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
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.