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Keeping Customers Engaged When Virtual and Real World Retail Strategies Converge

BY CSA STAFF

By Kenneth Gruskin, [email protected]

Today, fickle and demanding consumers can access virtually anything they want as a result of technology such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. This anytime, anywhere access coupled with what can be referred to as the four ‘C’s’ — convergence, convenience, connection, and cost — are having a dramatic impact on retailers.

Because the virtual and real world of retail has finally converged for the consumer, retailers must do far more than update their retail environments every three to five years in order to keep customers engaged in a “social experience retailing” environment. In order to stay ahead of their customers’ expectations, they need to update their environments (real and virtual) on an ongoing basis.

To that end, retailers will need to offer their own unique recipe of the four Cs, which are defined as follows:

The Convergence of social networking, commerce, and technology will create an augmented reality (AR) that will help to close the digital divide that separates our physical and virtual domains. For chain stores, that means that customers may be able to go online and create or order, personalize and customize goods ranging from takeout dinners to a new pair of shoes before heading to the convenience store or department store for pick up.

In addition, another kind of convergence will take place as retailers form brand sharing partnerships with non-competing but complementary retailers to provide even more compelling alignments that will attract customers and get them invited into their lives and communities.

Convenience as afforded by retail products, services, and virtual goods that are provided through multiple physical and virtual channels will become ubiquitous to the end user. Chain retailers will offer neighborhooding through smaller and better trained, localized brick-and-mortar facilities that support its embedded customer base. In addition, they will offer bundled goods and services to afford one-stop shopping to the consumer. Imagine being able to pick up milk, bread, eggs, do your banking and pick up your dry cleaning at a convenience store on the way home from work.

Convenience will also be afforded by the global reach of chain stores, that, as a result, will need to entirely overhaul their distribution system in order to deliver goods and services immediately from anywhere to anywhere to convenience-seeking customers. Further, technology and systems must also empower those customers to learn, explore, and make knowledgeable, informed purchasing decisions wherever they are.

Connection: Successful retail brands must continuously establish deep, personal connections with their customer base that reflect their value and core beliefs with authenticity if the brand is to be seen as an extension of who “they” are. The brand and retail experience must be literally connected to each other as well and afford accessibility to the individual wherever they are through the web and local brick-and-mortar stores alike. As a result, the design of all of these retail touch points, both physical and virtual, will be more important than ever to keep a brand positioned to be visible, to maintain/improve its perceived value, and to help individuals identify and stay connected with retailers that align with their core beliefs and lifestyle.

Cost: The individual customer will evaluate cost based on how they perceive the value of the product or service being offered to them. For the retailer, cost will be a function of whether the social experience or convenience is the priority. If retailer is intent upon offering convenience, then lowest cost will be the priority. For those trying to offer their customers the social experience side of retailing, brand equity, alignment, and integration with their customer’s own personal goals, lifestyle/life stage and community will be crucial and cost will not be as much of a factor.

Chain stores that run the gamut from grocery stores to high-end apparel retailers alike face a compelling opportunity to leverage technology in an effort to offer a new kind of retail experience that not only affords convenience and easy access, but personalized goods and services on demand to an ever more exacting customer.

Kenneth A. Gruskin, AIA, is principal and founder of Springfield, NJ-based Gruskin Group (www.gruskingroup.com), an integrated retail design firm that builds unified brand experiences through architecture, brand development, visual communications, web/interactive, industrial design, interior design, strategic consulting, and sustainable design. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Still time to get your gifts at Walmart

BY CSA STAFF

Walmart is hoping to catch some of those last-minute shoppers by holding its "Big Christmas Event" on Saturday, Dec. 17.

On Dec. 17, Walmart said it will offer its lowest prices of the season on toys, games, electronics, bikes and more. In addition, Walmart.com is giving customers an extra day to shop by extending its shipping deadlines.

"Our customers are telling us there’s still a lot of shopping to do before Christmas," said Duncan MacNaughton , chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S. "Moms are feeling stressed to ‘get it right’ and not forget anything, so we’re excited to give them another great day of savings to help them purchase gifts, stocking stuffers and the holiday meal at our lowest prices of the season."

Walmart’s deals include:

  • Vizio 32" Class 1080p LED/LCD HDTV (31.5" diagonal screen) – $298

  • Vizio 3D Blu-ray Player with Built-in WiFi – $98

  • Girls’ or boys’ 24" Power Climber Bike, Mongoose 20" FSG or Outer Limit Bike $88 each

  • FurReal Friends Cookie My Playful Pup – $29

  • Barbie Swim & Dance Doll or Strollin’ Pups Doll – $10 each

  • Air Hogs Moto Frenzy or Beyblade Metal Masters Burning Fire Strike 2-pack – $10 each

Nerf Dart Tag Swarmfire Blaster or Hot WheelsSky Jump Track Set – $20 each

Happy Nappers The Perfect Play Pillow – $14.88

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Survey: Holiday shoppers plan to spend less; gift cards more popular in United States

BY CSA STAFF

NEW YORK — A new survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion revealed a number of similarities and differences between the holiday shopping habits of people in North America and the United Kingdom.

The survey found that 40% of Americans, 41% of Canadians and 49% of Britons said they plan to spend less during the 2011 holiday season than they did last year, though 16% of Americans and 21% of Canadians said they’re now in better financial situations. By contrast, 39% of Americans and 28% of Canadians said they’re in worse shape, compared with 55% of Britons.

Meanwhile, gift cards proved to be more popular in the United States than in the other two countries, with 62% of Americans saying they prefer to receive one, while 58% of Britons and 53% of Canadians prefer an item of some sort, and 44% of Britons and 38% of Canadians regard giving gift cards as "impersonal and lazy," compared with 25% of Americans.

Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online poll of 1,002 U.S., 1,005 Canadian and 2,006 British adults. The poll had a 3.1% margin of error for the North American respondents and a 2.2% margin of error for the British respondents. Respondents were drawn from among panelists on Springboard America, Angus Reid Forum and Springboard UK, all online market research platforms operated by parent company Vision Critical.

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