By Jeff Weidauer, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, Vestcom International
Retail marketers have always been smitten with technology and how it can help them drive business, lower costs or just make things a little easier. While we don’t think about it in terms of technology, the introduction of the cash register was a huge leap forward in terms of productivity and record keeping.
Historically the push for technology has come from the retail world: scanners, kiosks, loyalty cards and the related data-gathering component. Today the push is coming from the consumer side as they embrace mobile technology to shop and compare prices, or the advent of the so-called “zero moment of truth” when the shopper starts researching a planned purchase online.
Consumer adoption of new technology and the constant discovery of new ways to utilize it to help them shop, has put many retail marketers in the position of playing “catch-up” with their customers. Some of the responses have been counter-productive, with retailers trying to block the use of mobile devices in the store in a futile attempt to curtail these shopper activities.
Blocking consumer access or attempting to ignore changed shopping behavior, are good ways to keep the competition happy. This isn’t a trend that’s going away, and retail marketers can either get on the bus, or prepare to be run over by it. For those ready to get on board, here are a few tips:
- Get strategic. Figure out who your target market is, and how your offer is better than competitive options. This requires an honest look in the cold light of day, and will present hard questions that have to be answered.
- Think like a shopper. Learn how shoppers are using technology to shop, and help them do so. Put wireless in your stores if it’s not there already. Conduct focus groups and shop-along studies to understand what shoppers are looking for, and how you can connect more deeply with them.
- Think outside IT. Some prognosticators are predicating that the CMO will spend more money on technology by 2020 than the CTO. If you’re still managing all your tech-related decisions inside the IT department, you’re missing the point. Marketing should be driving tech use and adoption, not IT.
- Invest. Making the most of tech advances requires money and a willingness to spend it. This is where that initial strategy becomes critical, to help ensure that you’re not chasing rainbows. That doesn’t mean every investment will pay off, so be prepared for some flops. But fail forward, and let the flops be a learning experience.
- Drive change. Don’t wait for your shopper to initiate an activity—be proactive and introduce new ideas and ways to interact via mobile and online that will position you as an early adopter.
There’s been a lot of talk about the “new normal” and consumers; whatever that new normal might be, there’s little doubt that it will involve technology in great heaping doses. Ignoring the change isn’t a viable option, and the best defense really is a good offense.
Catching up to consumers and their adoption of technology does not need to be painful. All that’s required is a commitment to focusing on shopper needs and habits, and a willingness to learn and accept that change is constant. The hardest part is making the changes required—the pace is only increasing, so now’s the time to get aboard and be part of the new era of retailing and technology.