Moving beyond the simple notion that the early 2015, post-holiday retail landscape is important to navigate properly to avoid too big a lull in sales, it’s of even greater importance to examine how the entire retail landscape is becoming more complex and changing at an ever-increasing rate.
As I set out to do this article on how best to handle the inevitable sales lull that happens in retail once the insanity, and the spending sprees, of the holidays are done, the conversations I had became more about the bigger picture of what is happening with consumers today. The talk was all about the sea change that is happening around consumer behavior and how vital it is to stay on top of that, as opposed to worrying about the four- or five-week period after New Year’s.
Shifting demographics, household downsizing, more educated consumers due to their constantly connected nature, new channel formats—among other trends—all require your constant attention, as well as a modification of your existing approach.
It became crystal clear as the research for this article unfolded that tailoring your offerings to select customers, as opposed to the mass appeal approach of yesterday, in order to foster greater customer loyalty is clearly the best approach today.
“Today’s consumer is a moving target, both literally and figuratively, and the value proposition guiding their product purchases is changing dramatically,” began Linda Conklin, a longtime New York marketing expert. “And for the imaging retailer, the good news is consumers are putting a heightened emphasis on personalization.”
Conklin added that all this plays nicely into the hands of those selling product and services attached to anything imaging related, as she urged dealers to look for opportunities where customer input really matters.
“Your customers are becoming increasingly proactive in their purchase decisions, and they are getting more and more selective about with whom they want to do business,” she added. “The shopping experience is only gaining in prominence, and when it comes to selling anything that focuses on cherished memories, that industry has a leg up on most others.”
According to a recent report on the future of retail from marketing firm Social4Retail, the line between “maker and consumer will blur”—a trend that should be music to the imaging industry’s ears.
“Innovation is the one true sustainable driver of growth. Too many businesses have focused on making better products, when real advantage comes from making different products and better product experiences,” the report reads.
Not unlike the overall real estate market, the brick-and-mortar retail world has been all about location, location, location. However, as we move into 2015, the Social4Retail report claims all that is about to change.
“The U.S. shakeout in conventional malls will continue with a throwback to neighborhood shopping centers catering to very specific tastes,” the report’s authors state. “Shopping will become more experiential; eating, being entertained and ‘living’ the shopping experience will take on much more prominence.”
Conklin, again, feels this emerging trend should have imaging dealers excited about the future, not dreading it.
“Selling products and services that enhance and help chronicle their lives fits into this predicted trend like a puzzle piece,” she added. “The experience these dealers can offer consumers today is all about personalization and entertainment. The photo merchandise products that are available today are putting smiles on faces and involving customers like never before.”
That emphasis on the “experience” has been tossed around for a few years now. Where that trend appears to really be gaining a hold on consumers is within environments where differentiation is stressed over actual product. This holds true for both manufacturers and retailers.
“What’s happening at retail today is that innovation has become the one true sustainable driver of growth,” explained Richard Lewin, a former photo dealer in New York. “Far too often I’m seeing a focus on making better products, when I think the real advantage comes from making different products and a more exciting and memorable product experience.”
Surrendering Personal Info
The other significant change in retail is the rising comfort level consumers have with surrendering information, such as cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. While that practice was looked at as invasive a few years ago, people today are far more comfortable handing that info over—but there’s a catch.
“Yes, they [consumers] are more comfortable and more likely to hand over numbers and e-mails to retailers and suppliers, but in return they are expecting, and even demanding, value for doing so,” Conklin pointed out.
Also vital to your retail fortunes will be making sure your approach on the mobile marketing front is spot-on. Analysts are expecting the continued emergence of location-based advertising based on knowing customer location through their mobile devices. Retailers will be able to send their customers relevant offers while they are en route. Making sure those offers are personalized based on specific needs and previous purchases could deliver very successful results.
In concluding where the retail industry is headed in the months and years ahead, let’s turn to the aforementioned Social4Retail study one more time.
“Understanding consumers is not the same as understanding shoppers. Shopper insights research is about understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviors of customers in shopping and buying mode—why the shopper buys (or does not buy), why certain items were purchased (and why other items never had a chance) and how the shopping experience affected the buying decision,” the report concludes.