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How Retailers are Using Innovation to Capture Today’s Consumer

Offering options to buy online, in-store and via mobile devices is no longer enough to satisfy the idea of omnichannel; targeting today’s consumer is all about “boundaryless retail.”

At the American Apparel and Footwear Association’s (AAFA) Executive Summit last week, HSNi’s vice president of retail innovation Johnnie Rush gave a talk titled, “The Retail Discussion: Innovation and Engagement,” where he outlined the idea that the new retailer/customer relationship has no barriers–engagement will soon be all encompassing.

Rush started off stunning the audience with innovations surrounding what he referred to as the “biomechanic trend” and a sort of blend between machine and flesh that will make integrating technology and life seamless.

Google Glass, for example, has quickly evolved from its original awkward clunkiness to a sleeker set of eyeglasses, and the company has already applied for a patent that could put all of the Google Glass technology and functionality into a single contact lens. And the technology behind the iWatch concept could soon be reduced to a micro device that fits on your thumbnail.

“We live in probably the most exciting time in all of mankind,” Rush said. “And it’s only going to get wilder.”

But in terms of the retail industry specifically, Rush highlighted five major trends that will be key for targeting the new wave of constantly shopping consumers: commercializing life satisfaction, empowering consumerism, holistic health and wellness, uniqueness and authenticity, and technology integration and device convergence.

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One of the key trends to consider, according to Rush, is the idea of commercializing life satisfaction. Customers want amped experiences, play, novelty and tangible fun from the brands they interact with.

At HSN, formerly the Home Shopping Network, brands are curated in a way that is tailored to customers’ likes and preferences and the company has created a community around its brand. HSN launched it’s LIVE concert series where big-name artists like Lionel Richie and Rod Stewart perform, the events are streamed across the network’s multiple platforms and customers get exclusive deals to order CDs while they watch.

There’s also HSN Arcade, where customers can play candy crush-like games online and earn rewards to use toward HSN merchandise.

“It’s one more way to integrate leisure and retailing into the same experience,” Rush said. “This idea of gamification is going to be key.”

All of this is to get women–HSN’s predominant customer–to watch and look at HSN as a community, Rush said.

When it comes to empowering consumerism, Rush started by saying, “You can reach 80 percent of your sales goals by targeting just the 5 percent of your customers that are brand advocates.”

And one way to acquire brand advocates is by making the shopping experience as seamless, or “boundaryless,” as possible.

Shoppers who watch HSN can “Shop by Remote” meaning if something pops up on screen that they like, all it takes is a point and click of the remote and the purchase is charged to the credit card filed on their HSN account. Shop by Remote also comes in the form of an app and if consumers are watching an HSN video, they can touch a square that corresponds to the product they want and purchase it.

Another thing retailers should be capitalizing on is social currency, or consumers discussing a brand via social media, Rush said. “It’s an unbelievable emotional driver to spend,” he said. People take heed of what their peers think about a brand or product and even public commentary from unknown consumers resonates.

The notion of holistic health and wellness with regard to retail is that consumers want to know that a brand or product is going to add to their lives in a positive way.

Rush gave Lululemon as an example of a company that has done this well. The high-end athletic wear retailer has turned its brand into a kind of club, Rush said, and offering yoga classes in the store shows customers a level of humanization other brands may not have. And with consumers moving toward seeking better health, fewer chemicals in products and foods and more transparency in the items they buy, promoting wellness in some way will be important for retailers.

With the abundance of available shopping options, offering consumers uniqueness and authenticity they can have immediate access to will mean the difference in brand loyalty.

“We have become so impatient with technology,” Rush said. According to Rush, a study showed 42 percent of consumers abandoned a shopping cart because of the estimated shipping date, and now people are even bucking the idea of paying for shipping, so it could be wise to absorb that cost elsewhere.

It is going to be all about immediate fulfillment, Rush said. “It’s the idea of mass customization. Every guest becomes a unique market.”

Brands must tailor content, offer real-time chat and provide the right content at the right moment, he added.

Rush said, we are seeing the growth of this emotional desire and the need for constant engagement.

The ultimate goal is to have the customer think of your brand first when they want to buy something, he said. “You build affinity with this multiplatform experience.”

But for brands, inspiring this level of innovation won’t happen overnight, Rush said, it will be about changing the methodology in the office.

“It’s definitely a process and a culture change coordinating a thought process across different teams,” he said. “It’s not an instant change.”