Organised by the Retailers Association of India the Delhi Retail Summit this year (10 May 2013) focussed on multi-fold growth for retailers utilising multiple channels to the consumer, with panel discussions and presentations by industry leaders who shared their experiences in exploiting the opportunities and dealing with the strategic and operational challenges of their varied businesses. Some snippets from the first panel discussion, comprising of the following panelists:
1. Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive, Third Eyesight (Session Moderator)
2. Atul Ahuja, Vice President – Retail, Apollo Pharmacy
3. Lalit Agarwal, CMD, V-Mart Retail Ltd.
4. Atul Chand, Chief Executive, ITC Lifestyle
5. Rahul Chadha, Executive Director & CEO, Religare Wellness Ltd.
Retailwire raised a pertinent question recently about social media and marketing. In marketing as in life, it is all about timing. The question was whether retailers and brands should be concerned that they are moving to Facebook at a time when large numbers of teenagers are abandoning it?
Having said that, I’d like also to take a different look at those stats. Demographics and physically addressable market aside, the question is what proportion of your potential customers are receptive to the brand in that environment.
At the moment, Facebook is not a medium amenable to classic interruption marketing. (Although it may become that in the future, just like Youtube, with Google ads popping up across the bottom of the video.)
Neither is the Facebook user’s primary purpose brand loyalty or looking at marketing messages. The average Facebook user has enough to keep him/her busy or distracted, without getting on to a brand’s page. That video of a mother with laughing quadruplets is far more likely to get viewed and shared than any of your marketing messages.
If your brand isn’t interesting, engaging, and open, you can’t have the conversations that a platform like Facebook facilitates. If there’s no on-going conversation, your chief Facebook officer is wasting the company’s time, money and internet bandwidth. Logout. Now.
The entire discussion on Retailwire is here: “Marketers Move to Facebook As Teens Move Away” (needs a free sign-up).
Advertising Age recently carried an article titled “The Death of Customer Segmentation”, by Michael Fassnacht.
He questions the traditional marketing hypothesis that the better we segment consumers, the better we know what is relevant and the better we can market to them.
Fassnacht argument is that:
This last point is of particular importance, since electronic media – especially websites that customize themselves based on analysis of the users behaviour and history – are becoming more prevalent communication platforms. In fact, for the last few years “mass customization” and “a consumer segment of one” have been fashionable phrases thrown about in marketing circles.
Fassnacht quotes Amazon, Apple and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to support his well-structured argument.
However, it may be a challenge for traditional retailers and brands to apply the learnings from these brands in their physical stores.
Going further and on a lighter note – or perhaps not 🙂 – if we are to believe the philosophy of the Vedas, the Universe has a head start on “self-segmentation” and “customization of consumer experience” technology. According to it, the world and our experience of it is “Maya,” an illusion product of our mind, and we are free to create and mold it, and experience it as long as we hold the illusion.
If that’s the case, our modern techies and marketers have a long time to go before they climb that technology curve.
The original article is available here: The Death of Consumer Segmentation?
Online retailer Zappos is planning to introduce customizable web pages, and that has attracted all kinds of commentary – warm & welcoming as well as dismissive.
The big question is “what is the customization and how it is being offered”.
My rule is simple: web-page customization has to drive simplification of the shopping experience.
Changing skins, page layout, and other cosmetic stuff may keep novelty-seekers happy – for some time, that is. But the average user will find that it is just another thing too many on the already over-full to-do list.
Simplification of the user-friendly sort has to be heuristics and analytics-driven, and behind-the-scenes. It has to be driven by not just stated preferences (through options / settings, through drag-and-drop etc.), but unstated – by studying past behaviour in both purchase and browsing. Imagine if you had every customer stating their preference for a physical store layout. In fact does everyone even know what they really want?
The flip side is that this kind of monitoring may sound creepy and 1984-ish to some people. But probably those would also be the people who are blissfully unaware of the fact that in today’s world the only way to remain totally untracked is to not use any form of electronic / communication device at all, or to build each such device (hardware AND software) yourself from scratch. If you use social networking sites, and have “friend suggestions” on your page, you are being tracked!
There is also the balance to be kept in mind between the boundaries the customer defines and promotions that the retailer wants to drive. The consumer may want to control completely what reaches her; the retailer may take the view that there are incredible deals which the consumer just wouldn’t know about if she built impregnable walls around herself.
For those who’re interested in customization, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) document from 2002 about their 2001 website redesign (“The Glass Wall”) is a great resource to refer to. It doesn’t seem to be available anymore on the BBC website itself, but copies are available elsewhere on the web.
The internet seems to be as much alien territory for bricks and mortar retailers as catalogues are. Bricks and mortar retailers seem to struggle with the medium – most of them try to graduate from their corporate web brochures to transaction sites, and end up doing injustice to both. Many of them are not able to figure out how to create the traffic to their online store, how to create the excitement and liveliness to convert their traffic into transactions, and how to take the transactions to their final closure in terms of payment and delivery in a delightful way.
Of course, there are some notable exceptions – but possibly they are notable because they are exceptions rather than the norm. Many bricks and mortar retailers are also tied down by systems and processes that work very well for their physical store and distribution network, but fail miserably during the online experience.
However, what’s surprising is that even the basics of e-business seem to be escaping bricks and mortar retailers. Starting with search results.
Retailwire quotes a recent study by a search service provider which found that “online retailers claimed 38 percent of the search listings in 2006, 30 percent in 2007 and 35 percent in 2008. The next biggest category was shopping comparison sites at 25 percent in 2006, 26 percent in 2007, and 19 percent in 2008. Brick-and-mortar retailers lagged at 8 percent in 2006, and 12 percent in both 2007 and 2008.”
However, the study does show a steadily improving share of search listings on the part of the bricks and mortar retailers the last three years. It would be interesting to see whether the pressures of the market will push them to get more aggressive and strategic with their online presence to show a marked improvement in share in 2009.
Staying with the fundamentals: customer experience is another such, and it’s amazing to see what “attention to basics” can do for business. Amazon.com has bucked the recessionary trends displayed by other retailers in the US, with an 18% sales growth in the last quarter of 2009 and a 9% growth in profits.
I’ve shopped on Amazon.com since the year they launched. Every experience has been completely satisfactory, some delightful. On some occasions Amazon has picked my pocket – made me spend on stuff that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, by their very helpful suggestions of what others had bought while they were browsing my selections. On other occasions they’ve saved me money, time and heartburn by providing comprehensive customer reviews at a click.
In my experience, Amazon’s sustainable advantage is their customer-orientation – the technology, the supply chain, the design – everything is geared to making the buying experience as good as possible. A Retail 101 principle that many other retailers – online and offline – seem to ignore every day.
At the end of the day, e-commerce is another channel to reach out to customers – some existing customers who may need to be connected with during additional shopping opportunity windows, others who are completely new to your wares and may never walk into your physical stores. But treating it as an additional graft that will work with your existing operating DNA is a mistake – the online channel is distinctive and needs fresh thinking on the business model and consumer interaction from beginning to end. At the same time we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath-water, and forget the basics of understanding and addressing the needs of consumers.