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Why retailers struggle with tech-savvy shoppers

With today’s mobile and analytics tools at their disposal, why don’t retailers ‘get’ what makes their customers tick? Analysts at Retail Systems Research share some thoughts on that.


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Paula Rosenblum got a little personal when I interviewed her a while back. She told me, in March, how she grew up in the retail rag trade, helping her father sell camp clothing (that used to be a thing, back in the day) from his store in Long Island.

Although she only mentioned it briefly, that little anecdote burned into my mind the fact that she’s personally witnessed the retail industry morph from mom-and-pop boutiques to mobile apps.

So Rosenblum didn’t pull any punches during a recent webinar she co-hosted with her colleagues at Miami-based Retail Systems Research (RSR), where she is a managing partner. While she reassured listeners that “customers are still king,” she also bluntly stated that “retailers are really struggling to understand them.”

Oh, the irony. With today’s mobile and analytics tools at their disposal, why don’t retailers ‘get’ what makes their customers tick? Rosenblum and her RSR colleagues shared some thoughts on that.

Gen ?

Shifting demographics are having an impact on how shoppers use technology to purchase items and interact with retailers. Rosenblum breaks it down into boomers (“I can use Facebook and a little email but not much more”), Gen X (“I can learn to use whatever technology is put in front of me”), millennials (“I love technology and really trust it”) and Gen Z (natives of “the on-demand economy”).

Big data drama

All those sensors, mobile devices, beacons, searches and transactions out there are creating a lot of data. According to RSR’s Brian Kilcourse, however, one of the challenges right now is “democratizing analytics” to make that data accessible and understandable for retail managers “who don’t have a PhD in data science.”

Kilcourse said tackling this issue will help “reduce the lag time between seeing something (in the data) and doing something about it.”

Inventory blind spots

Attracting shoppers to your website or store is one thing; getting them to seal the deal with a purchase is another. But it all falls apart if you can’t fill their order, get it to them quickly and keep inventory stocked for the next on-demand shopper.

“Accurate inventory visibility across the entire enterprise in near real-time remains the single most important technology enabler in the new model,” said Steve Rowen, a managing partner at RSR.

Tech tactics

Rosenblum and her fellow RSR analysts did offer some advice for retailers grappling with these tech-based challenges.

To deal with demographic shifts, retailers “really have to think about how (customer-facing technology) is consumed and how it should look,” said Rosenblum. That means creating user-friendly interfaces for everyone, from boomers with little tech savvy to impatient Gen Z shoppers who expect all technology to be intuitive.

To cut through the maze of big data, Kilcourse recommends newer, user-friendly (there’s that term again) tools to manage alerts, dashboards, KPIs and data visualization.

When it comes to boosting inventory visibility, Rowen said it should include “on-hand, on-order and in-transit inventory” and warned it might require “modification or even replacement of source transaction systems such as the in-store POS.”

Although Rosenblum didn’t tell a personal story this time around, her colleague Nikki Baird urged retailers to personalize their interactions with customers.

Baird said retailers must play a relevant role in consumers’ lives long before they ever consider taking a trip to a store. Retailers need to create a meaningful, non-promotional presence in digital spaces, she said, and then bring that meaning and presence into their physical stores. “You as a retailer have to mean more to a customer than just price and brand,” said Baird.

Everyone, from analysts to retailers to shoppers, is still figuring out exactly what that will look like and how to get there. Since Rosenblum has been in the game since she was a teenager, my bet is on her to know it when she sees it and still tell it like it is.

Image: iStock

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