Today’s Environment

Traditional retail offered shoppers a sensory, tactile experience with elements the industry could control: product mix, price point, place, and promotion. At the center of the brick-and-mortar world was the brand.

Today, retailers are facing a challenge that’s mission- critical: losing control of their brand. The world has changed so fast, with smartphones galore and the intricacies of multiple operating systems. Devices, tablets, Internet TV: Every innovation brings change—risks and opportunities—that affect the way people do business.

For retailers, every screen reflects the challenge of getting to know the customer and providing delight. The modern customer is a moving target. With a smartphone in hand, consumers can compare the features and benefits of any product, anywhere, anytime. In this 24/7 era, they seek friends’ suggestions via social media. They get coupons, visit sites that project prices and scope out deals.

Point B’s Perspective

Amid all the competition for the consumer’s attention, how can retailers differentiate themselves? The consumer is looking for consistency, ease, and being treated as unique. There’s infinite potential for mobility to act as a magnet. But retailers need direction to apply technology consciously in ways that will attract customers. With a practical roadmap for action, retailers can develop a plan to build traffic.

Retailers need not just a “mobile strategy,” but more broadly: a digital strategy. In the context of the current “blurring of screens,” enterprises will need seamless integration across three channels: mobile, e-commerce (including social media), and the in-store experience. A roadmap will help define the challenges, envision new possibilities, and set an action plan.

Master social media. The smartphone or tablet is not just a gadget: It’s an essential part of personal identity in modern life. With it comes instant input on what the user’s friends are thinking, doing, and purchasing—and what they would recommend. Ninety percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know.¹ But what’s new is the speed at which product picks are conveyed by the Likes and tweets of ubiquitous tastemakers. Retailers need to understand the power of this influence, and how to use it. For example, engage consumers by enabling and inviting them to make product recommendations. They will notice. For retailers, the digital impact is big: Merchants who don’t think strategically about using technology to cultivate customer relationships will lose sales to competitors who “get it.” But how do you compete when everyone is a merchant?

Define your point of difference. Focus on your unique selling proposition, and use technology as a tool to drive it forward. Digital-commerce technologies are ever-evolving. But a keystone of retail remains paramount: Know the customer. Today, a retailer can extract value from a digital platform by driving customized content to the customer. That deepens the customer relationship and provides a sense of delight. Hone in on ways to offer the best customer experience across multiple screens—and in your store. What should mobility achieve for retail? Consider ways to save the customer time or money. Could the customer place an order in advance by smartphone and find the product ready for in-store pickup? Is there a point program or coupon that might drive loyalty? Maybe an in-store kiosk is the right way to engage people, while allowing merchants to keep tabs on supply and demand. Imagining new possibilities can help enterprises out-think competitors and stay ahead. The most strategic retailers will find ways to recognize their online customers on occasions when they are shopping at the brick-and-mortar store. Most retailers do not yet have seamless visibility between their customer relationship management (CRM) and point of sale (POS) systems. The technology is on its way. Picture the power of synchronicity between a retailer’s e- commerce system and in-store data. Retailers would derive up-to-the minute information about customer preferences that would optimize the transaction while giving shoppers a positive connection to the brand.

Revive and redefine the customer experience. It’s time to re-conceive the meaning of “point of sale.” Consumers are shopping via multiple means, and retailers need to meet them where they are—whether it’s a laptop, tablet or app—when they’re ready to buy. This so-called “blurring of screens” doesn’t mean the retailer can simply digitize the experience. Technology can enable and elevate the customer experience—but it’s not the experience itself. Moving forward, the most successful retailers will be those who innovate and develop ways to engage with customers. One forward- thinking retailer needed a way to unify its handful of brands, all of which had their own web sites. For this retailer, a digital strategy meant harnessing technology to streamline shopping among its sites. The roadmap for this client lead to a new solution: a common shopping cart shared across all of their online stores. The result? Ease of use, easier transactions. The retailer’s digital strategy achieved several objectives:

a new brand was successfully integrated into the company’s family of brands. And time-pressed customers saved time finding the merchandise, thanks to compelling web content and navigation that required fewer clicks.

The Bottom Line

Retailers need a digital strategy—one that encompasses all channels: mobile, Web and in-store. Devices of different forms address distinct needs.

Retailers must make core decisions that advance the integration of mobile devices with the physical store. Mobile is a rapidly developing channel, and the stakes are high. Merchants who differentiate themselves by using technology to delight and deepen relationships with customers will get ahead in the digital era.