Are retailers relevant?

Discussion
Jun 03, 2015

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the rDialogue blog.

I’m a working mom. I shop at your store. I signed up for your credit card. I opted into your e-mails. You’ve labeled me as "loyal." But I’m not nearly as loyal as I could be.

The fact is, I continue to shop with you because I like your product. It’s familiar. I buy things when I need them, not because your e-mails drive me into the store — at least not usually. Every once in a while, your e-mail features a product that’s ideal for me. But why is it only once in a while? You know that I have a six-year old boy and a four-year old girl. I’ve certainly purchased clothes in those sizes. You know I live in the South. You know my exact address. Why is it that your e-mails only resonate with me occasionally?

As a marketer, I know why: You’re not being relevant enough.

Today, it’s no longer about customers being loyal to brands; it’s about brands being loyal to customers. If you really want to get your customers’ attention — consistently — you need to cut through the noise and truly recognize and relate to customers. Show me that you know me. Tell me what other moms in my area have been buying for their children. Show me how they’re pairing outfits together. Make recommendations. Feature local content. Share tips on the best parks and summer camps in the area. Be more engaging. Be more relevant.

Relevant retailers

Does it take more time to be relevant? Definitely.

Synching databases is complex. I understand the challenges and additional work required to version e-mails. I understand the desire to go with the tried-and-true and the belief that you need to send an e-mail every day to drive business. Conversely, I’ve also seen what can be achieved when you start being loyal to your customers by recognizing that they might prefer one, beautifully relevant e-mail each week, instead of being bombarded with generic messages every day.

Right now, I know I’m viewed as an active, loyal customer, but I’m not. I’m a shopper making rational decisions based on reviews, sales and recommendations from friends. But there’s so much more to win. If you start using the information you already have about me to better relate to me, my relationship with your brand will become more personal and emotional. I’m more likely to tell you more about myself. I’m more likely to trust you. I’m more likely to talk with my friends about you. I’m more likely to cut you some slack when you miss the mark. I’m more likely to come back.

What steps should stores take to deliver more relevant communications to loyal customers? What do you see as the major challenges?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This article scares me. As a customer, I already know that you know me. If you become too relevant I am now worried about how much you know about me and what is going to happen with all of the information in your database and all of the other companies I deal with."
"Maybe it’s just me, but it seems too bad that retail has devolved to the point where providing better service and personalization is done by "synching databases" and "versioning e-mails.""
"Where there’s a will there’s a way. The challenge is that the "will" needs to come from a c-level executive (or a group of them) with a budget and a clear mandate that business as usual is going to evolve to serve the customer."

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19 Comments on "Are retailers relevant?"


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Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

In retail the “devil is always in the details.”

There at least three major challenges in addressing the kind of relevancy that Karen Fields highlights in this post:

  1. Big data. You need a lot more data that ties to individual customer characteristics in order to be able to personalize.
  2. Systems. You need more than a pile of data to develop intelligence. Big data is nothing unless there are systems and processes to mine it.
  3. People. These kinds of strategies and systems need talented people to design, operate, manage and implement them.

The bottom-line reality is that many retailers simply do not have the talent or resources required in order to be able to implement the kind of personal relevancy many customers would like to see.

Max Goldberg
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

The author does a good job of answering the questions: make communication relevant, communicate only when you have something to say that is important to the consumer, dig deep to find out what a consumer needs. To do this retailers need to listen and mine big data. The first is easy to do, the second takes time and money. The nature of consumer communication is changing. Retailers need to adapt or become increasingly irrelevant.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

The comment that retailers should be more loyal to their customers/shoppers really resonated with me. Ms. Fields is spot on! It is understood that being relevant to your customers is not easy but the reality is that it is expected, and as such retailers that don’t roll-up their sleeves and activate against this reality will simply become marginalized. There are systems and solutions available that are very cost-effective that can begin to organize and present relevant and valued information to your existing customers with information and insights you already have. It’s simply a function of your willingness to do the right thing for your customer. Being digital allows this to happen. Continually doing traditional analog processes in a digital format simply won’t get the job done.

It’s definitely time for retailers to become loyal to their customers!

Mel Kleiman
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

This article scares me. As a customer, I already know that you know me. If you become too relevant I am now worried about how much you know about me and what is going to happen with all of the information in your database and all of the other companies I deal with. Yes be relevant but don’t be too relevant.

I bought a pregnancy test last week and prenatal vitamins this week. You may have figured out something that I am not ready to tell anyone else about yet. But here come the ads and the emails.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
6 years 11 months ago

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems too bad that retail has devolved to the point where providing better service and personalization is done by “synching databases” and “versioning e-mails.” Another option would be to hire stronger associates, train and pay them better, and use actual humans to remember the likes and preferences of key customers. Sure, data, analytics and personalized marketing campaigns play a role, but having engaged, friendly, knowledgeable store associates can bring customers back over and over again. It can and does happen, although less often than it should.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
6 years 11 months ago

Where there’s a will there’s a way. The challenge is that the “will” needs to come from a c-level executive (or a group of them) with a budget and a clear mandate that business as usual is going to evolve to serve the customer.

My friend John Greening is a well known Northwestern professor. He ran the Annheuser Busch account for over 20 years and he’s my “advertising Yoda.” For years, he’s preached that the world has moved from Find Me/Sell Me to Know Me/Help Me, but corporations have had a horrible time embracing it. He’s right. And Al is right as well — it can’t be just about data, but data being utilized appropriately by people who are cultivated to support a holistically great shopping experience.

It’s not easy, but isn’t that why we are now creating CXOs?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

This is an outstanding article. It so clearly demonstrates the problem retailers have with the transition from the brick-and-mortar customer to the electronically-connected customer.

In the store, the mindset is to provide a myriad of choices for the shopper, be it brands, styles, colors, flavors, etc. If the customer sees something from what we give them and buys it, we win.

But, in today’s connected word, with hundreds of communications per day, that approach becomes an annoyance and a quick click to delete, if not totally unsubscribe.

The retailer has to change the retail mindset. Instead of throwing an uncountable number of alternatives at the customer and hoping they will buy one, the retailer should focus on specifically what they know the customer will stop to consider, then hope they will go from there and buy not just what was presented, but more. It is topsy-turvy thinking in the retail world, but it is necessary.

Lee Peterson
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Start by being honest and then communicate in human language vs. marketing speak. I think it’s important to ask yourself, “do i hear that kind of language every day?” If not, move on. Talk to people like you talk to people!

“More Savings, More Doing” vs. “That Was Easy”

Which is marketing speak and which is human?? Pretty easy (pun intended) to tell.

Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
6 years 11 months ago

Such interesting and varied comments! It’s wonderful to hear comments appreciating the idea of brands and merchants being loyal to customers versus (first) expecting the other way around.

Relevance, even slightly more relevance, isn’t an insurmountable challenge. It starts with leadership — sorely missing from a majority of (legacy) retailers — that is committed to being customer-centric. When you consider your customers, and how to appreciate them, it’s much easier to be more relevant.

Sadly, most retailers think in terms of the daunting “big data” rather than identifying the two or three data points that really matter to the customer.

It’s only creepy when it’s self-serving for the retailer and they don’t follow our simple definition of loyalty marketing: pay attention to customers and act accordingly.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

I agree so fervently with the point made here about reversing the loyalty arrow that I was gulping the koolaid until I got to the part about “rational decisions.” With due respect to Ms. Fields, who is quite evidently a marketing pro, I think many shopper decisions are emotional too. This is a much harder motivation to tap using data analytics.

Machine-based relevancy, consistently applied, may get you part way there. The rest of the journey depends on human factors. I’m not likely to develop an emotional loyalty to a retailer who better edits my selection of offers. To me that’s not a differentiator, it’s the minimum to earn my attention.

So go ahead and enable your customer outreach with data-crunching tools and A-B testing. I’m sure we’d all like to receive better, more relevant emails. But don’t forget to ask yourselves, “Why am using emails for this?” If your answer makes you uncomfortable, you’re probably on the right track.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Looking at the numbers retailers are putting up and the means to achieve profitability we see little or no variance in the methods used today compared to five to eight years ago. The world economic crises is much to do with this, but for this much time there is a complacency in the way we approach the market that is as much or more a cause to curtail growth. Refusing to discover what twenty-first century consumers will want and stimulating this desire into a buy is an entrenched habit held in place by the fear of loss. Retailers have seen a lot go away this past decade as in businesses, revenue and careers. The clamor to stay alive will continue as long as we choose to stay turned away from the market and the many new opportunities that are being neglected. There is nothing more boring and routine as holding down the expenditures and cutting the costs of doing business. These efforts must not be forsaken, but rather scheduled and set in place with anticipation… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

For some time I have viewed the lack of relevant communications between brands and consumers as more a matter of willpower and business prioritization than capability. I believe that CMOs and their staffs understand the benefits of creating more relevant comms and the technology exists to do a much better job than we often witness in the market.

The prioritization issue is raised when brands need to tend to basics of the business, i.e. the supply chain, competition, staffing issues, etc. and the desire to create more personalized comms becomes muted while other practical realities of business are addressed.

It will take a courageous CEO and the board to make a committment in this area and the flowing down of that vision through the organization will create the change advocated for in this article.

Finally, there will be “relevant dialogue” everywhere, and brands will benefit. Phil will be delighted as well!

Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Read Chris Petersen’s post: On the money! Lots of Data, real retail foundations that can be leveraged and great people that are dedicated.

Simple. Create a better retail foundation and build on it with the right people and the data needed to make the best decisions. And do that all faster than ever.

TRedd…Simple+

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Bottom line, retailers need to give their customers what they want and most of them want relevant communication. Not necessarily promotions and ads. Like the author mentions, “tell me what other moms are buying….” But don’t get too creepy about it.

While cross channel/media data mining can be tricky, there are key data elements that will serve as each retailers key performers. It is up to the retailer to know theirs. It really does not have to be that hard but yes, will require the right resources.

The goal here is to serve the customer and make their shopping experience easier. It’s not about you anymore. It’s all about the customer.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Doug Garnett
Guest
Doug Garnett
6 years 11 months ago

Interesting discussion. The experience is accurately discussed. But I don’t reach the same conclusion.

Loyalty has never been and can never be absolute. The loyalty described by the writer is about the best we can get.

Would relevance increase that loyalty? None that I’ve seen. The problem is that relevance into my life would have to detect subtleties about me that go far deeper than merging databases. Databases track only the superficial.

And if a retailer delivered that relevance, I expect it would feel like a violation of my privacy.

Unfortunately, loyalty has become thought to be a marketing mandatory—but really has become a false idol. I highly recommend reading Byron Sharp’s work on loyalty and his book “How Brands Grow” for a more accurate sense of the role of loyalty and brands.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

It seems like we’ve had this discussion before—indeed 8 or 9 “befores”—but no harm, I guess, in having it again. Seldom, if ever, is a company going to have enough data on you to truly anticipate your every demand, and few of us would want them to have it; so they’re going to paint with a broad brush. If you bought “Stairway Sonata in B-flat by Glitz” you’re going to get offers about stairways or words starting with “b” or just classical music in general. Is it useful? Maybe, maybe not…but asking them to determine you bought it because it’s your child’s teacher’s favorite piece, and they should really be sending you offers for things 45-year old biology instructors like is hoping for too much.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
6 years 11 months ago

Give the customer options, and they’ll take it. Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize on this principle, called prospecting theory. Maybe the problem is with email. So how can we give the shopper a better browsing experience?

User experiences that enable swipe right/swipe left interactions give the customer a chance to go through many options—same with infinite scroll. With every swipe the customer is making a complex choice to avoid risk—email fails at this.

The expression “If your only tool is a hammer, all you see are nails” applied to this situation might be “If your only tool is an algorithm, you see every problem as a lack of big data.” I don’t know, look: rather than suggest a big data jihad, how about looking at the interaction—maybe we need to think about enhancing the experience—that to be sure, starts in the inbox.

Of course you’ll need to curate/tag the items to put your suggestions in the relevant ball park, but you don’t need to guess the exact section, row and seat in that ball park.

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Be more relevant.

Invert the funnel. Listen to your consumers. He or she want to receive information from you, but don’t want to explore through their in-box and countless of emails to find relevant messages.

The major challenge is lack of customization for the consumer target and category. One-size does not fit all in this situation.

Alex Standiford
Guest
Alex Standiford
6 years 11 months ago

I believe you hit the nail on the head. Relevance is key here. Just because it doesn’t cost you more to send more emails doesn’t mean you should send more emails. Master your list. Offer content that people want to see, 100% of the time. If you send irrelevant content, you will have already lost my attention when the relevant content comes around.

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Braintrust
"This article scares me. As a customer, I already know that you know me. If you become too relevant I am now worried about how much you know about me and what is going to happen with all of the information in your database and all of the other companies I deal with."
"Maybe it’s just me, but it seems too bad that retail has devolved to the point where providing better service and personalization is done by "synching databases" and "versioning e-mails.""
"Where there’s a will there’s a way. The challenge is that the "will" needs to come from a c-level executive (or a group of them) with a budget and a clear mandate that business as usual is going to evolve to serve the customer."

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