Friday 28 February 2014

Hell For Customers

A lot of focus is being placed on the difficulties of retailers as they struggle to cope with new consumerism and the challenges of the digital age but what about our poor customers?

Imagine being thrust into a new environment where the comfortable traditions of the past have been replaced by new technology - where you have to learn a whole new set of skills and make decisions with new, unfamiliar sources of information. That is exactly what our customers are being asked to do. First they were asked to get email addresses so that information could be sent to them. Then they were told that Facebook was the communication tool of the future, that shopping could be done online, even with mobile phones, and that mobile phone apps were essential tools for shopping.

Shopping used to mean heading down to the local shops whether it be a strip shopping centre or perhaps a regional centre or market for more choice. You made your decision from the available retailers and you were able to touch and feel before you made your purchase. Now shoppers are expected to go online, check out options, consider interstate or overseas purchases and make decisions from printed information or photos. Then there is a whole range of information exchanges, verifications and follow-ups.

If you think about it, this has been a very steep learning curve for customers and while many have embraced the process, there are many who have struggled and many who are still learning. The choices can be overwhelming. Is it any wonder that we have noticed a simple common denominator like price become more dominant in customer decision making. The rest of it is all a bit too hard.

It is commonly said that the digital age has brought many benefits but it has also brought a lot of challenges and confusion for customers. Put simply, it has made decision making more difficult for many. More than ever, traders need to understand those difficulties, know what their competition is offering (locally and globally) and know how to engage with customers. 

Current retail media suggests that the situation is stabilising and that bricks’n’mortar shopping has weathered the storm although it now operates within an omni-channel environment which incorporates many digital elements. Let’s hope our customers are becoming more comfortable with the process. Happy customers make happy retailers.