Believe it or not, there was a time when shoppers on the East Coast didn’t recognize all the stores on the West Coast. The same was true of shoppers up North and those down South. Instead, there were mom-and-pop stores or general stores. The proprietors knew their customers by name, their preferences and, often enough, what that customer would be looking to buy on their next visit.
While times have changed tremendously, major chains can get a lot closer to that personalized relationship by implementing a digital strategy.
SAP’s Paul Donovan, retail industry solution director, references “Little House on the Prairie” character Nels Oleson, pointing out how he knew each of his customers individually and could predict what they might want based on the historical interaction data he had in his head.
“This level of personalization needs to be a goal for all retailers,” Donovan says. “We’re obviously working on a bigger scale now. With modern technology and shopping habits there are a wide variety of sources to better understand customer behavior and needs. For example, the many hours of browsing and commenting on social media can now inform the retailer of the aspirations of a shopper on a much deeper level. This includes analyzing anonymous or potentially new shoppers who have yet to make a purchase with your brand.”
At Enhanced Retail Solutions, David Matsil, president of sales and marketing, says merchants are hungry for information about what is or isn’t working in their stores and why. He says while data is crucial to helping a business, today’s time-stressed retailers want their answers as easily and as streamlined as possible. He says his company’s Retail Narrative software can tell stores what’s happening and provide them with actionable information.
If data can be brought in to help the retailer, all the better. Because these days, most consumers (82 percent) prefer sales associates leave them alone when they shop for clothes, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. It doesn’t help that nearly four in 10 (38 percent) say sales associates “do not care about me or my needs.”
That’s quite a leap from the image of kindly Mr. Oleson. But it’s not unexpected, especially when considering a shopper can walk into a chain store in, say, Washington, D.C., and hear associates give the same greeting to every customer that a Manhattan clerk utters. In such instances, it’s hard to make the case that the customer feels special.
This lack of personal connection has led to half of all consumers confessing they are less loyal to clothing brands and retailers compared to a few years ago, according to Monitor statistics. This significantly rises to 60 percent among those making under $25,000 per year.
Matsil says his company’s retail analytics continuously take into account things like demographics, geographics and local weather, among other things to see how it can affect something like a territory’s outerwear offering or sports team merchandise.
“It means less pieces that are the wrong sizes are sitting on the sales floor or less product filling the stock room,” he says. “We’ve found retailers often know there are things happening but they don’t know how to get to this information.”
Today’s analytics are like Nels Oleson on steroids. Matsil says his company’s system combs millions of rows of retail point-of-sale and inventory data and takes an unbiased view of every SKU combination a retailer might have to find the most important pieces of information and relate an actionable response. “We’re looking at sizes, colors, styles. We have customers with well over 10,000 SKUs and hundreds or thousands of stores. But our data will sort through that to tell a story that they can understand and respond to.”
A top technology trend for retailers, according to Gartner research, will be supporting digitalization with both the Internet of Things (IoT)—sensors, beacons, wearable devices, RFID—and the Nexus of Forces (NoF)—mobile, social, cloud and vast amounts of different types of information. Combined, the two “are the foundational elements that will support the retailer’s overall execution of the digital business strategy,” according to Gartner.
The research firm also predicts the combined use of IoT with NoF will help stores go beyond traditional retail to fulfill the consumer’s total requirements, and that the technologies will be necessary to capitalize on fleeting, transient business opportunities.
In today’s retail environment, the key is to offer an experience that is unique and contextual, SAP’s Donovan says.
“This means it has to appeal not only on an appropriate offer level but also the timing has to be in real time. This is because the shopper may have just performed an action in any channel or device that could influence the next immediate interaction with the retailer’s brand. This is how the brand builds equity in the shopper’s mind.”
Nearly half of consumers (47 percent) say their favorite way to browse for clothing is in-store, followed by online through a brand or e-commerce page (27 percent), according to the Monitor statistics. Meanwhile, seven in 10 consumers say their favorite way to buy clothing is in a clothing store. This dichotomy highlights the importance in both using and understanding all available data.
“All of these strategies point to supporting a digital core for your business,” Donovan says. “Having the right tools in real time will keep your items in-stock, make payment easy, and empower your associates with the tools and knowledge they need to craft experiences that create meaningful connections.”
This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.