Competing for consumer mind share has never required more ingenuity — digital convenience is now the price of admission. Retailers must find new ideas to compete as they pursue elusive consumers.
Consider the growth of online retail giants. Purchase of commodities and other basics has shifted. Shoppers can get whatever they need — clothes, books, paper towels and much more — delivered with just a few online clicks. Retailers that deployed loss leader pricing strategies to drive store traffic now must creatively deploy unique attractions. Anything that can interest or draw consumers into a store is sought after with near fascination. Further, consumers spend more time facing mobile devices. Every brand continually needs new and better products to catch and keep consumers’ attention.
Retailers and shoppers seek a connection — even if that’s just a quick stop. But the extent to which that connection creates a link between the two may mean the difference between profit and loss.
I attended the largest global industry event for retail, the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, in January. One theme prevailed: Retail is pivoting on technology and the consumer is the center of this digital universe.
People are price-comparing and shopping on their phones. Retail is increasingly irrelevant without Wi-Fi. Implementing or upgrading Wi-Fi is a widespread 2017 initiative. Beacons, and other Bluetooth Low Energy monitoring, have been around for years. This low-cost technology can provide valuable observations. It’s an entry to things such as consumer counts and merchandising effectiveness.
But while Beacons provide intuitions, they don’t engage the consumer.
If a consumer is in a store for less than 90 seconds to pick up a cola, they expect seamless connectivity. And they won’t download a “loyalty app” over their own data plans. If free Wi-Fi isn’t available, don’t expect participation. Without engagement, a retailer can’t recognize, reward or create incentive for repeat business. This can be more powerful than observing and best-guessing.
Stocking merchandise only sold on markdown is a strategy of the past. A retailer needs to know what will sell. It must stock the right amount — without under-over. And it needs to move inventory as quickly as possible.
Enterprise-grade Wi-Fi stood out at the NRF show. Cloud-based solutions can be managed off-premise. That makes them easier to manage than low-cost beacons. They can also deliver resilience, scalability and data capture other early solutions can’t. Managing solutions remotely and working across the enterprise removes the need to pay for IT support at the store level. And these solutions observe behavior patterns and produce business intelligence.
Few solutions exist that meet these requirements. The AT&T business Wi-Fi meets retailers’ requirements and focuses on the best experience — be it on desktop, mobile, or over the phone. Retailers can access all enterprise elements over a single portal (ordering, management and configuration, changes, billing and reporting, support and ticketing and more) with minimal on-site equipment.
Retailers are competing to create “retailtainment” — an experience that drives visits to their stores, like digital signage and dynamic merchandising. This “high-end” engagement trend started in luxury stores attracting affluent consumers, and in quick-serve restaurants, where rapid display changes throughout the day are common.
Signage is dynamic. Retailers can change promotions by time, language, weather or pricing. It can tell a story like material sourcing, production history or something creative about a product. It can also draw people to specific areas of the store, like deserted center aisles. Nearly any condition can become central to the merchandising; early results suggest this boosts conversion rates. It’s easier to adopt signage across every niche of retail. For example, showing promotions in alternating languages can reach previously elusive demographics.
Wi-Fi solutions are also becoming increasingly customizable. Book Cellar, a neighborhood bookstore and café in Chicago, uses an AT&T Wi-Fi solution to enhance the customer experience. The solution goes beyond enabling customers to research titles, keep track of books they want to read in the future and work in the café on a highly secure connection. The owner can add a personal touch. She customizes the photo and message that customers see when they select her Wi-Fi network. If there’s a book reading or local event being hosted at her store, she can share the news with her customer.
Digital signage also lets retailers customize marketing if synced with a personal device and a store’s Wi-Fi. Once a consumer engages (“allows” a retailer to include the consumer’s data), signage can “speak” to or target those groups of customers within that location.
Imagine it. You’re walking near a display that suddenly starts to promote the designer, color, flavor or tools you prefer. A retailer who knows what their shoppers prefer and who’s nearby so they can visually engage and promote high-margin stock keeping units — that’s a retailer’s dream come true. Dynamic signage with creative content plus consumer authenticated engagement (Wi-Fi and loyalty apps) creates unobtrusive yet more relevant engagement.
NRF showcased several examples. And retailers swarmed to incorporate these tools into their strategy. As retailers are adopting Wi-Fi and consent-based personalization to attract customers and increase sales, it’s essential to ask: How are you using these tools in your growth strategy?
Michael Colaneri is vice president of retail, restaurant and consumer package goods at AT&T Inc.