As we enter the 2014 holiday season, retail news outlets are latching on to dramatic headlines highlighting the risk of showrooming - the act of checking prices on a mobile device in a store and then purchasing at another retailer. Yes it’s true; customers use their mobile phones to compare prices in-stores. However the behavior of shopping multiple stores to find the lowest price is nothing new. My grandmother often "showroomed" a bag of peanuts at the farmers market just to save a few cents. I suspect this behavior has been occurring as long as humans have been bartering goods.
While the behavior is not new, mobile phones have enabled customers to compare prices immediately across a vast set of digital retailers. As mobile phones afford customers greater choice in-aisle, showrooming has instilled fear in legacy retail organizations who quickly realized they no longer completely control the experience in their stores. At first, retailers responded with force by removing Wi-Fi, which in a world with rich cellular connectivity did little to curb showrooming behavior. Today retailers are reacting to showrooming by providing margin-eroding offers in-aisle. In the future, advanced retailers will begin to embrace showrooming, using the signals from price-checking on mobile phones (either by observing behavior or using retail store analytics) to offer greater convenience and rich experiences at the customer’s moment of need.
Here in the US, all signs point to winter: Daylight savings has just begun; specialty holiday drinks have been added to cafe menus; and several cities have already witnessed the first snowfall. And with the arrival of the chilly season comes preparation for the mad rush of holiday shoppers.
Although the holiday retail season is shorter this year, given fewer days than average between Thanksgiving and Christmas, consumer expectations of retailers during this holiday season are greater than ever. When it comes to online retail specifically, consumers seek out – and have come to expect – great deals and free shipping throughout their holiday gift hunt. In fact, Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that shipping cost is the most important factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase from a retail website (such as Amazon.com or Gap.com):
I love Europe. I especially love the fact that in a very real sense there is no “Europe” as such: The UK experience is not the German experience, which is not the French experience, which is not the Italian experience, and so on.
Yet all of these countries are so close together that once I’m over there, I can visit a variety of very different cultures and architectures more easily than I can travel from Boston to Denver. And in any given city, just walking between buildings from one business meeting to another can make me feel like I’m on vacation. Then there’s the food . . .
Although European variety is amazing, it can also create challenges. On a recent trip, I was in London, Rome, Milan, and Budapest within a two-week period. That often brought me into contact with people in service industries — like taxis, restaurants, and hotels — who had very different ideas of what “service” means than I do.
I began to wonder: Do the locals also find some of this service subpar, or am I just being a parochial American? As it turns out, our recent research shows that European customer experience as judged by local customers does vary wildly depending on country and industry, ranging from truly great to truly awful.
Which is one reason why I’m so excited by Forrester’s upcoming Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA on November 17th and 18th in London. We recruited speakers from companies with customers who say that they’re already doing a standout job as well as speakers from companies that are in the midst of tackling tough CX challenges.
What lies ahead for the retail store? Yesterday, Forrester published a report that predicts the answers to key questions about the future of the retail store: Which digital technologies currently on the periphery of the store environment will make the leap to the sales floor? How will retailers know which technologies have potential and which will remain gimmicks?
In the report, we outline the utility and predicted chronology of several technologies, including:
Proximity technologies. Retailers will know when and where an associate is needed, by whom, and for what purpose.
Wearable technologies. Associates will access the relevant data to provide optimum customer service with minimum intrusion.
Facial scanning technologies. Retailers will know their in-store customers’ histories, preferences, intentions, and needs and will cater the store experience to them.
Smart countertops. Retailers will embrace consumers’ propensity to do product research while shopping in-store and enhance the utility and experience at the same time.
3D printing. Retailers will make the inventory they need on-site or once it’s been purchased.
For more on Forrester’s take on the usefulness of these and other technologies, and to see our predictions of when we’ll see them enter the retail store, see the report (client access required).
Which technologies do you think will realistically make it into retail stores of the future?
Beacons have a great deal of disruptive potential as they bridge the digital and physical worlds. I quite like this quote from Steve Cheney, SVP at Estimote: “Beacons as a platform are really a wedge into ‘appifying’ the physical world. They give context to a physical space. They are a way of actually extending the network intelligence to the edge again, something that has been missing since the desktop era. Beacons are truly a way of giving your smartphone eyes—place dumb signs around you and let your phone discover and read them.”
Beacon technology offers new opportunities for marketers across a wide range of industries and verticals. In particular, they enable marketers to:
Engage consumers in their mobile moments via in-app interactions.
Improve the customer experience.
Understand customer behaviors by leveraging analytics.
Cross-channel sales -- also known as web-influenced sales or transactions that touch a digital medium, but are not completed on the Internet -- are now more than four times larger than online sales alone and will reach $1.8 trillion by 2018. This is according to Forrester's just released five-year US cross-channel retail sales forecast. Offline sales -- primarily web-influenced offline sales -- will comprise nearly 75% of the $475 billion in US retail growth anticipated between 2014 and 2018. This growth in cross-channel sales can be attributed to US online consumers increasingly using their phones in retail stores to research products online. Retailers would be wise to see this growing trend as the new normal; if this is the first you’ve heard about your customers’ in-store mobile behavior, you’re already late to the game.
Despite frequent in-store research on the mobile device, the number of actual mobile transactions remains low. Consumers are more interested in using their phone in the “pre-shop” phase, be it searching for a product’s location, comparing prices, or checking online inventory. Many retailers, such as Target, have found it worthwhile to invest more in mobile services that meet customers’ needs in their pre-shop context rather than at the point of sale. Target has helped customers find specific items in its stores via its mobile app: A customer can create a shopping list within the app, which then maps that list onto the floor map of the customer’s Target store location, guiding them through the aisles from one item to the next.
One of my first jobs was as a sales associate at a clothing store, after which mall shopping lost any of the leisurely appeal it once held. I still find myself folding clothes I didn't unfurl and fixing hanger hooks to all face the same direction.Chalk it up to knowing how the sausage is made, or perhaps a logical side effect of working in eCommerce research, but I do most of my shopping online these days.
The store shopping experience hasn’t changed much since my time as a sales associate. But that’s all about to change. We’re at the beginning of a retail transformation: The growing percentage of retail revenues driven by eCommerce and the influence of digital technologies on consumer behavior and expectations alike means that retailers are being forced to reevaluate the value proposition of the store. The result? A digitally enhanced retail store.
Today, a mix of technologies are coming together to marry the online and offline experiences to revolutionize in-store shopping and the role of the physical store. However, we’re still in early stages. Many of these initiatives remain in experimental phases, and glaring success stories are few and far between. Despite the rarity of iron-clad business cases for these initiatives, eBusiness professionals and their colleagues in store operations are forging ahead.
Together with eCommerce technology analyst Adam Silverman, I recently published a report laying out the current state of digital store initiatives and the promising opportunities a digital store overhaul represents for retail. Some of the ways retailers are transforming retail stores include:
A long list of European pure player retailers were put through a rigorous Shop Experience Audit by GfK to identify a short list of five players that six jury members evaluated. The short list of candidates included Net-a-Porter, ASOS, Amazon, Zalando and Yoox.
It's been a tough choice because all candidates are very strong players. But, we the jury persevered and evaluated the candidates based on innovation, customer engagement and consistent multitouchpoint presence. Here are the winners:
Winner Gold: ASOS. Jury Assessment: ASOS goes beyond purely generating sales. They work to be present at their customers’ moment of need at every stage in the customer life-cycle, including engaging customers so they come back again. Their content and communication is consistent, as is their presence across devices. They have strong growth from international sales and a multi country presence. They've also launched innovative features like the 'fashion finder' function and a pilot program for changing rooms at pick up points.
If I had a dime for every time I heard the question “Isn’t eCommerce taking over retail?”, it wouldn’t make me wealthy, but I’d certainly have a few hundred dollars more than I do now. Nonetheless, it’s a question that is unfortunately misguided and has permeated our zeitgeist. The truth is that yes, eCommerce is growing - but physical retail is far from doomed. Let me take the two parts of that last sentence and address them each separately.
First, the fact that eCommerce is growing. Forrester just released the latest five-year online retail forecast and to no one’s surprise, the numbers are big. We’re projecting $294B in eCommerce sales across 30 retail categories in 2014, expected to grow to $414B by 2018. The web keeps doing what it has always done well: it provides huge assortments of products, at comparable, often lower, prices than physical stores, with 24/7 access and often free shipping. For many categories like media products or electronics, we’ve already observed a heavy shift to the web channel away from physical stores. Add to that the ubiquity of mobile devices and that drives even more shopping in more instances and places. In fact, we’re projecting that $87B of that $294B will happen on phones and tablets in 2014, and that doesn’t even include another $28B in additional mobile transactions on sites and apps like Uber and Domino’s Pizza that aren’t even in that aforementioned mobile commerce number.
But all this growth certainly doesn’t mean that stores are dying. Here’s why:
Since joining Molton Brown, shortly after its purchase by the Kao Corporation, Amy has modernised the brand and business operations, particularly in the areas of eCommerce, eCRM, and other digital marketing programmes. She has also successfully leveraged resources across the Kao organisation to help accelerate Molton Brown’s growth outside of the UK home market, and more recently has been working with the other Kao brands to better leverage digital assets and talent within the Kao organisation in EMEA and the Americas.
In the run-up to the Forum, I caught up with Amy and asked her these questions to uncover some of her messages for the marketing leaders attending our London event. Do join us on May 13-14 to hear Amy's full story!