5 Ways That the Path to Consumers is Becoming More Direct

People sitting in a circle while holding various phones and tablets.

For traditional retailers, the pathway to consumers is becoming increasingly more direct thanks to technology and systems innovation. Among the influencing factors, mobile technology and the Internet of Things are bringing real-time data into the industry for retailers to learn from traffic, shopping patterns (including time spent looking at particular items, time lapse from entering store to checkout, etc.), and inventory. Text marketing systems, ship-to-store, and other strategies that bring people into stores makes the relationship between retailers and shoppers even more direct and intimate.

What are some ways that retailers are bridging these gaps?

  1. Personalizing services. Rather than keeping store associates pinned behind a checkout counter, utilize mobile platforms for on-the-spot payment processing. Using personalized social media tags can also lead retailers to more direct connections with shoppers. For instance, Simply Measured reports that Target’s “multi-handle strategy allows users to choose which Target experience they want, preventing unfollows and avoiding the trap many brands fall into on Twitter—inundating follower with content that is irrelevant to their needs and just plain bugs them.” Technologies like artificial intelligence can aid retailers in personalizing services directly for consumers.
  2. Focusing on convenience. Services like click-and-collect are gaining popularity in the U.S. market, where at least one third of shoppers reported using these services for their 2016 holiday shopping, and 95% of shoppers are likely to use it this year, according to InfoScout. Leading retailers representing the largest percentage of click-and-collect users include Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s. InfoScout iterates, “Click-and-collect enables the end consumer to get the product they want, when they want, where they want, how they want, and at the price they want.” Similar models like self-scan and self-checkout provide greater convenience for shoppers and have paved the way for these latest tech trends.
  3. Streamlining supply chain. Shoppers who take the time to walk into a physical store only to find out the item(s) they need are out of stock are certain to be frustrated. Technology like RFID, robots, and IoT can be leveraged to manage inventory in real time. Including ordering and real-time stocking, these technologies can streamline the supply chain and ultimately help retailers improve customer service. Clearing the way for a direct path to consumers, using tech for supply chain tasks can also open opportunities for store associates to interact with shoppers.
  4. Utilizing social media marketing. Now more than ever, brands are reaching consumers more directly through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. For example, grocers like Kroger and Whole Foods Market use social media to build their brands, share recipes, promote local events, and highlight shoppers and store employees. The direct connection here can be through multiple channels, fostering customer interaction and conversational commerce.
  5. Improving customer service. So much can be said about the need for improved customer service. Most strategies work in tandem to ultimately improve customer service. A 2017 report on retail trends emphasizes, “Because store associates are the key touch point with customers in physical retail, technologies that enable staff to provide better service more efficiently will likely become the focal point of omnichannel strategies going forward.” Therefore, retailers should seek ways to free up associates so they can interact with customers on a more personal, direct level. Some strategies already discussed, like on-the-spot payment processing and tech-driven inventory systems can aid in this regard. Mobile technology can also play an integral role in improving customer service. The 2017 retail trend report also highlights retailers like Ashley Furniture HomeStore, Coach, Toys “R” Us, and J. Crew for their utilization of new solutions for store associates to improve interaction with shoppers.  
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