I have been working on my company Shopcinity.com for over 8 months now. The main emphasis of Shopcinity has always been to provide information to help the consumer shop better. The key part in this statement is “Information” specifically stock and availability information.
As I have worked and developed the idea further, I have come to realise how much power consumers want, and how this thirst for information is changing the very nature of the way brands and retailers engage with the consumer. This of course is creating a challenge for the retailers as they need to keep up, understand and feed this thirst for information. A challenge where if not taken and solved can mean more store closures and those dreaded closing down sales.
We are in the age of “consumer empowerment”, where, rather than sitting passively and having advertisings come at them, consumers are now actively, with the introduction of new technologies, seeking, researching, discovering and reviewing what, how and where to buy from, long before setting foot in a store or clicking on the buy now button. This means the retailer has to provide the necessary information in the users hands at the right time in order drive them to their store, without this, the customer will simply head to the competition that is just a few clicks away.
This change has put allot of retailers on the back foot, for example, you can now expect that in some scenario’s by the time the customer gets to the store, they know more about the product they want to purchase than the sales associate. Annoyingly for the retailers, as this has damaging effects to the brand. For the consumer, there is nothing more annoying than a sales associate who is not up to speed with the product they are trying to sell to you.
The once Golden Age
Of course this has not always been the case, there was once a time when consumers had limited information and choice, this resulted in dominance by corporates, where, the customer only had a selected few choices. If you where one of the lucky business to be in this “limited” choice, the customer was always guaranteed to knock on your doors before purchasing a product you sold. However, as illustrated by the diagram below, courtesy of kelloggs School of Management , this has changed from the once golden age to the new digital age.
The image is self explanatory, however, it’s a clear indication as to the current landscape.
As political climate has changed in the favour of business along with technological advances, the consumer has been bombarded with more choice than ever before both locally and globally. This puts enormous amount of information in the consumer’s hands, and it’s only right that to decipher through all this choice, one does need to have the ability to filter through all the choice and information before coming to an informed decision – enter the smartphone. This has resulted in the customer having access to more information than what can be obtained from entering one single store. This has created phenomenas such as Showrooming and Webrooming!
Webrooming and Showrooming
For those wondering what these rooming words mean. Show rooming means customers who go into physical stores and with their mobile phones complete the purchase online; thus using the store as a “showroom” before making a purchase online.
Webrooming is the inverse of Showrooming, where the customer will find and research products online but complete the purchase in store.
For either of these trends it’s important that retailers embrace these trends rather than fight them. For example a retailer in Australia famously charged customers $5.00 for walking around the store and not buying. I think I would be safe not to bet on my house to see if this had a positive effect on sales.
The trends of Webrooming or Showrooming are simply a by product to the advances in business and technology, in order for customers to make sense of all the information and choice, we need to decipher all this information.
Let the customer decide where and how to shop.
Embracing the trend
Retailers that have embraced this empowered customer have seen sales increase, and leap ahead of the competition. For example retailers such as House of Fraser, John Lewis, and Topshop are leading this trend, for example, they all provide wifi to customers to allow further research whilst in store, but also arming sales staff with iPads and Mobile apps to tip the balance in the sales staff’s favour with more information than what the customer has access too.
I for one welcome such trends from these retailers, but of course one cannot underestimate the complexity in providing solutions that meet the customers demands, but the more retailers that follow this trend the better shopping experience for the consumer which in-turn can mean more sales for the retailers.