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Why You Need to Empower Your Customers in the Mobile Age

Posted by Dean Asher on 2/25/15 11:00 PM
Topics: college store customer service, college retail, eCommerce

Students are no longer a captive audience in the college bookstore. With the power of smartphones, your competition can be in your students' pockets while they walk up and down your aisles. This might seem scary, but Maya Mikhailov has explained how it can actually be a good thing for your store at Empowering your well-researched students with better service (including price options and convenience) can be all it takes to keep customers in your store.

We've included an excerpt, but you can read the whole post here.

(Photo by Laura D'Alessandro.)

Now we are at the Mobile Age, where the scale has pivoted decisively toward the customer. All the data available online is suddenly portable; available in the physical retail environment or to access at the shopper’s leisure. There is no need to rely on a (perhaps biased) sales associate when making a product decision. Family and virtual friends can provide advice with the tap of a button. This Age of the Empowered Consumer is fundamentally changing retail and can be beneficial for retailers as well. With an excess of recent bankruptcies and store closings, this position may seem contradictory to current climate. But in the long run, the transformation will benefit consumers and retailers alike.

Stronger retailers and brands that are catering to the needs and desires of this new shopper are emerging. Just as the Internet discovered Taylor Swift and turned her into a global sensation, the always-connected consumer is discovering new retailers and propelling them into shopper consciousness. Nasty Gal, Warby Parker and Bonobos are just a few of the emerging retail brands that started digitally but were pushed into local channels by brand strength. Previously, the lifecycle of retail expansion to the $100M+ sales level involved diligently opening one store after another in local markets while hoping the concept caught on enough to go national or international. With digital devices and social media, these new players are getting unprecedented levels of national exposure and opportunity for growth.

Service, which had begun to be dismissed as a relic of a bygone Age of Retail, is once again becoming an important component of sales and customer retention. Armed with mobile devices from the floor to the checkout counter, the new generation of sales associates has a wealth of data at their fingertips, including product information, customer preferences and shopping history. The shopper is increasingly walking into retail stores well-researched, and the sales associate can augment that research with additional data points and service that makes the overall experience more efficient and more pleasant. Additionally, retailers can use mobile devices and advanced CRM systems to better cater to their most loyal customers. Gone are the days when associates were left with a book of business. Today’s retailers can better anticipate the needs and wants of loyal shoppers, regardless of location.

The desire for service goes hand-in-hand with the new on-demand economy of customers who are addicted to convenience. Mobile devices and the “uber-ification of everything” have further reinforced the notion that convenience (think local) has an economic value that exceeds a dollar off coupon. Whereas the Internet trained consumers to be extreme deal-seekers, the mobile revolution is empowering them to be extreme convenience-seekers. Features such as “in-store pickup” are driving them back into local stores for the instant gratification that delivery services have yet to match at scale. Additionally, knowing local merchandise availability is not only saving the customer time and effort, but helping expose demand to advanced business intelligence systems, making the local channel far more efficient than in years past. No need to offer extremely discounted merchandise that doesn’t sell in one location, when it can be offered online to a willing audience in another.

Unfortunately, there will be those retailers who are left behind in this emerging tilt towards customer experience. In particular, those brands whose very business model depends on the inequality of the customer and merchant relationship. Ignoring consumer empowerment neglects changes that retailers themselves have to undergo to be stronger players down the road, missing out on opportunities to connect with a new generation of shoppers who value convenience, service and personalization. Those retailers cannot and should not risk their future by living in the past. The current retail environment is dominated by the consumer. It is time to celebrate a balanced relationship between the customer and retailer, as this is no longer the obscure future but indeed the present.

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