“How about waking up in the morning and asking Google Home or Amazon Alexa, or your mobile phone if you’re on the go, ‘Hey Google, hey Amazon, what are my deals for the day?’” asked Glenn Fodor, SVP and head of Information and Analytics Solutions at First Data.
A new generation of retailers are making use of these new forms of customer data, and applying advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to anticipate the types of products their customers will want to buy. Successful retailers, for example, can provide discounts for consumers to come into the store at a certain time of day. Learning how to utilize customer data to think ahead of the customer is the next generation of eCommerce.
Fodor, whose firm builds next-generation commerce solutions for millions of businesses and financial institutions (FIs) worldwide, has closely watched how modern retailers have embraced technology and customer data to establish unique bonds with their customers. He’s also seen how other, more traditional merchants have, in some cases, failed to adopt to the new environment.
The advent of eCommerce taking control of the nation’s retail economy has created a fault line; it has provided opportunities for many, but others have been left behind. The new digital economy is being fueled by a generation of consumers who are using technology to educate themselves about the options that lie ahead and make decisions regarding their own money. These consumers will reward merchants that provide them with options — which encourage the consumers to develop a relationship with that merchant — in a way that respects the long-term value of maintaining customers.
A New Generation
A report by PYMNTS and First Data shows how that trendline is creating separation between those brands that proactively embrace the new eCommerce-driven retail environment and those that stubbornly stick to the old ways of doing business. For some businesses, the train is leaving the station, and the opportunities to jump onboard at an intermediate point are dwindling by the day.
Fodor spoke with Karen Webster about what the data is trying to tell us regarding the new retail landscape, and what decisions must be made if retailers, developers, investors and others don’t want to be left behind holding an expired charge card and a worn-out pair of jeans. When asked about the data that shows some warning signs in traditional retail, Fodor said there is nothing fundamentally wrong in the broad contours of the retail industry. It’s that certain retailers are not paying close enough attention to consumer preferences.
“Consumers don’t always want things; they want experiences,” said Fodor. “They want services, dining options, things that are not always captured in core retail.”
Fodor pointed to stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, which engage customers by bringing them into the store to buy their particular home improvement tools, then offer them classes to teach them how to make those improvements and render their renovation work more effective. Another store experience he mentioned was Cabela’s, which offers customers exclusive outdoor adventures like hunting, fishing and hiking.
“It’s not a service, necessarily now, that they’ve ever charged for,” Fodor said about Cabela’s. “It’s the wraparound — it’s kind of like Disneyland, if you will, for the outdoor enthusiast.
Other successful stores provide customers with unique fine-dining options within the store experience, so the guests don’t have to run over to the mall food court or convenience stand. He said the modern eCommerce customer is so well-informed about the retail options available that — between reviewing the store website, independent reviews, word of mouth and social media — they have around five different options about where and how to make their next purchase.
While he acknowledged that luxury retailers may be performing better on the whole than traditional retail, Fodor noted that there isn’t anything that luxury stores are doing to capture the attention of new or existing customers that is vastly different than the moves we’re seeing across broader retail. In speaking about retailers as a whole, they can largely be separated into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” meaning the companies that are embracing new technologies and incorporating them into their marketing, merchandising and transactions (the “haves”) are the ones that will come out ahead.
“Most everybody would know this is why [a certain] store is lagging,” he said. “Their website isn’t integrated with their physical experience, it’s not ubiquitous across all devices, and that overused term ‘omnichannel’ … they don’t have that.”
Many retailers have successfully used technology to enhance their customers’ loyalty programs, which can be used to promote in-store or online purchases in the future, and also provide a roadmap for products that are in strong demand.
Webster asked about the success of luxury brands like Chanel, Valentino or Dolce and Fodor responded that, while retailers at this level generally don’t utilize loyalty programs to maintain customer relationships, they make sure to provide a high level of customized services to their consumers. In the relationship based on the idea that a customer is going to spend a certain amount of money on their products, retailers want to make sure they can upsell or cross-sell to that customer based on the return on investment (ROI) required to keep that person, rather than taking a risk on a new customer who has not demonstrated the same amount of loyalty and willingness to spend.
Successful retailers must also take advantage of customer relationship management [CRM] tools to make sure they have enough information about their customers’ preferences and habits — so they can more efficiently target those customers in the future.
Overall, Fodor remains bullish on the fundamental strength of the current retail environment. However, he warned that retailers that fail to adopt the new environment could be left behind, as the new generation of consumers migrate toward businesses that understand their needs and adjust accordingly.
Fodor said the rising tide will not be for all ships. Some retailers “are going to more than take advantage of this opportunity” and will gain market share, and will see customer engagement on their eCommerce sites and maintain loyal relationships with these customers.
“There are some that won’t keep up. They’re thinking in the past and that is already showing up in their performance,” he said. “And they have some tough decisions to make in the coming quarters.”
Here are a few stats from the latest PYMNTS and First Data – Commerce Connected Playbook. To download the full report please click here.