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, 19 November 2013

Nikki Baird recently wrote an article for RSR talking about brands as storytellers and the importance of setting in conveying a sense of what a brand stands for. Sometimes this task can seem pretty straightforward. The example she used was Tommy Bahama with stores and restaurants that convey a relaxed, casual, beach lifestyle. Communicating that kind of brand story dictates some obvious natural-looking choices of design and materials in creating the environment.

Given what we do here at Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc., the RSR thought piece got us reflecting on the importance of delivering on the brand’s promise when designing merchandising.  Of course, we always work with brand, environment and user in mind. Different projects can offer vastly different paths to completion.

Sometimes in-store merchandising is called upon to fit into a clearly defined environment. The Tommy Bahama example above or a Nike flagship store might come to mind. The brand story is already clearly conveyed and an in-store merchandising piece fits into an easy groove.

There are other times when the brand is clearly defined, but the setting the in-store merchandiser or interactive piece goes into may vary. There is a real opportunity through the choices of design and materials to grab onto a brand story and convey it through merchandising that will stand out within its environment. If you think that sounds like a tall order, here are two very different examples that illustrate.

The Nintendo Wii U gaming system is an entertainment product that conveys the motion and light and high definition graphics of next generation technology. The award-winning Nintendo Wii U retail display simulates the immersive experience of gaming with a three-sided back-lit enclosure. The materials and lighting reinforce the high tech product story.

The user is surrounded on three sides with a branded Wii U blue enclosure that screens out the distractions of the retail environment and provides the perfect setting in which to view the 3-D monitor. The game console is displayed in a clear, jewel-like, injection molded case.  Everything about the display connotes that the user is about to have a cutting edge experience. It is an exciting space within a space that makes the user a part of the Wii U story.

Designed for a totally different kind of atmosphere than the Wii U retail display, the goCharge mobile charging stations for sports and entertainment venues convey warmth and a casual feel although they are intended to support high tech products. The brand in this case is not a product but a team or venue.

The first noticeable design element is that they are circular. The shape helps to promote the sense of camaraderie and social interaction that is a hallmark of sports and entertainment experiences.  With a table top and a foot rest, they’re designed for people to “belly up” to. While individual logos employed on each mobile charging station can brand them for specific venues, these pieces universally convey the communal experience of being a fan.

Good retail merchandising helps amplify the message of the brand. The story you want to tell and the main character in the story, the user, should clearly inform the look. When all the pieces fall into place the result can enhance the environment and can even be a real standout!
- See more at:

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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Six degrees of separation is the theory that any two individuals could be connected through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. It is popularly used to espouse the concept that we occupy a small world. We borrowed that concept for a session at a recent Digital Screenmedia Association symposium that I moderated called "Six Degrees of Interactivity."

The Digital Screenmedia Association is all about connection. The DSA was created to bring the suppliers of interactive technologies like kiosks, mobile, digital signage, RFID, and NFC together so we could communicate and collaborate about how individual pieces combine to create a compelling experience around a product. The experience of connecting with a product or environment can set consumers on a path that leads to purchase and initiates a relationship that can lead to loyalty.

Lindsay Wadelton of AT&T Mobility shared how her company’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago has transformed the brand experience. It is hard to miss the eye-popping digital signage in the Explore Zone that highlights AT&T's diverse device lineup and accessories. At the same time, it’s the hands-on aspects of the new store that communicate the company is about more than just phones; they convey a connected mobile lifestyle of convenience and personal services.

The new Connected Experience Zone features "lifestyle vignettes" that highlight categories such as music, home security and entertainment and offer customers a glimpse of how solutions can be used in their everyday lives. The Community Zone features "community tables" that encourage customers to shop and play with apps, accessories and devices. The environments are set up for self-exploration or side-by-side interaction with store associates.

We also heard from Jared Schiffman, Founder and CEO of Perch Interactive, a start-up whose interactive table-top displays combine the benefits of online shopping with hands-on product exploration. Perch has offered Nordstrom a successful and innovative experience for their customer engagement. This solution encourages shoppers to touch and pick up products on display. When they do so, they get rewarded with information, animations and media that connect them more closely to the brand.

George Burciaga, CEO of elevate DIGITAL has reinvented the “billboard” through creating a multi-sensory outdoor touchscreen. Burciaga showed displays with large 46- to 55-inch touchscreens that offer not only hyperlocal deals for retailers within the vicinity, but a wealth of content, such as city and transportation information, news and attractions. A social element that allows consumers to take video and photos for sharing via Facebook or email enhances advertising impressions generated by the display.

All three presentations were developed independently. What was confirming for me was that all three touched on the same theme. Interactivity drives engagement, and consumers who engage with a product are more likely to buy a product, connect with the brand or service and create a loyalty relationship based on the interaction.

All three of these companies are targeting consumers who are looking for something beyond their desktops. When millennial shoppers engage they may seek a retail environment and assisted selling, but they are perfectly comfortable with self-navigation and decision-making how, when and where they want it.

The demand for the kinds of self-directed, multi-sensory product experiences showcased at the DSA symposium is here to stay, and we as an industry are poised to entice the next generation of shoppers into retail and out-of-home environments with exciting product displays that help them connect personally and socially with what is before them.


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Tuesday, 06 December 2011
Has Retail Confidence Turned the Corner?

"American consumers have been taking a deep breath and making a decision that it’s OK to go shopping again," NRF Vice President Ellen Davis has declared. If the results of Black Friday weekend through Cyber Monday are any indication, consumers have exhaled and given themselves permission.

Spurred by heavy promotion and earlier openings, retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend rose 16.4%; shoppers spent 9.1% more per person than last year, and sales hit $52 billion compared to $45 billion last year, according to NRF. This is higher than the average increase for November and December over the past 10 years. If correct, this would indicate a continued retail recovery that began last year after holiday sales fell the previous two years. NRF has posted that the earlier store openings on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, while easy to condemn, were actually very well received by time-crunched consumers and retailers trying to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, online shopping continues to win over millions of Americans this holiday season, with a record number hitting websites on Cyber Monday.

Retailers and brands are courting the consumer with discounts and offers, but what happens next? They will get a short-term return on their investment, but those focused on long-term engagement will be best positioned for the future. Retailers and brands that use the promise of self-service technology and social media to empower customers will create relationships that keep shoppers coming back when the holiday hype has modulated. Quite simply, the challenge of retail technology deployment goes beyond return on investment to include return on engagement.

At Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW) recently, I was honored to chair an insightful discussion centered on the importance of Return on Engagement vs. Return on Investment. It was led by three of the most respected and recognized B2C industry voices: Danna Vetter, vice president of consumer strategies for ARAMARK; Jennifer Nye, marketing and brand management strategist for Kohler Company; and Laura Davis-Taylor, SVP, managing director at ShopWork BBDO.

Danna Vetter  Jennifer Nye  Laura Davis-Taylor
Vetter              Nye                 Davis-Taylor

Looking beyond the economic metric of ROI to the behavioral metric of ROE, Laura Davis-Taylor focused our discussion by asking the questions:
  • How has technology altered the traditional shopping path?
  • How are smart retailers responding?
  • What brands are serving as inspirational examples for others to follow?
How do Self-Service Technology and Social Media Inform What Happens Next?

I think we can all agree there is no longer just a traditional shopping path but many paths to purchase facilitated by mobile and social technology. Mobile helps consumers shop across all channels. Social media gives shoppers context and community, enlisting friends virtually in discovery and purchase decisions. These technologies work hand in hand to facilitate the kind of engagement that can turn trial and purchase into loyalty and evangelism.

Consumers have been a beacon for retailers, rapidly adopting mobile and social platforms to empower their shopping. Smart retailers are those who aren’t afraid to experiment to find out what works for their customers across retail environments. The retailers that will best use social shopping in their marketing are not just talking at, but are listening to, consumers and adapting what they’re delivering based on consumer response and interactions. This is engagement, defined by Wikipedia as: "the repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand."

How a customer experiences a retailer or brand is no longer just within her head or with those in the immediate vicinity. The consumer has become the reviewer, the broadcaster, and the brand advocate. Marketers can remain passive in this remodeled environment or they can facilitate behavior and try to harness its power. These could be the best of times or the worst of times for brands and retailers that don’t heed the consumer’s acceptance of the engagement shopping model. Brands like Starbucks, that understand the opportunity offered by the new Facebook model of streaming content and encourage social media sharing through their in-store merchandising and mobile applications, are leading the way on one end of the spectrum. Walmart is far ahead as it develops an application that facilitates social sharing through impromptu communities. Customers will ultimately be able to engage in-store via their phones with other shoppers, asking and answering questions, seeking and giving opinions on products and deals.

As discussed at CETW, the way we deliver customer interaction is evolving, and the only limit to what technology can do is our imagination and retail implementation. The focus should be on breaking down the bricks and mortar between customer and retailer and engaging in a two-way dialogue aided by emerging digital media and in-store self-service interactive solutions. We need to incorporate this new model into our planning and development. The challenge of a deployment should not be just return on investment, but return on engagement as well.
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