In almost every corner of the world, if you observe a person or a group of people waiting — for a bus, in line, for a friend, or simply having lunch or coffee — the odds are good that the majority of them will spend the time on their smart device. There are estimated to be more mobile accounts on Earth than human beings. Most of these consumers were not forced to sign on to a wireless account any more than they were forced to join Facebook or throw away their 35mm film camera. They just go with what feels right, and what fits in well with their lives.
When retailers seek to assess what customers want from a store, the answer should be apparent. There is no requirement to pitch incongruous solutions to them, but rather they must figure out how to make new solutions fit with the lifestyle choices these people have already made.
In the real world, this means taking stock of just how many shoppers come into a store, and learning specifics. Do they enjoy the experience? Is the service personalized? The layout convenient? Do they want to be approached by a sales associate, or do they prefer to be left alone? Do they shop alone, or with a partner? Is this partner equally engaged, or does he or she sit on the sidelines, bored, waiting for the transaction to complete?
Online, this means collecting data on keywords, browsing activity, mobile conversion rates and cart abandonments. Do the pages present items for sale in a pleasing layout? Is the site tracking all search, browse, and click activity? Is this information being actively processed and turned around for proactive use by marketers, buyers, and sales associates?
Assessment of customer needs relies on observation, data collection, testing, and research. These require time and resources, but they are not overly complicated. They address a common theme: that of individualized convenience.
How Do You Know What You (and They) Don’t Know?
Assessment also requires insight. For example, a single-click payment feature on a Web site might seem to be most appropriate for younger, tech-savvy consumers. But, this type of convenient payment option may also be a huge enabler for elderly people who cannot get out of the house easily, and are becoming increasingly comfortable with straightforward digital commerce. It is too easy to build a knowledge base on a cursory appraisal of what seems to be doing well at the moment. What is important in the evaluation game is that retailers stop and apply good old-fashioned analysis.
Two excellent tools for this are the Five-Why Method and the Johari Window.
The Five-Why Method is a technique that identifies the cause of a problem by asking “why” five times. For example, why don’t shoppers make more impulse purchases in our store? The answer, “Because they don’t know this option exists.” Why don’t they know this option exists? The answer, “Because no sales associate informs them of this.” Why don’t they tell customers of the impulse purchase displays? And so on.
This seemingly childish approach digs down through layers of assumption and complacency to uncover highly practical reasons for success or failure in selling products.
The Johari Window is a four-square grid that seeks to highlight situations involving the relationship between vendor and customer. Specifically, it forces management to ask four key questions:
- What do we know that the customer also knows?
- What do we know that the customer does not know?
- What does the customer know that we do not know?
- What is unknown both to the customers and to us?
These types of exercises are critical tools in assessing what customers are looking for, and are of particular importance to review before implementing major technological solutions or radical changes. But, there is one other simple method: Be Your Own Customer.
Becoming a customer allows for the direct experience of service, selection, ease of purchase, helpfulness of staff, and the return process, both in your store and at the competition. The same applies online. Only by making a purchase and a return from your computer as well as from a neutral device can you scrutinize the merits and the deficiencies of the process.
Assessment: Do Customers Need Physical Stores At All?
When assessing what consumers need, one core principle still stands. Most of what is happening in retail continues to take place in physical stores.
Even digital retail king Amazon is seeking to build a tangible presence because they recognize people like to congregate and browse. The data shows that bricks-and-mortar plays a vital part in transactions – answering a large-scale demand.
Retail technology is about making the in-store experience even more satisfying. Through the use of digital and in-person techniques, shoppers reveal what they want. It is up to retailers to observe and respond creatively.
Learn how brands are foraying into using mobile innovations in order to provide high-touch customer service; read Mobile’s New Innovations are a Gateway to High-Touch Customer Service.