In their eBook, The Customer-Retail Intimacy Equation, authors Paula Levy, Bryan Amaral and Saira Zia do an excellent job of tracing the arc of the retail experience. They note the early days of retail were marked by ‘mom-and-pop’ stores with curated experiences defined by shop owners who knew their customers at a personal level.
While there is nostalgia in yearning for those by-gone days of simple interactions; the Rockwellian image it paints in our minds obscures another truth. Scarcity and limited choice put the retailer in a position to exercise considerable control over the customer.
The authors aptly note that equation has turned on it’s head. The digital world has brought abundance and choice in the products and services customers can buy. Equally, it’s brought choice in when, where and how they buy it; with non-linear buyer’s journeys proliferating everywhere. The retailer is not in control; the customer is firmly in charge.
It is in this radically changed world that the best retailers will not only survive but thrive. While the customer may have the upper hand; many of the core needs served by those mom-and-pop stores are still around today. Research, and indeed the customers’ own voices, tell us the store is here to stay. It will be a store that provides a curated experience allowing customers and products to interact in a way that the digital world cannot replicate.
At the core of that store experience stands the store associate; in a very real way the physical and human manifestation of the retail brand, coming face to face with the customer. It’s not a coincidence that two of the four Pillars of Clienteling cited by the authors center on these people; Sales Associate Selling Tools and Personalized Selling.
Equally, as the authors note, the correct technology in the hands of these sales associates will reign in the proliferation of products and the abundance of customer insights that exist today. While the data points have expanded exponentially, technology can allow the associate to match what they know about a customer to the most appropriate product and service at the moment. It’s the opportunity to bring back the intimacy, while replacing the scarcity with infinite choice. Now that sounds like truly great retail.