Evolving consumer expectations call for strategic new tech

Today's tech-savvy retail consumers want to interact with brands and look for personalized shopping experience, so companies need to be risk-adverse to adopt new technologies quickly and strategically.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The retail consumer today has evolved from the past and now looks for greater empowerment and interaction. Companies need to move swiftly with a strong digital strategy, and convince their management some risks should be taken together with new technologies in order to reap the returns on investment (ROI).

Expectations from retail consumers are changing, Jim Crawford, executive director of global retail executive council and Principal of Taberna Retail, noted at The Asian Fashion Summit held here Tuesday. He said 21st century shoppers are technology-savvy and look for "unique shopping experience"--that means having more information at their fingertips to make shopping decisions, looking for a personalized shopping experience, and interacting with their favorite brands.

Crawford noted that the retail industry had evolved from the brick-and-mortar store to e-commerce or online shopping, to brands that leverage the use of social media, mobile devices and new technologies such as augmented reality.
With the rise of the Internet and mobile devices, shoppers are no longer influenced by traditional marketing techniques such as e-mail marketing and TV advertisements, he pointed out. The Internet and social media have changed shopping experiences from one-way communication to multi-directional interaction, where people can "say anything they want about a brand". He added that the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has enabled shoppers to engage anywhere.

He cited that consumers today are more likely to trust online reviews than descriptions given by product manfacturers, and most consumers are not willing to simply believe whatever is said to them.

As such, brands must start understanding how the shopper has changed from the past before leveraging new technologies, Crawford surmised.

Not quantity but strategy, quality
As consumers want to interact with their favorite brands, companies must keep in mind it is not about the number of platforms and new technologies they use to reach consumers but the way it is done, according to Daniel Saynt, chief marketing consultant for the Rebecca Minkoff label, as well as founder and CEO of fashion blog, Socialyte.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of the interview, he said many technology platforms and new technologies are launched in Silicon Valley everyday. He suggested brands spend 90 percent of their time focusing their outreach efforts on the top 5 platforms--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest--and 10 percent of their time discovering new platforms.

Saynt added that brands must have a social strategy and behave as "storytellers", likening brands as protagonists of the stories and social media as the pen and paper. He said Rebecca Minkoff, for example, builds its brand around the image of a "downtown romantic story" and invites selected influencers and bloggers most in line with this "story" to the company's events. Hence, when these bloggers and influencers talk about the company's products, consumers connect their "romantic" image with Rebecca Minkoff products.

However, to be in the technology space, companies need to be able to move fast to get a competitive advantage, he said. Retail brand, Burberry, for instance, increased its Facebook user base from 50,000 to 100,000 by entering the social media space fast and had also forged partnerships with the social networking site, Saynt pointed out.

"If [these brands] are too slow, they may incur higher marketing costs from not being the first in the space," he said. "They may also risk being 'un-followed' by their customers because there is too much noise in the online space today."

Take risks with new technologies
In addition, management teams typically are unsure if their company will succeed when deploying new technologies,, Saynt pointed out. He said digital strategies are still very new and many companies are hesitant to move away from traditional marketing.

This is the wrong mentality to adopt, he noted. Spending on the digital side can be tracked from the number of likes, how many people visit the company's page and what people are saying about the brand, while traditional spend "simply" raises awareness but not sales, he explained.

Crawford agreed with Saynt's view, adding that digital marketing is pertinent as consumers increasingly want to interact with their brands and management should start "making the jump".

"The management may be flustered about how to adopt new technologies because they do not understand. But, ultimately, they should be empowered to take risks or the brand cannot move further," he said.

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