In his seminal autobiography, Walmart founder Sam Walton reiterated his philosophy of successful retailing as “giving consumers what they want.”
“As a customer, you want everything: a wide assortment of good quality merchandise; the lowest possible prices; guaranteed satisfaction with what you buy; friendly, knowledgeable service; convenient hours; free parking; a pleasant shopping experience. You love it when you visit a store that somehow exceeds your expectations, and you hate it when a store inconveniences you, or gives you a hard time, or just pretends you’re invisible.”
Today’s customer is more demanding than ever and she has unprecedented access to information about any product or brand. Third party reviews or Facebook Likes help influence decisions but the ability to provide convenience and value has been the determinate of successful retailers and product manufacturers.
Shoppers are not only channel agnostic but brand agnostic as well. Shopper loyalty is only as strong as their most recent experience. The increasing commoditization of products including the growth of private brands has put increasing importance on the quality of the emotional experience of your products and service as a key factor of brand success.
Whether you are a traditional bricks-and-mortar or online retailer or a combination of both, these are the measures by which your product and service offering is judged and reviewed by consumers. Although the avenues of service delivery have expanded, a seamless brand experience is the key to success in any channel.
Optimizing preferred channels for each customer
Your customers are a multifaceted opportunity. Each brand has associated promises that meet each consumer expectation at specific need situations. No one channel will be preferred for every customer, every time. Anticipation of ever changing customer need states and an objective evaluation of how you meet those needs within the minds of consumers is how to win.
Perhaps your customer is a small business owner. Sometimes she will seek value and will take the time to research product reviews and find best prices on a printer or stationery or office furniture. Then she will determine if home delivery is practical from a time and money point of view than physically visiting a store and may order online from Amazon or Walmart.
However, if she is putting together a new business presentation and needs to get an ink cartridge or USB urgently, or if she doesn’t want to pay for a delivery charge, then a physical store is the way to go.
Perhaps a mass merchant might seem too vast for a quick in and out visit and her expectation of selection there might be compromised, in which case she might feel a specialty retailer like Staples, Best Buy or Radio Shack would be better able to provide fast, friendly and knowledgeable assistance, a range of options, and immediate fulfillment. In this case, the brand promise of local service and selection would outweigh the expectation of lower prices and uncertainty around breadth of in-store assortment.
With more time and with a need for a higher-priced product, she might look online for product reviews, locate retailers with physical inventory, visit the store to view the product, and seek advice on the best choice for her needs. At that point, both the challenge and opportunity for sales conversion revolves as much around trusted personal service as in-stock availability or home delivery or ship-to-store pickup.
Channel agnostic consumers are brand agnostics too
Canadian Tire, Canada’s mass market specialist in recreation, home and automotive products, has a vast network of dealers and deep inventory in core categories. It continues to invest heavily in omni-channel marketing, helping customers find products online, through reviews, online pricing including promotion, in-store inventory, right down to shelf location that can be accessed by home computer or mobile device in store. This facilitates customer convenience and removes the most irritating associate interaction – “Where can I find it?” While for many Canadians it remains the corner store for seasonal products of need, increasingly Canadian Tire faces the competitive challenge of low-cost internet fulfillment for generic, hard goods products.
IKEA has been a pioneer in creating a unique, integrated brand experience built on 100 percent own-brand products and services. It incorporates physical and online catalogs, in-store showrooming integrated with do-it-yourself warehouse pickup, and options for van rentals, order pickup, or home delivery for those who want a more convenient product fulfillment experience. Product assembly and installation are additional services. What IKEA has done is eliminate irritants at every point of consideration. More importantly, there is only one IKEA and the unique nature of its offering has made its brand unassailable, so far.
Walmart Neighbourhood Market has introduced Walmart.com in-store order fulfillment providing a secure, no-cost pickup service or online purchases that removes barriers to purchase and facilitates fill-in food and consumable purchases. It also allows Walmart to offer “endless aisle” selection in small footprint locations that will be a game changer for retailers in the next five years.
All of these retailers have built outwards from their brand purpose and have maintained the core essence of the service they provide to customers. Whatever the channel, they engage shoppers with a focus on what they can do within the context of their offering to simplify rational buying behavior and enhance the emotional brand experience.
How retailers meet the needs of their customers in every channel will determine who survives.
How is your organization working to meet customer needs in different channels? Which strategies have been most and least effective? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe to receive the latest Shikatani Lacroix insights in your inbox.