January 22nd, 2013 by Kelly Liyakasa

Some of the biggest names in the retail and consumer goods industries – from Whole Foods to Amazon to Starbucks – spent four days in New York sharing tips and tricks of the trade at Retail’s Big Show last week. Retail and commerce software providers were well-represented, showcasing some of the latest and greatest in mobile payments and point-of-sale platforms to brand representatives and technology buyers.

National Retail Federation 2013 Credit: NRF

National Retail Federation 2013 Credit: NRF

There was a smorgasbord of sessions this year that dissected everything from big data in retail to omnichannel strategy, analytics, and the shifting supply chain. This was the year when retailers really went beyond the buzzwords to talk about their execution strategy to try and bridge the divide between their in-store and online channels. Here are a few sticking points from this year’s show:

There is no one definition of “multichannel” – Although “multichannel” and “omnichannel” are used interchangeably, the multichannel, multi-device consumer is something ForeSee, a customer experience analytics company, studies specifically. “The point we’re trying to make is that it’s not only about the consumer going from Web to mobile to store,” Larry Freed, ForeSee’s president and CEO, told me during a quick sitdown. “It’s also about the complexity of metrics that (this behavior) adds when they go from a work computer to a home computer or a tablet to a smartphone. They may be the same ‘channel’ but they’re different devices and that becomes a really, really important aspect when you’re analyzing the data.”

This was a huge topic of discussion at NRF – redefining the parameters for “conversion” or “lead,” that is. For instance, if someone browses for a handbag during their lunch hour, and goes as far as to add the bag to their shopping cart, but doesn’t complete the transaction, would this be considered shopping cart abandonment? As Freed points out, what if the shopper goes home to pick up where they left off? That first session might have, in actuality, been part of a sale though it could have been labeled a failure since they did not log in and authenticate. “To only look at one (channel) to see if they bought is really giving us misinformation on the success of the experience.” In reality, research is a huge factor in mobile buying behaviors, and more retailers are looking at how consumers accessed their brand, why, and for what duration. More minute details (such as the multi-session shopping experience described above) will begin to be factored into metrics.

Scene from Retail's Big Show Expo floor. Credit: NRF

Scene from Retail’s Big Show Expo floor. Credit: NRF

“Desktop-first” a thing of the past – More retailers are diving in first with mobile-compatible presences, and that’s having an effect on mobile application developers. In an interview with Demandware’s mobile and multichannel commerce guy (that’s really his title) Gary Lombardo, he said that 2010 was the year retailers looked to get mobile Websites up and running. In 2011, it was “how do we start to do this the right way?”

Year 2012 was about the rise of the tablet, and 2013 will be about smart mobile shopping experiences. What does that mean? In Lombardo’s words, “You’ll see contextual experiences on mobile devices where retailers say, ‘let’s make it more specific to the context of where the shopper is’ and offer up a very different set of capabilities in-store than you would at home.”

It’s not about “showrooming.” It’s about recovering lost sales – Although 2012 was the year when several big names announced their price-matching strategy to compete with some of the big boys in online – a.k.a. Amazon – others used location-based services and mobility to differentiate the experience. (Macy’s has done this.) According to RetailNext’s chief marketing officer Tim Callan, turning a mobile showroomer into a buyer is becoming much more achievable. “There’s location-based aspects of a mobile app, there’s wayfinding, there’s, ‘Show me how to get to the store. Show me how to find the product I want inside the store,’” Callan says. “But in the process of doing that, you can also offer them a coupon and it becomes a great mechanism to deliver this point-based stuff and then you can tie that back into analytics again. You can see how their location inside of a store correlated to sales.” There are retailer-specific apps, he says, as well as third-party apps like Aisle 411 and Point Inside, “but they’re rough and they’re early…these apps are still in their very early stages.”

This is a concise summary of the convergent forces that are redefining how people shop and buy, but only some shoppers: early adopters. There is s signficant cultural and demographic divide that will take some time to reach the masses of older mid-price and lower-price shoppers for whom being able to find and compare prices is at the top the list. As smartphones become cheaper and better, and penetration begins to peak, expect the seamless, continuous retail experience to emerge.

Comment by jeremy eckhous — January 25, 2013 @ 10:54 am

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