Blog: Ron Bowers 

Ron Bowers (bio)
SVP, Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates

Tuesday, 18 October 2011
As the old song goes, "To start at the very beginning is a very good place to start…" It seems reasonable for those of us in the industry to expect clients who approach us to have gone through some linear process to define objectives, requirements and a budget for their interactive and digital merchandising project, but it isn’t always the norm. Many clients know most of what they want but have a hard time defining what it is they need.
The in-store merchandising industry has changed over the last decade. The initiation of a kiosk, mobile or digital signage program is a more collaborative effort than it used to be. Projects may cut across merchandising, marketing, purchasing, information technology, operations and customer experience departments. Each of these functions brings a unique perspective on planning and execution.
At the same time, all parties need a budget framework that puts everyone on the same page. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, in his book Winning, called budgeting "the most effective process in management."
Managers dream about harmonized expectations and streamlined procedure, but there is a whole road of decision-making that organizations must travel before reaching that plane. You’ve probably noticed that many clients who approach you are at different stages of planning.
Sometimes clients are reluctant to talk about a budget. They express the notion that to fully disclose a budget will place them at a disadvantage. I think this is a counterproductive mindset. In reality a good retail merchandising company approaches a project saying, "How can we best meet the objectives and needs of this client within the framework of their budget?" rather than "How can we maximize the revenue from this project?" The client’s selection of a creative, industry-recognized company, one with financial stability and collaborative experience that has created a number of successful industry solutions, should instill confidence. 
Other times client team members may be in the position of launching their very first interactive project. They must overcome the hurdle not only of knowing the answers but knowing the right questions to ask. It is our first responsibility to aid the client in understanding that there are a number of factors influencing the success or failure of any creative endeavor and to communicate that, "You don’t know what you don’t know." It is the responsibility of the interactive and digital merchandising partner to help flush out all the caveats that the client will need to protect against.
We have developed a preliminary checklist of 10 questions that can lead clients who have not yet done so to the point of arriving at requirements and a budget. The questions below seem straightforward enough, but there are many considerations that inform the answers.
1) What are the primary objectives?
2) Who is the target user?
3) Where will units be placed?
4) How many units will be deployed?
5) What are the size requirements?
6) How long will the unit be in the field?
7) What key hardware features do your objectives dictate?
8) Has a software application been developed?
9) What look and feel do you want your solution to have?
10) What are the installation, support and maintenance requirements?
A successful interactive display or kiosk has its genesis in a fully transparent consultative partnership between the client, the partners involved and the in-store merchandising company. Answering these questions establishes a solid foundation for a project and a sure footing for the relationships.
The reality is all of us strive to give the best advice and the best service to our customers, whatever their orientation, but wouldn’t it be great if we were all singing from the same place in the songbook. Collaboration and trust between the interactive merchandising company and the client is the single greatest indicator of project success. It is our responsibility as an industry to engage frankly with our clients and offer them the success they deserve!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 09:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 07 October 2011
I just returned from the Display and Design Ideas, DDI Forum 2011, in Boston. DDI is the presenter of GlobalShop, the largest annual U.S. tradeshow for the store design, visual merchandising and in-store retail marketing industries.

The Forum is the retail industry's premier annual executive decision-maker's event. The event allows participants to discuss in a non-competitive, open forum the state of retail and issues that are affecting consumer buying habits.

A key takeaway is the economy is a factor but less of a concern than last year. The majority of retailers are expanding or preparing to expand the number of stores and redesigns for their existing stores. As I was told by the retail experience executive for one of the top three grocers, "We are preparing for growth and working hard to find efficiency in our growth process. We are buying competitors' stores that are downsizing and upgrading these stores to fit our brand experience!"

The theme of "How can we ramp up for the coming consumer demand?" was constant throughout the Forum. A number of the sessions discussed how technology has become the catalyst to accomplish this at the store level. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the retail innovators are describing the efforts they are targeting. They are not discussing scanners, printers, digital signage, kiosks, or QR codes as the answer; they are discussing how technology will enable better consumer engagement within their stores!

The overriding discussion centered on the fact that technology is not the end point; technology is one tool to make the consumer's experience at retail engaging, scalable, and unique to the retailers brand. It is this brand equity that creates the experience that leads to trial, loyalty, and hopefully consumer evangelism for the brand.

As I listened, I was reminded of James Crawford's very exciting and insightful presentation on the intersection of Technology and Store Design given at a different event, the International Retail Design Conference in Toronto, Canada. With his permission, I'd like to share some excerpts:

The 6 "Dos and Don'ts of Technology Enabled Design:

Don't let your competition design your shopping experience.

Designers are used to thinking of the in-store experience as self-contained and in their control. No matter what influences a 21st century shopper may have been under OUTSIDE the store (marketing/advertising, ecommerce, social media, etc.); once they step into the store, they're free of those influences. That's simply no longer the case, as competitors can (and do) connect with shoppers at the store shelf using tools like Amazon's mobile app... This leaves retailers with a simple choice: step up and create a better mobile enabled shopping experience that keeps the shopper engaged with the brand both physically and electronically... or cede half the shopping experience to competitors.

Do start thinking of yourself as an experience designer.

...The future of "store design" is taking the shopping experience and expanding the engagement points beyond the physical elements of the store. Store designers must embrace a future where their "designs" are experiences that engage the shopper cross channel at home, on the go, and in the store... not just physical elements within the store itself.

Don't think technology use is (too) generational.

It's far too easy to dismiss technology as something that only the youngest generation of shoppers embraces, and therefore not relevant to "our target shoppers." The truth is that shoppers of virtually all demographics are rapidly adopting new technologies into their lives, and retailers that dismiss incorporating technology into their store experiences run the risk of being perceived as increasingly irrelevant by ALL their shoppers, not just the young ones...

Remember that 50 percent of shoppers will be carrying Smartphone's in 2012.

The window of opportunity for retailers to take a "leading edge" or even "fast follower" role in embracing mobile technology is closing rapidly. Ecommerce players like Amazon and Zappos already have strong mobile strategies in place, and retailers deploying mobile solutions will quickly see the perception of their innovation shift from thought-leader to also-ran...

Consider a trip to Japan for inspiration.

While examples abound all over the world of retailers who are "doing it right" with store design, Japan alone has the unique advantage of a very well evolved mobile infrastructure. Near ubiquity (and universal compatibility) of Smartphone's that can read a single barcode standard, display information, and even allow payment means that shoppers in Japan are simply more used to using their pho's nes in the shopping process than any other single market...

Don't be afraid to take risks; this is the time to experiment.

There is no right or wrong answer to technology-enabled store design, and what will benefit retailers the most right now is the willingness and ability to experiment and make (controlled) mistakes. The bottom line is that there are many new shopping patterns and dynamics emerging, and taking advantage of these new shopping ideas requires trying new things, measuring the results, and deploying those that work...

Crawford's message was clear: Retail is embracing the intersection of technology and store design not for the sake of new technology but for how it can be another tool that is combined with well thought-out marketing and merchandising strategy. The result is the effective creation of elegant customer-centric engagement solutions in the store.
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