For decades the mystery shopper was the main way retailers assessed operations from a customer’s point of view. By sending in a fake shopper, typically once a month, an individual store essentially was buying a dozen performance snapshots per year. Then telephone surveys began to supplement mystery shopping. Today, digital technologies are supplanting both, with online customer surveys providing an exponentially greater number of performance snapshots per day.
A well-managed loop that links customer experience feedback with recommendations on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, can boost service quality and operational performance, increase traffic and create more happy customers — people who crow about a retailer online for free, turning their friends into new customers too.
A new mini-industry has emerged using these techniques, known as “customer experience management,” or CEM. Our company, Empathica — as well as a number of competitors — are providing customer feedback to operations, while partnering with “web-scraping” companies to listen to random chatter online.
A person with a smart phone can scan a bar code in Best Buy or Macy’s, check the price, and order from Amazon or Target on the spot. So Amazon could receive an order from a customer that was stimulated to buy while in Best Buy.
This may revolutionize retailing and cause considerable consternation and ultimately dislocation for several players.
Remember when the Internet arrived and customer who was savvy gained the power to check prices of all the options. Especially for durables, that power led to sensitivity to prices and resulting price pressures.
“Like many men, I’ve never been very enthusiastic about shopping.
That’s partly because I’m frugal, and don’t enjoy spending money. It’s partly due to the hassles I associate with visiting retail stores — a series of inconveniences that begins in the parking lot (hunting for spaces), continues in the aisles (where I can never find what I need), and ends at the cash registers (where I have little patience for long lines).
Much of the problem, though, lies in psychology. While I can be confident of my decision-making skills in other areas of life, my shopping decisions are often plagued by second-guessing, paralysis, and buyer’s remorse. Even when I recognize the need for a product — I’ve been looking for a good pair of lace-up black shoes for three months — I often put it off, afraid of making a decision I’ll regret.
In the last year, however, I’ve noticed these problems are ebbing. I don’t dread shopping as much as I used to. At times, I’m even starting to enjoy it. Upon reflection, I attribute this attitude adjustment to a simple phenomenon: I’m becoming armed with better information.”
While Black Friday and Cyber Monday were successful days for the retail sector, these two days alone are not a panacea to the sector’s performance challenges. Some retailers will continue this momentum. Others will not. The difference between the two sets of retailers? Knowing when and how to act as the water around you gets hot.
In our world, there are two kinds of frogs — those that jump out of the pot when it’s boiling and those that boil. Smart retailers jump out of the pot before it boils. They are keenly aware of changing conditions on the ground. And they don’t allow personal opinions about the cause behind the changing conditions to stand in the way of decisions and actions.
The global push to meet today’s needs without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same is one such boiling pot for retailers. Some are ignoring customer interest in all things environmental and social. Smart retailers, on the other hand, have realized the water around them is getting hot and they are proactively taking action. As a result, these retailers are cutting costs today, planting growth seeds for tomorrow, and setting the stage for accelerated strategic agility well into the future.
“It’s a snowy Saturday in Chicago, but Amy, age 28, needs resort wear for a Caribbean vacation. Five years ago, in 2011, she would have headed straight for the mall. Today she starts shopping from her couch by launching a videoconference with her personal concierge at Danella, the retailer where she bought two outfits the previous month. The concierge recommends several items, superimposing photos of them onto Amy’s avatar. Amy rejects a couple of items immediately, toggles to another browser tab to research customer reviews and prices, finds better deals on several items at another retailer, and orders them. She buys one item from Danella online and then drives to the Danella store near her for the in-stock items she wants to try on.
As Amy enters Danella, a sales associate greets her by name and walks her to a dressing room stocked with her online selections—plus some matching shoes and a cocktail dress. She likes the shoes, so she scans the bar code into her smartphone and finds the same pair for $30 less at another store. The sales associate quickly offers to match the price, and encourages Amy to try on the dress. It is daring and expensive, so Amy sends a video to three stylish friends, asking for their opinion. The responses come quickly: three thumbs down. She collects the items she wants, scans an internet site for coupons (saving an additional $73), and checks out with her smartphone.
As she heads for the door, a life-size screen recognizes her and shows a special offer on an irresistible summer-weight top. Amy checks her budget online, smiles, and uses her phone to scan the customized Quick Response code on the screen. The item will be shipped to her home overnight.”
“Between 1994 and 2011, the number of farmers markets across the United States grew from 1,755 to 7,175. While much of this growth is likely due to a broader understanding of the importance of eating local, fresher, and seasonal, I also suspect that it is driven by a desire of many people to shop differently — in pleasant family-friendly contexts that enable low-key, face-to-face interactions with merchants. A parallel trend is the rise of the food truck movement. In research we conducted earlier this year on the future of commerce, we found that people gravitate towards these kinds of “pop-up” vendor experiences because of the more personal qualities they provide — getting to know the vendor, suggestions for making the most of a purchase, or even just a certain quirkiness. In other words, these are fundamentally more human retail experiences.”