The hyper-connected social universe is making life tough for businesses trying to stay on top of changing customer habits.
The conventional “purchase funnel” now resembles a plumbing monstrosity, with myriad avenues open to the consumer to source goods and services. The challenge for brands is being able to deliver a consistent customer experience across those channels.
“New and emerging channels, such as mobile, are under-utilised,” says Phil Harpur, Senior Research Manager, Frost & Sullivan. “Multi-channel strategy using both offline and online channels is key.”
Creating a cross-channel strategy that keeps up with the rate of change is a daunting task, but it’s one that businesses must undertake to stay relevant to consumers.
Consumers as advocates
“There’s a belief that if you want to get the most up-to-date, latest-deal information, you have to go online,” says Robert Wong, CEO of CC Media and chairman of the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association Retail Council. “People on trains, in the car, at cafes and in-store can now check prices and deals.
“Today’s consumers don’t first seek out a retailer online and then see what they have to sell. They are motivated by their buying needs and what they see when they are surfing. [So] retailers must make sure they are being seen.”
A growing number of businesses also recognise the power of customers as brand advocates and now offer consumer-generated product reviews on their sites – a must for acquiring the customer of the future.
This particularly applies to big-ticket items, says Colin McLeod, executive director of the Australian Centre for Retail Studies. “If a customer likes the look of a TV, for example, and one of the features is 100 megahertz, he or she may not have a clue what that means. But a quick search online will let them know [from their peers] whether that’s important or not,” he says.
New buyer groups
McLeod notes the rapid growth of two key types of buyers. The fastest growing segment is the Green Buyer – the ethical consumer who demands to know the “green” credentials of a product, whether buying from a physical store or online. The second fastest segment is the online shopper. Businesses that take into account these two purchasing types are more likely to thrive in the future retail environment.
“Brands are going to have to be authentic,” says McLeod. “Whatever claims you make, remember that not only do consumers have access to objective information but also to subjective information from online peers.”
Social media marketing
McLeod says two years ago there were six billion videos downloaded in the US. Last year, there were 33 billion downloads and half were professionally produced. There’s a fast-growing demand for rich media content, and savvy retail brands can use social media channels to spread positive, branded entertainment.
“Even our TV sets are now connecting to the web,” says Wong. “Companies need to work hard on finding how to re-engage with consumers via these new channels.”
The rush to social media, however, should never come at the expense of retail fundamentals, adds McLeod. “Our view is that for most businesses, there is a greater opportunity in improving customer service than in improving technology.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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