The retail industry has been in the midst of a paradigm change. The industry is not known for making these shifts quickly and without clear impact on sales increases. However the phenomena of showrooming has created erosion in current sales revenue to the degree that there is now an imperative to stave off the loss by increasing the knowledge of in-store sales associates.
Recent analyst reports show that retailers are looking to consumerization trends to engage the predominantly 18-26 year old associates on the front line of retail sales. Engaging these associates in a way that mirrors how they communicate in their personal lives allows them to engage the well informed shopper with equal or better information about products and services. The central theme that retailers are looking for is timeliness and richness of information. This includes traditional capabilities such as customer relationship; or loyalty inquiries that can show the value of making an in-store purchase decision. The paradigm shift starts to manifest in the other information that is made available and the means by which the associate is allowed to "discover" it. This is the area that is most interesting to Microsoft as we strive to assist retailers to deliver their brand promise through effective deployment of technology solutions. I recently participated in a panel interview with Speak magazine's Karen McCandless (“Trusted Advisors,” Speak Magazine, 2013 Winter Edition) that illustrates how Microsoft and our partners are addressing this need.
Rich Information Rules:
There are many strategies to combat showrooming within a retail brand. Some of them try to compete by leveling the playing field with online retailer offerings. This has a tendency to further erode profits and is not proven to be a sustainable effort for retailers with operating models that rely on a higher cost of delivery than their online competitors. A recent article published by Business Insider, written by Henry Helgeson of Merchant Warehouse, outlines an effective solution that involves delivering specific strategies for categories that are more susceptible to showrooming. Henry is the CEO of Merchant Warehouse, a retail POS merchant services provider, processing over 150 million consumer payment/promotion/loyalty transactions per year. In the article, Helgeson closes with a truism "Give customers exactly what they’re looking for right when they want it, and you’ll be able to stop showrooming in its tracks.” With the recent delivery of enterprise-ready tablet solutions from Microsoft, this strategy can now be employed by better enabling retail associates to show the value of products and services offered.
I sat down with Henry Helgeson while he was in Bentonville, Arkansas recently, to get an updated perspective on how tablets could be used to address the products that are most vulnerable to showrooming. In our discussion it was clear that all retailers, are in need of a way to deliver value to shoppers in real time. According to Helgeson, "Competing on price can be an effective tactic on a promotional basis to prove relevance with shoppers. However, retailers need to leverage existing multi-channel assets to be able to differentiate the experience for shoppers and ensuring that all questions are answered in an authoritative manner.” Some examples of these assets that can be easily delivered to mobile devices, from the cloud, include:
• Color/size choices
• Product pairing examples
• The vast collection of CPG brand multimedia assets
• Product information and comparison
• DIY how-to videos
Mobile Technology Enablers:
In order to reduce the friction between highly controlled retail systems and the unstructured nature of sales floor interactions, retail solutions must allow access to information from any number of entry points such as all manner of customer inquiries and product lookups.
Enterprise grade devices have long been proven as an effective means of integrating into the retail ecosystem. Unlike consumer grade solutions that require special accommodations to allow for consumption of secure assets, enterprise devices are able to be "attached" to an environment in a compliant manner. Making use of all available assets to deliver a differentiated experience is how Microsoft mobile technologies are helping retailers to combat showrooming.
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