When it comes to retail, Gareth Jude has seen it all. Jude has spent most of his working life in retail: in sales, marketing and general management roles, as a CEO, university lecturer, consultant, author and, for the past six years, a retail industry executive with Telstra.
The impact of digital technology as a disruptor of retailing has been unprecedented, and trends are promising an even bigger shake-up.
While Jude appreciates that successful retailing has traditionally involved a combination of art and science, the focus of 21st century retailing is more on the science – facilitated by technology.
“The fundamentals of retail haven’t changed that much, but what has changed is the advent of the internet and the smartphone – these technologies have changed the game,” Jude says.
“They empower the customer. The balance of power between consumers and retailers has changed. Customers are more knowledgeable about the products they want to buy, they have more choice about where they buy from and they can shop 24/7.”
The flipside is that retailers have the tools to know their customers much better and to personalise their engagement with them.
All in good spacetime
In what is perhaps the ultimate expression of retailing as science, Jude likens marketing in the digital era to Albert Einstein’s first theory of relativity in 1905, when he concluded that space and time are not separate but woven in to one continuum he called “spacetime”.
“Twenty-first century marketers know that there is always an optimal time and place, or spacetime, to deliver a marketing message to a customer,” he says.
While innovations and strategies may vary, what successful 21st century retailers have in common is the embrace of the “technological trinity” – the smartphone, the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics. And the high priest who watches over this all-powerful trinity is the “spacetime marketer”.
Spacetime marketers understand their customers and communicate with them when the time is right, Jude explains. Three technologies are key to achieving this:
- Smartphones are the basic building block of spacetime marketing. They are the channel through which campaigns can be delivered but they can be equally important in collecting data from opted-in customers on their buying behaviour and physical movement.
- The IoT collects useful data from digital cameras, touch screens, wi-fi networks, utility meters, home thermostats and location-based beacons, for example, and can enhance the data collected from smartphones.
- Data analytics helps make sense of data collected and assists in developing campaigns to be delivered to smartphones.
“Retail marketers have always struggled to justify mass marketing spend by product or channel,” Jude says.
“Fortunately for the spacetime marketer, this is the most measurable marketing activity imaginable. Everything can be measured and used to justify investment decisions.”
No time like right now
John Batistich, former director of marketing and digital at Scentre Group (Westfield Shopping Centres), has held brand management roles at PepsiCo, Kimberly-Clark and Lion Nathan. In a 25-year career he has never seen such seismic shifts in how consumers engage with brands and retailers.
While he believes Australian banks and telcos are proving innovative and forward-looking in their adoption of digital technologies, Batistich fears that retailers have been slow off the mark. He understands the huge challenge that digital technology and the IoT represent for traditional retailers but warns that change is occurring so quickly that waiting-and-seeing is not an option.
“It’s both the most exciting and the most fearful time in retail history. Retailers need to understand that the power is now with the consumer like never before,” he says.
“The customer is leading the [change to the retail] business model of the future. If retailers don’t respond with the services that customers expect, they are willing to move and there will be a range of retail options available to them.”
Batistich warns that retailers who believe they are impervious to the impact of digital are in for a rude shock. Like it or not they are part of the same ecosystem.
“The online experience is now defining the in-store standard,” he says. “Consumers expect the same level of service and options whether they are shopping online or in-store. The level of service in a store matters even more in the digital world because customers have higher expectations,” he says.
From clicks to bricks
If some “bricks and mortar” retailers have been slow to acknowledge the impact of online retailers, it’s also true that online retailers have had some second thoughts.
Whether it is Amazon’s global marketplace, or home-grown online retailers such as department store Kogan and furniture retailer Milan Direct, the penny has dropped that when consumers say they want choice, they mean it. These avowedly online retailers are proving more open to providing their customers with the option to shop in-store.
Ryan Murtagh, CEO of digital commerce platform Neto agrees that the relationship between bricks and mortar and online businesses is “changing pretty rapidly”.
“Now we see people who started out as pure-play online retailers going offline. We’re going to see those two channels merge into one and this concept of omnichannel will become a household concept. We already know that omnichannel customers are far more sticky than customers that deal with you in one channel.”
Murtagh says about 60 per cent of retailers in Australia don’t have the systems to deliver the omnichannel experience.
“A lot of retailers are still stuck in legacy systems that have no connectivity to the outside world and it’s really going to slow down their growth if they don’t do something about it now,” he warns.
“If you as a retailer can’t deliver your content across channels effectively, it’s only going to damage your brand down the track.”
- Retailers have no choice but to see technologies like big data, smartphones and the Internet of Things as an opportunity.
- Consumers are demanding the best elements of online shopping offline, and an ‘in-store experience’ online.
- Consumers are better informed and wield more power over their own purchasing decisions than ever before.
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