Keeping up with smarter consumers

By Andy Monshaw,

Today's consumers are more informed, influential and decisive than ever before. They demand more from their retailers, both face-to-face and virtually. Those retailers that don’t get it right, risk losing not only their business, but also their endorsement -- with friends, family, and a whole host of online followers. Small to midsize retailers, especially, feel the pressure to find new ways to forge lasting relationships with customers.

A significant driver of consumer behavior today is new technology that allows them access to huge amounts of information about retailers and their offerings. They know more than ever about what they want, how they want it and who they want it from. Plus, they are willing to explore new ways to interact with their preferred retailers.

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value consumer study -- Meeting the Demands of the Smarter Consumer reveals that 78% of shoppers want to co-create product offerings with their retailers. Retail CEOs are very much aware of this trend, and they are especially determined to put customers front and center. In fact, the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study reports that “getting connected” to better understand, predict and give customers what they really want is the top priority for 93% of retail executives.

So how do savvy consumers and smart retailers make the connection? Where do the two meet to engage and collaborate? For many retailers, it’s through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

Social media is changing the face of modern day retailing. Retailers who are aware and ahead of this trend are using technology to launch creative social media strategies. Some companies naturally succeed at this approach due to their built in audience of enthusiasts and ability to skillfully brand products or services across a mix of the social media outlets.

According to the Small Business Success Index (SBSI) small business owners are increasingly turning to social media to engage customers. In fact, their study reveals that social media adoption among smaller companies has doubled from 12 to 24 percent over the last year.

Moosejaw Mountaineering, an outdoor adventure retailer based in Madison Heights, Michigan, is one of those natural leaders in social media. They are using social commerce to make itself a go-to destination for outdoor adventurers by leading the way in the integration of social networking capabilities like blogging and customer product ratings across all of its retail channels.

Moosejaw has established strong communities through Twitter and Facebook, and is known for its engaging email campaigns. The company also has embedded rich community features into its online commerce experience, thus becoming one of the first outdoor-adventure retailers to make multichannel "social commerce” the cornerstone of its growth strategy. Most recently, Moosejaw collaborated virtually with a group of customers -- dubbed the Humans of Influence -- to develop a brand new clothing line that is launching this fall.

Is social media paying off? Varsity, a cheerleading and dance team apparel company in Memphis, Tennessee, thinks so. This midsize retailer has seen its sales double since bringing all of its merchandise offerings into one e-commerce website and linking that -- in real time -- to its social marketing and field sales channels.

Varsity's grassroots community now comprises nearly 200,000 Facebook and Twitter followers. And, they have extended their reach to the new TV series "Hellcats" where the cast of cheerleaders all wear Varsity uniforms to an extensive collection of more than 30,000 competition videos that are available through their website.

Today’s retailers are prioritizing customer demands as never before. Globalization, combined with a rise in the availability of information and the growth of online communities, has expanded customer options. For some, that is a daunting reality. For savvy midsize retailers, though, it’s an opportunity. Smart, successful retailers recognize that a meaningful, ongoing engagement with customers can provide the foundation for a long-term relationship -- one that can be as rewarding for the retailers as it is for the consumers who partner with them.

Andy Monshaw, is general manager, IBM Global Midmarket

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