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Analysis

The Retail of the Future is Driving Joy Through Data

While vastly distinct in many aspects, both IRCE and CRMC presented conference-goers with a compelling theme; in the stores of the future, technology and art will create the perfect customer-centric storm

Rebecca Wojno
June 23 2017

Last week, I attended one of the biggest gatherings of a CRM professional. Chicago simultaneously hosted the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE), and the Customer Relationship Management Conference (CRMC), and the city was awash with talk of loyalty, data, and technology.

CRMC had around 700 vendors, brands, and company representatives who attended various lectures on the future of retail, mechanisms for blending data with creative output, tactics for customer segmentation, and tips on how to navigate the age of rebranding.

If CRMC was David, IRCE played the part of Goliath as the largest online retailing show in the world. Some 10,000 attendees gathered at McCormick Hall to deliberate the future of B2B, discuss methods for utilizing technology to build a more robust business, and review solutions for achieving greater levels of personalization.

All of these themes came together at the CRMC keynote by Kate Ancketill, CEO and founder of retail innovation consultancy firm GDR Creative Intelligence. In “Disruptive Personalization: The Technological Innovations Creating New Customer Relationships in Retail,” Ancketill analyzed how technology is affecting the retail space and presented several best practices for creating personalized, customer-centric campaigns.

Below is some of her most applicable advice.

Best Practice #1: Speak the Language of your Customers

First there were ideas. Then came products. Eventually, those products became businesses, which later transformed into brands. And slowly, technology evolved and began influencing how companies sold their commodities. In today’s cultural and technological era, tech creates new pathways for brands to communicate with their customers and “fulfill their emotional and practical needs.”

Brands are now searching for the ultimate customization strategies, and subsequently, technologies that allow for seamless implementation. For some companies, personalization is already an ingrained practice in their marketing DNA, but for others, the approach isn’t so obvious. So how do established retailers such as Amazon or Alibaba connect with their customers? They build affinity.

While British retail chain Missguided isn’t as dominant as Amazon or Alibaba, the brand is a leader in the affinity promised land. The retailer geared towards Gen Z and is one to watch when it comes to building customization. Missguided knows their customers. They’re well versed in their likes and dislikes. They speak their language as if they were part of Generation Z themselves. Much of their merchandise specifically targets Gen Z with terms such as “eat pray slay,” or “fan girl.” As Ancketill noted, the language retailers speak to gain customers can literally be used to speak to customers (and yes, I *literally* mean literally). As part of their store DNA, Missguided communicates with Gen Z using words and/or phrases their customers would use themselves.

So now that you know to talk the talk, it’s time to walk the walk… right into your customer’s hearts. But how do you do that? By working with technology.

Best Practice #2: Utilize Technology

Effectively communicating with customers is great, but without technology, ideas and words are just that, ideas and words. Scandinavian courier company, PostNord AB, and supermarket chain ICA AB figured out a way to expose their customer’s pain points (presumably by conversing with them and analyzing their data) and implement a solution.

The brands partnered up and realized that while grocery store delivery services are a nice concept, they’re only partially useful. No one wants to sit around at home, twiddle their thumbs, and wait for their delivery when they could be doing a million other things. Therefore, PostNord and ICA created a door lock that customers could open and lock remotely, trust the delivery person to place their produce in their refrigerator, and close the door behind them as they leave.

While this may seem like an idea from the future, what PostNord and ICA are really doing is catering to their customer’s “emotional and practical” needs.

Tok and Stok, a Brazilian home goods store, provides physical pins for items so customers can pin items they like. Via wifi, the pins will then go to their specified Pinterest board. Tok and Stok’s Pinterest initiative isn’t a shallow attempt to promote themselves on social media. After analyzing their customer data, the store realized their customer’s partiality towards wish lists, so they used technology as a means for catering to their customer’s wants and needs.

Companies are looking for more ways to provide the ultimate customer experience, and technology is at the forefront of implementing personalization.

Best Practice #3: Pick a Partner

Technology alone is not enough to stay ahead of the pack. Consumers, who are more fickle than ever, want partnerships. They want promotions, deals, and extra value. When two companies come together and offer customers special discounts, they break out of the mundane, generate excitement from possibly churned or soon-to-be-churned customers, and potentially expand their customer base.

Coffee and makeovers may not seem like the most obvious combination to some, but Benefit Cosmetics and Starbucks knew millennials and Gen Zs would flock to the stores. Through their #bestfriends campaign, customers visited Benefit Cosmetics boutiques and collected a coffee sleeve, which was redeemable at any Starbucks store for a buy-one-get-one-free hot drink. At Starbucks stores, consumers picked up a pink emoji coaster for a free ‘makeupper’ or makeover at a Benefit boutique.

And there are plenty more brands partnering up and giving their customers additional value: British department store John Lewis partnered with Airbnb and ran free master classes on becoming the perfect Airbnb host. The retailer promoted the benefits of hosting, while giving décor tips on how to make the home more comfortable for guests (showcasing John Lewis products, of course).

A partnership can achieve more than setting brands apart from other competitors. Potentially, it could grow the company’s client base and bring back churned customers.

Best Practice #4: Nothing is Possible Without Data

Of course, these efforts cannot be implemented without data. Using data is no longer a suggestion for marketers, but a must. San Francisco based personal nutrition company Habit, provides DIY blood and other genetic tests, as well as a shake that shows how your body handles certain food groups. Along with their results, customers receive recommendations for their ideal quantities of carbs, protein, and fats, a list of the most beneficial foods for their body, and personalized, handcrafted meals delivered to their door.

Data tells businesses everything they need and want to know about their customers. Uber’s data records the areas women visit on a Saturday night and shows where men spend their Fridays. They can predict when and where drivers are needed and have cars on standby for passenger pickup.

Zume pizza also merges data with their food ordering services. The restaurant uses data to predict which pizzas are most likely to be ordered on any given day, allowing them to prepare for orders ahead of time and stock their delivery car. Once the calls come in, Zume heats the food three minutes before delivery, ensuring customers get fast, locally sourced meals on demand.

What this all Comes Down to

The stores of the future are here and they’re building new models to access new information and integrating new technology seamlessly into their customer’s lives. Art and science may seem like an untraditional pairing, but in the marketing and retail sphere, it’s the perfect organized storm. To expect loyalty from customers, you need technology. And thanks in part to IRCE and CRMC, many industry leaders are embracing the new era and conceptualizing methods for efficiently and intelligently loving thy customer.

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Rebecca Wojno

Rebecca is a marketing content writer, copy editor, and Oxford Comma enthusiast. Aside from writing about the importance of customer retention, she's a big fan of a good book, Mexican food, and living near the sea.

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