to action by meeting their needs.

Shoppers make no distinction between shopping online, through mobile, or in stores. Shopping is shopping is shopping. And what they truly desire is an experience that is personally relevant and inspiring, makes a meaningful connection, is immediately fulfilling, and is devoid of friction and boundaries.

In this new world, there are no walls or barriers to how shoppers shop. And retailers are now in the position to either meet them where they are, or risk being left behind.

So how do we get from here to there?

Well, right now, you’re equipped with a multitude of tools and strategies – SMS, social, email, signage, etc. – to reach your shoppers. You’re also able to develop campaigns around certain audiences (like loyal shoppers or repeat visitors), and you can segment those lists in your CRM. All of these are incredibly valuable to engaging your customers.

In the empowered customer experience of tomorrow, where customers define their own journey and interactions with your brand, add to your current capabilities a complete 360° view, including historical, in-store, and real-time data. Through this lens, the dynamic content you send your shoppers will now include far more personalized offers and actionable recommendations, which in turn drives far more targeted and relevant engagements. Then, with real-time suggestions and clearly defined context (only show me products for curly hair, for example) the connection is even more meaningful, memorable, and immediately satisfying.

Imagine your shoppers creating this experience for themselves. Imagine them telling you exactly what they want, when they want it whether they are online, in-store or both. Again, it is not our job to sell them things; it’s our job to provide the infrastructure that inspires action.

That is true shopper empowerment.

I want to leave you with one last thing: throughout the retail apocalypse narrative, there appears a preoccupation with the number of shoppers in stores. What if we understood shopping to be a holistic term instead?

As a marketer, I understand there is a place for purposeful segmentation. There is value in targeting and developing journeys on common attributes. But things are changing because shoppers are changing. And make no mistake, retailers who do not engage shoppers in every possible conversion channel at every possible stage will fail. Retailers who build walls instead of bridges will fail. And retailers who rely on manipulations over inspiration will fail.

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why states, “There is a big difference between repeat visitors and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

So now you have to ask yourself: Are you building loyalty or are you just driving traffic? The empowered shopper can surely tell the difference.

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