By Michael Webster
The popular reference to “the new norm” in retail understates the significant transformation underway.
Even as the economy improves, consumers will continue to be driven by the search for value and the need to save time. At the same time, growing numbers of consumers are embracing not only the Internet, but also mobile and social networking technologies.
Today’s tech-savvy shoppers have more information and advice at their command. They have more choices in where, when, how and what they purchase. Their expectations are higher and they are less loyal to any particular brand or retailer.
Consumers also face an exploding assortment of retail interactions that often are confusing and chaotic. In addition to store associates, merchandising displays and other shoppers, consumers interact with kiosks, digital signage, the Internet, their mobile devices, social networks and more. The march of technology promises even more to come, from computer vision to location-based services. With this growing bombardment of information, much of it disconnected and not relevant to the individual, the shopping experience can be frustrating.
Evolving business model
Retailers who succeed in this environment -- defined by digitally empowered, yet accessible, shoppers -- are those who continue evolving their business models in ways that acknowledge and tap into the new consumer-driven reality.
Retailers that fail to evolve could see their brick-and-mortar locations become mere “browsing centers” where consumers verify product functionality and then finalize their transactions online to save costs. Multichannel consumers are changing the retail landscape.
The Internet provides a model for this evolution. What began as a content-sharing tool with the World Wide Web and email grew to become a driver of commerce. According to Forrester Research the web influenced $937 billion in U.S. store sales in 2009, a figure projected to reach $1.3 trillion by 2013, or about one-third of total retail sales. More recently, the Internet has expanded further, providing an environment that promotes and enables communities.
The Internet evolution has been driven by enthusiastic consumer acceptance and participation. All the while, the business community has evolved