Retailing in the Digital Age

Technology changes fast, and this was certainly apparent at the 2016 National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Convention & Expo, taking place Jan. 17–20 at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Last year, EMV — an acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, the three companies that originally created the security standard — was the talk of the show.

Although security still held a prominent place at the 2016 NRF Show, its spotlight was shared by plenty of discussion regarding digital communication and how to build customer relationships in this new environment.

This topic was the subject of several educational sessions, including one entitled “Creating Lasting Relationships in a Digital Age.” According to session speaker Jim Barnes, CEO of Enspire Commerce, the digital age will not go away any time soon. The main question is how retailers can convert customers as times change.

The first mistake retailers make is having separate brick-and-mortar and digital strategies, Barnes told a standing-room-only crowd.

Retailers must think about creating intimacy in a digital environment, he added. The way to do this is via “clienteling,” the art of helping a customer buy vs. selling to them.

To create more in-store engagement, Barnes recommends retailers do the following three things:

  1. Develop a customer service roadmap. Start with an end goal in mind and know how customers buy products in the retailer’s store.
  2. Change mindset. Salespeople should become personal shoppers for their customers. Be a brand ambassador.
  3. Evaluate enabling technologies. “Is new technology the answer?” asked Barnes. “Yes and no.

Technology can also be an inhibitor.”

Sales associates should have a “personal ‘black book,’” concluded Barnes. “You need to have one-on-one relationships. Contact [customers] via text for example and tell them they bought a certain item and maybe they’ll like this [other] item.”

Of course, you can’t talk about digital communication without talking about smartphones. “Capitalizing on Key Consumer Moments at Retail,” featuring session speakers Russell Young, senior vice president, marketing and creative services for Stratacache, and Josh Johnson, senior manager, digital innovation for AT&T Inc., noted smartphones are ubiquitous and retailers need to connect to mobile customers both in-store and outside the store.

“The challenge is creating tech-enabled moments and turning these moments into a story,” said Young. “We need to remind customers the value they have.”

Retailers should take a four-step process when trying to attract digitally active customers:

  • Create an experience for customers;
  • Test and establish goals;
  • Learn and refine a program based on takeaways; and
  • Scale and deploy in rapid fashion for the most impact.
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