dinsdag 11 december 2012

A new age of shopping

The holidays are the most crucial time of the year for retailers across the country, and this year, we're seeing some major changes in the shopping experience. With the rise of mobile and social, and the need to improve the customer experience, we're entering a new age of holiday shopping. Bonno van der Putten, global head of retail at PE firm Monarch Equity, told us about the shifts we're seeing in the retail landscape. In 2012, Black Friday crept all the way into Thursday night, and we saw promotions from retailers like Target even weeks before the big kickoff day. Retailers are offering an increased amount of layaway too, allowing it for more items than they have in the past. Also, price matching policies have become a pre-emptive shot that normally comes from the other direction, said van der Putten. Looking forward, van der Putten states there are a number of trends that are going to change the holiday shopping experience forever, and we're already seeing their influence in the latest initiatives from big retailers. Retailers are now offering products over all touchpoints In corporate-speak, it's called "omnichannel" said van der Putten — the seamless integration of all the different ways that retailers interact with customers. That means investing big money in systems that help bring together physical stores, websites, social media, mobile and more. One thing van der Putten is seeing is much greater integration with online channels. "You can buy online, return it in the store, go online and check product available, or go shop for it at the store," said van der Putten. "We are seeing retailers focusing on being able to offer all of that." Toys 'R' Us and many others have started to expand in-store pickup for items that you buy online, and they hired in droves for the holidays in order to make that happen. "You talk to some people, as online sales continue to grow, and they say that stores are becoming a liability," said van der Putten. But that's not how they should be thinking about it, and that attitude is changing. "Retailers are shifting and really making their store an asset," said van der Putten. "Stores are the big thing that a physical retailer has that a pure-play online retailer does not have, and they have to leverage it." Store associates are getting more technology to help them The retail store is fundamentally changing because of the rapidly improving e-commerce channel. Physical stores now need to give customers some sort of added value. Speed is one, but another important factor is customer service. So, retailers are helping their associates out by giving them technology to work with. "Retailers are arming the associates in the store with technology to better engage customers in stores," said van der Putten. "iPads and iPhones are being used to check product availability and to match items. Apps are being developed to help with the fitting aspect of clothing and to help smooth out the checkout process." Van der Putten cited the Apple Store as the best example of a retailer using technology to the fullest to help employees provide the best experience possible for the customer. "The Apple Store is the best checkout experience I've ever gone through," he said. "If you could take that model to a department store — those are some of the things that JCPenney, for example, is going toward." Best Buy has also shown that it wants to make the customer experience be more like an Apple Store. The rise of smartphones The customer's use of the smartphone is becoming more diverse. Shoppers are using their phones to do everything from researching products to barcode scanning. Target, for instance, has been pushing QR codes this season as a way to help shoppers navigate to recommended items. Macy's has added a GPS tracking system to its app for its massive Herald Square flagship store in Manhattan. After all, it is the biggest department store in the world, and it's a great way to help customers make their way around. "Retailers are looking to recognize you through your smartphone when you enter the store," said van der Putten. "Then, they push coupons or promotional items to you while you're inside the store in order to get you to purchase more." Then, there's mobile payment, which is set to explode. "Mobile payment is in its infancy," said van der Putten, who expects the practice to grow rapidly in the short-term. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. mobile users have used their smartphones to make a purchase.

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