Retailers need to build the trust of digital shoppers

It's no longer enough for retailers to compete for consumers' interest and business simply based upon product assortment, promotions or shopping experience.
Written by John Kennedy, Contributor

John Kennedy is IBM's vice president of Corporate Marketing.

Digital consumers are resetting the bar for retailers, yet again.

Today’s consumers are armed with more ways to shop and purchase: using their smart phones, search engines, connected through Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. As choices expand, it's no longer enough for retailers to compete for consumers' interest and business simply based upon product assortment, promotions or shopping experience.

Consumers are looking for even more. Personalization and trust are the new baselines. That’s the fundamental takeaway from the IBM Institute of Business Value survey, "Winning over the Empowered Consumer: Why Trust Matters," which surveyed 28,000 consumers around the world.

LINK TO STUDY: http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/thoughtleadership/ibv-empowered-consumer.html

Digitization is changing the level of personalization consumers believe are possible. Consequently, consumers want retailers to start recreating the one-on-one relationship that can exist with a neighborhood store. And consumers have every right to expect it, because today's technology makes it possible to reinvent the experience of shopping at local merchants who know your name, size and style preference.

But making this new relationship a reality requires earning new levels of trust from consumers and winning them over as true advocates. In return, consumers expect retailers to anticipate their needs and provide opportunities to engage in the shopping experience. They want retailers to go the extra mile with personalized service and assistance, know in advance the kinds of product that interest them, and be responsible about how their information is used.

When a retailer delivers on this promise, they'll earn the trust and advocacy of not only individual customers, but of a shopper community at large, since interactions are amplified through social networks. From there, it reverberates for good around the globe -- or for bad if a product is disappointing.

To win over consumers today, retailers have to be deft at knowing their customers, at anticipating their preferences and engaging them on their own terms. So how do they do this? By striking the right balance of learning more about their customers as individuals and respecting the boundaries they set for interacting with them.

Here are some suggestions:

Listen and learn -- Companies are doing a better job of listening to customers through consumer-generated content, but counting the number of tweets isn’t the answer. Retailers need to combine and analyze the insights and sentiment they gain from customers to gain insights from this new information. So, for instance, a retailer can understand right away whether people feel a new product is living up to the promise of its ad campaign, as well as the trust they have in the brand.

Anticipate and adapt -- Analyze the insights that consumers share with you across all channels, including the Web, mobile, catalog, stores and call centers. Identify the most important social channels and strongest voices that shape your consumer communities. Use these insights so you can understand what prompts your customers to buy, personalize their shopping experiences in relevant ways, and tailor new products and services to their tastes.

Become the trusted source -- Be visible and engage your customers in the communities where they talk about your brand. Determine how they prefer to communicate with retailers. Some 73% of consumers we spoke with actually said companies don’t communicate with them enough.

Data and social connections are helping to bring back the experience and personal touch of "Main Street," but it means creating insights from this new form of digital knowledge, the same way we'd do that in a face-to-face interaction.

The consumer mindset is transforming from a "market of me" to "communities of we," which are bound together by shared interests and tastes. It's not only a matter of how well a brand meets personal needs, but what people are sharing through their their connections and social networks.

That’s why consumers implicitly expect to be understood now. Then they’ll reward the retailers who anticipate their tastes and jump at the chance to share their delight.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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