Blog: Ron Bowers 

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

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Who is the connected consumer?

With a constant connection to the web and social media via a smart mobile device, the connected consumer is an informed shopper actively seeking the best value for a desired good.

With their own personal audience via the web and social media, they are an empowered group with a desire to feel appreciated by a retailer and in control.

What does this mean for retailers?

The connected consumer is a new challenge for retailers as power has shifted from the company to the consumer. With demands for a relevant, efficient and consistent experience for his/her own personal interests, and control over the conversation, retailers must provide the connected consumer a great shopping experience while merging both digital and in-store channels.

The consumer is engaged through digital technology before ever stepping foot in a store or looking at a catalog. It is possible that the first engagement isn’t facilitated by a retailer at all, but by a friend on social media. For this reason, marketers must have a strong digital strategy that enables consumer engagement across multiple channels and allows for a personalized interaction. Retailers should connect with consumers through various tactics such as emails, social media and in-store engagement while maintaining consistent brand identity and messaging.

To do this, retailers must understand the change in 1) how a customer shops, 2) how a customer makes in-store decisions, and 3) what the expectations of their customers are. The retailers must then develop a customized and distinct response to these questions as their digital strategy, and as a platform for merchandising.  

How does this relate to brick-and-mortar stores?

Merchandising for the connected consumerThe in-store experience is still a powerful aspect of the buyers’ journey even though the digital entity of retail has become fundamental to the entire consumer experience. To best serve the connected consumer while creating store traffic and greater brand loyalty, the in-store experience should act in unison with the retailers’ digital strategy.  

Knowing that the connected consumer utilizes technology to efficiently gain information and make a purchase decision, a sales associate no longer convinces a customer of a purchase. In fact, research shows that customers would rather use their own device followed by an unmanned device like a kiosk or tablet, before speaking to a sales associate to gather information in-stores¹. Thus, retailers should incorporate digital entities with the brick-and-mortar, or rather create an in-store shopping experience that utilizes technology and enables the consumer to stay connected.

The following are a few possible ways retailers can merchandize to the connected consumer in-stores:

Offer free in-store wifi

The consumer can stay connected while shopping.

A retailer has the opportunity to direct the consumer to the store website and current sales or product information after log in.

Utilize interactive kiosks and tablets

The consumer has access to a greater variety of products with expanded online inventory, and vast product information and reviews.

A retailer has greater advertising space with interchangeable digital displays specified to a department and the time of day while providing easy access to store information, online ordering, product information, and faster more efficient checkouts.  

Incorporate beacon technology, a low-cost device utilizing a Bluetooth signal to directly communicate with a customer’s smartphone.

The consumer can receive personalized and targeted notifications for specified products and departments based on their current store location.

A retailer can communicate loyalty programs, payments and current advertisements in real time to a customer.

¹ “The New Digital Divide” by Deloitte Digital (2014).

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Tuesday, 06 January 2015

Millennials controlling 70% of the spending power in the U.S. creates vast uncertainty amongst retailers; but with the strongest economy in years, optimism prevails as we begin 2015.

For many retailers, the Millennial consumer is an enigma: they are more suspicious of who to trust and yet, more likely to be influenced by apps and social media than any other generation. Only 19% of Millennials (versus 40% of Baby Boomers) say that, “generally speaking, most people can be trusted” (PewResearch). However, in order to make buying decisions, consumers look to a retailer’s online presence and social influence before considering a purchase.

This generation’s spending habits are moved by its self-paradox. Millennials are self-focused and at the center of their own global communications. It is vital for them to have a positive self-image while finding a sense of belonging when purchasing consumer goods. They desire self-preservation and a personal connection to a product or service.

So, what does this mean for retailers?

The heightened competition amongst store fronts and e-commerce will increase. Currently, roughly ¾ of consumers claim to showroom (Retail Future Trends 2015) or rather compare brands in order to receive the lowest price, best quality and/or widest selection of merchandise when shopping—many times without ever stepping foot in a store. This creates less in-store traffic and increased wavering among dominant brands. So, retailers must draw their target markets in through a strong online presence while providing feelings of exclusivity and individuality for a reasonable price.

To draw consumers into their store fronts, many retailers have begun incorporating various electronic capabilities; this includes the use of tablets, interactive kiosks and beacon technology. Tablets and interactive kiosks extend inventory past what can be offered in stores. The use of tablets has expanded into the retail environment to replace paper signage with digital advertising while providing sales associates quick and easy access to inventory, online ordering, product information and faster checkouts. Interactive Kiosks act in a similar way – allowing for added promotions through electronic ads specified to a department and the time of day. They also enable retailers to connect with consumers by blending in-store merchandising and virtual product displays. Beacon technology, on the other hand, provides the retailer with direct communication to the consumer and has the potential to completely change the in-store shopping experience by creating personalized and targeted marketing in real time. A beacon uses a Bluetooth signal to send special offers to nearby smartphones equipped with the store’s app. App users will receive targeted messages and deals while moving throughout the store.

Let’s say you’re shopping at a retailer equipped with these devices and have previously downloaded the store’s app. As you walk through the doors, your phone buzzes with an exclusive storewide discount. You wander into the home goods department and begin looking for a new blender when your phone alerts you of a sale on KitchenAid products. You can’t pass up the sale price and find the specified blender but are not happy with the color selections available in store. Scanning the product’s barcode at a nearby kiosk, you find additional product specifications, customer reviews and available colors. The color you’d like is available only online. No need to worry. Once your shopping is complete, you bring all of your selections to the nearby associate. They ring you up on their iPad and include the desired blender and ship it directly to your home.

As many stores have already begun implementing this technology, this experience won’t be a thing of the future for long. In fact, Macy’s has added 4,000 iBeacon devices nation-wide and provides coupons via this technology to customers who have downloaded ShopKick. They have also begun testing smart dressing rooms and an image search app. The smart dressing rooms have a wall-mounted tablet that allows customers to view various sizes and colors of a product while the image search app allows customers to snap a photo of an outfit or clothing item to find similar items on sale.

With these exciting advancements in technology, 2015 will be a year to watch how the in-store experience changes to accommodate the self-regarding Millennial. While it is clear that tech-enhanced stores offer an enriched shopper experience with benefits like improved productivity, inventory counts and use of store square footage, we have yet to determine exactly how to incorporate this technology so that it is most useful to each individual without overwhelming them.

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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Having spent over twenty five years guiding retailers and brands into self-service solutions, it has been fun to reflect at the various industry events this winter on how we got to this multi-screen Modus operandi, which is fast becoming second nature. We’ve witnessed the evolution of desktop to kiosk, kiosk to mobile and digital signage to mobile. Consumers move freely among devices in planned and impulsive ways.

At the same time we’re experiencing this technology evolution; we’re also encountering a broadening of the applications for self-service.  We think this trend offers new opportunities for forward-thinking retailers, so there’s not much time for looking back.

A major self-service at retail theme is the enabling of shoppers to explore endless aisles and access the breadth of what the retailer has to offer. These are engagement solutions that empower customers in the store like shopping kiosks, gift registry kiosks, and interactive digital signage with expanded inventory visibility for categories from jewelry to shoes. They are all very intuitive uses for in-store self-service.

A second intriguing theme involves offering ancillary services that are a draw to busy, connected consumers. By providing frictionless ways for customers to accomplish life’s pleasurable and mundane tasks, self-service offerings can solidify the store as a destination and even encourage repeat visits. We think this aspect of self-service lends itself to some imaginative applications.

Here are three examples of how self-service can expand access, enable perpetual connection, and eliminate speed bumps for consumers:
Some big box retailers and pharmacies are recognizing the value of self-service health assessment like that offered by the SoloHealth Station® as a strategy for increasing footfall and sales. The value of certain Lifestyle types of screening, like weight and blood pressure is continuity, which plays right into traffic-building and loyalty-building objectives. Interactive, self-service kiosks are ideally suited to deliver targeted messages about Lifestyle brands in the store that have relevance to the assessments individuals are experiencing and can promote healthful living and incremental sales.

With the increased acceptance of the phone as a shopping assistant, there’s a realization that phone charging can be a real draw in most any retail setting. Consumers first encountered mobile charging stations like the Keo Connect charging and concierge kiosk in airports. Phone charging displays can come in many formats and their value can be extended when coupled with consumer information services, promotional programs, and advertising messages.

Retailers should also consider the traffic-building aspects of providing access to commonly used services. One of the early examples of this concept was self-service photo kiosks like the ones we produced for Sony and others. More recently we designed and produced a DMV in a Box kiosk for Intellectual Technology, Inc. that was placed in motor vehicle branches across the United States. It is not a stretch to think of partnerships that would place other kinds of convenient services in the retail environment.
Consumers form relationships with retailers that meet their needs and expectations in consistent and satisfying ways. Self-service has a role to play in helping stores with doors, deliver on that proposition not only for shopping – which we hope is mainly a pleasurable activity - but for services that make the store a logical and convenient destination to accomplish some of the mundane tasks that keep us all moving forward.

The ultimate test for the execution of self-service is being secured at retail presently. The connected consumers have made themselves heard and the majority of successful retailers are experimenting with ways to reduce their legacy silos, into Omni-channel solutions to offer their loyal consumers convenience, selection, and service when they want it, where they want it, the way they want it! In return retailers are finding consumers with a renewed exuberance for loyalty, bordering on evangelism for the retail brand!
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Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Despite superstorm Sandy’s best efforts to make it a wash-out, attendees of Customer Engagement Technology World carried on with a show-must-go-on attitude appropriate for New York on November 7th and 8th. CETW is a bi-annual industry event focused on leveraging the integration of emerging media technology across multiple channels to activate customer engagement.

I was privileged to be asked by the Digital Screenmedia Association to chair a discussion titled "Social Media, Kiosks and Mobile: Omni-channel Convergence to Maximize Customer Engagement." Our panel consisted of Greg Clore, Vice President of Information Technology at restaurant and entertainment company Dave and Buster’s, Inc.; Cory Keen, Retail Programs, Kiosk & Mobility Technology Manager, at retailer Cabela’s Inc.; and Ray Rotolo, Chief Operating Officer at out-of-home advertising company Posterscope.

The overriding theme of our discussion was that businesses skillfully embracing mobile, kiosks, and social media are the ones focused not on stand-alone engagement but cohesive customer experience. To the extent that we can deliver as a point of purchase industry not only to brand and retailer objectives but to the positive experience of the consumer we can be partners in building loyalty.

The omni-channel strategy tracks customers across all channels. All shopping channels work from the same retailer database of products, pricing, promotions, and engagements. As Wikipedia says best, “Instead of perceiving a variety of touch-points as part of the same brand, omni-channel retailers let consumers experience the brand, not a channel within a brand. Merchandise and promotions are not channel specific, but rather consistent across all retail channels.”

Greg Clore’s presentation illustrated how Dave and Buster’s uses guest-facing technologies that not only communicate their product and services but deliver on the excitement of the Dave and Buster’s brand. Their multiple channels include a website, kiosks, digital signage, self-service POS, an online digital guide, and numerous ways to engage via mobile and social media.

The central theme that Greg has integrated into Dave & Buster’s guest experience is the use of technology-enhanced engagement - not just multi-channel touch points.  D&B has focused on the omni-channel engagement of the guest’s personal experience integrated through D&B’s Loyalty Program, Power Cards, and Experience Redemptions in the restaurant and entertainment venue. The experience is enabled by the customer when they want it, where they want it, and the way they want it! Launching this week will be the New Mobile Wallet: Register Powercards, Register Credit Cards, D&B Location Services, and Guest-selected Promotions.

Cory Keen addressed Cabela’s strategy of becoming “channel-less.” Cabela’s brand experience has one face - because customers expect one look and feel - but access across multiple channels. The retailer has empowered customers to do channel-less shopping with mobile apps that include bar code scanning and enable pricing transparency, online ordering through in-store kiosks and an order online/pick-up in store service.

Cabela’s is a leader in instituting corporate commitment to the omni-channel message of consistency across all channels and finding ways to remove the “silos mentality” through inter- department communication and collaboration! This orientation begins at the core engagement point; the in-store outfitters are empowered to match prices and create an omni-channel consistency to meet the demands of the Cabela’s customer. Their strategy encompasses empowered outfitters, price transparency between channels, and corporate training for omni-channel development.

Keen acknowledged that customer expectations are “growing extremely fast.” It is essential to keep taking a pulse through their Voice of the Customer survey. Cabela’s has implemented mobility feedback and studies for multiple mobile platforms that will allow their loyal customers a readily available forum.

Ray Rotolo of Posterscope noted that people are connected to their devices, but they are also members of “dynamic connected cultures” through their social interactions. Thus, the drivers of the out-of-home business are both supply side innovation through mobile and digital technologies and demand side adoption by consumers.

This industry dynamic is creating new demands and opportunities for brands and media owners in four key dimensions:
  • Content - Understanding what people want and how they want it.
  • Space - Understanding how best to create experiences that capitalize on the increasing “location neutral fluidity” of people’s lives.
  • Community – Understanding how to leverage social media to help people connect and share.
  • Commerce – Understanding how to move consumers closer to purchase especially using search.
Consumers are forming relationships with those retailers who not only understand the technology but are using it to meet their rapidly evolving consumer expectations in a consistent and satisfying way.  There is room for a finite number of close relationships with brands and retailers in our fluid lives and those who embrace convergence have a better chance of being on the winning end. Kudos to CETW and DSA for facilitating this movement!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 04:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
It has been my pleasure over the past 28 years to be an active participant in the interactive marketplace for retail, education, services and the government sectors. Prior to the CETW show, in San Francisco last month, I was honored at the Board of Directors meeting for the (DSA) Digital Screenmedia Association to be among a group of industry leaders and friends elected to the posts of ambassadors for our industries. Brian Ardinger of Nanonation was named DSA President; Jared Miller, managing director of self-service & emerging technology for United Airlines was named executive vice president of mobile; Lou Giacalone, the founder CoolSign, Haivision, was named executive vice president of digital signage, and I'm honored to represent the kiosk industry as executive vice president.

The Digital Screenmedia Association is the trade association and educational advocate for the digital merchandising industry, kiosks, digital signage and mobile. Our partnership is timely and valuable because of the significant changes our economy, industry and major channels of consumer interaction, have gone through over the past three years. All four officers of our industry trade association agree that there has been a major paradigm shift in the marketplace.

The top-down brand model is dead! Brands that will survive and be successful in the new marketplace are focused on bottom-up customer engagement. The new customer wants to engage, not just buy. This new model forces brands to move from managing perceptions and controlling the message, to inventing new ways to get customers to engage with their brands.

Welcome to the digital interactive experience at retail. Consumers through ever-changing improvements in technology can evaluate the value of products and services like never before through kiosks, digital media signage and mobile. These changes have created a brave new world where mass collaboration and open innovation have turned old marketing and retail models upside down. The precondition for the new customer, more than ever in the past, is trust in brand integrity. The brand must provide value and exhibit integrity and transparency as part of its corporate DNA! The brand has evolved from being an image to becoming a relationship.

We've had a whole generation growing up digital and now we have a new formula for radical change in marketing and merchandising. Given this generation's propensity to ignore advertisements in traditional media, their growing ability to scrutinize companies, and their surging power in the marketplace, they are driving the change to customer engagement, brand collaboration, and in some cases shared brand ownership! They interact through multi-directional, one-to-one, and highly tailored digital communications media. They choose the medium and the message.

What is the resulting impact of this shift in consumer power? Better value for the customer and higher customer loyalty through the participation and engagement of the customer.
What is the resolute brand effect? In "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff make the math pretty simple: engaged brands are growing their value by 18 percent; those that don't engage are declining by 6 percent. From a brand marketing strategy the future is obvious, engage or parish by a slow and costly death tied to old legacy attitudes of brand development. It's time to understand and embrace that the customer of today and of tomorrow is trending to engagement, not just buying!

We as an industry have a great opportunity to participate in the expansion of this consumer trend toward retail engagement, but with that comes a substantial responsibility for establishing industry standards and best practices that will benefit the consumer, brand marketer and the retailer equally for the benefit of all and the good of the marketplace. Our new economy is expanding at a slower pace than in the past and with that comes more questions and second-guessing, but there is no second guessing the consumer's attitude going forward.

Consumers are embracing the marketplace that will afford them the opportunity to influence and participate in how they will be marketed to. Consumers still want to shop; this has not changed. However, consumers understand the significance of their ability to have, through new technology, more choices, more convenience, and more say in how they are marketed to, where that is, and when that is. The brand has the ability more than at any time in history to create success and growth in the marketplace as long as the brand maximizes its true destiny, consumer engagement through customer experience!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 07:30 am   |  Permalink   |  
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