Retail was never just about selling product. Retailers’ value proposition has always included experience and aspiration. The problem of the past 20 years is that good product—and frequently good brands—got lost in the daily fracas of promotional activity and designing into a price point and gross margin.
Retail today is centered around the consumer.
The customer is the channel and data is the solution for a better understanding of today’s connected shopper. Navigating through the burgeoning data flow is the task of retailers and brands as they seek the relevant information to support consumer engagement. With this consumer-first mentality, the hundreds of retail/marketing/branding/technology practitioners/experts/consultants presenting at the recent ShopTalk retail conference in Las Vegas didn’t focus on product. Rather personalization, and the customer took center stage. The concern was how to sell and deliver, not on what to sell, though of course the algorithms reveal what may have meaning and resonate with each shopper.
Some companies are all in on this new strategy, while others are using data more selectively to support their businesses rather than drive them. Not surprisingly, newer brands and retailers tend to fall into the former category, but where are established brands on the continuum?
Participating in a session on new brand-retailer relationships, Carina Ertl, global VP of marketing for Swarovski, said, “At Swarovski, it starts with product first. We think about anything you can imagine about crystal and what crystal can do, like change color. Then the story telling. As a premium brand, the storytelling around the collections and the product is really important.”
Data, for Swarovski, is most instrumental when it comes to the company’s marketing and sales efforts. And a big source of this consumer intel originates from its loyalty program. “The data we generate online is amazing in understanding our end-consumer, profiling them, re-targeting them, and understanding what kind of product they are looking for” Ertl said. The online Swarovski shopper is slightly younger, and engages for a longer period of time online than the in-store shopper.
Social media is also a good source of consumer insights. Ertl said it was the “mindblowing” following on Facebook that encouraged the conservative thinkers at Swarovski to embrace social. The insights are germane in the new product development process as well as better targeting existing products to shoppers.
Referencing all of the retail tech touted at the show, Ertl explained that the company, in line with other heritage European luxury brands, is slow to adopt too many bells and whistles. “For our in-store experience, we started with touch screens and beacons, but not all technology has been deemed helpful with in-store sales and worthy of rolling out across our 3,000 global stores,” she said. “Most helpful has been QR codes with more product information and inspirational content to bedazzle our end-consumer. We collaborate with our retail partners around loyalty and have a VIP club and community Swarovski, which supports robust data sharing.”
The session closed with Ertl commenting, “Data brings together the organization. It’s about sharing insights and data and helping each other to succeed.”
A seamless consumer journey
In another Shoptalk session, a keynote on the future of e-commerce, Marc Rosen EVP and president of global e-commerce at Levi’s, spoke about maintaining relevancy for the next generation and how they will shop for the iconic 143-year old brand.
“Gone are the days of the linear shopping experience where a customer walks into a store to browse around, potentially discover an item they care to purchase and check-out at the register,” he said. “By the time they make their way into an actual brick-and-mortar location, they’ve likely already done some research online and they may be coming in to buy or simply try on an item in person and plan to purchase their favorites from their laptops or smartphones at a more convenient date.”
This radically changed consumer journey with new and demanding customer expectations is retail’s new normal. And it calls for a new approach—one that Levi’s has centered around data. This strategy first recognizes that the consumer is the channel and the point of sale; Rosen said, so their journey has to be seamless regardless of where, or if, a purchase takes place. Retailers must make the shopper’s life easier.
Like many speakers at ShopTalk, Rosen spoke about a focus on customers not products. It’s by paying attention to your customers that you know what products they like, what features they are looking for and where your brand can make a difference, he said.
The brand’s site is the best source of data for a shopper, according to Rosen. It’s a research tool and a place to tell the brand story, as well as a place to transact a sale. It must be both; though stores still account for the vast majority of sales, shoppers want the ease of discovery and purchase.
“We need to give consumers information and the inspiration that they’re looking for, and we want to make it easy for them to buy our products in whatever way that makes sense to them, whether that’s online for delivery, online for store pickup or in the store itself,” Rosen said.
This data-driven mindset extends to the company’s merchandising tactics. Armed with insights on how consumers were interacting with the brand and shopping, Levi’s reduced its SKU count in women’s jeans, which resulted in a double-digit lift in category sales.
And for a denim brand, nothing converts better than how your jeans fit. At Levi’s they are also harnessing technology to provide better fit and style experiences online with artificial intelligence, chat and personalization tools—all of which stems from robust data.
It’s successes like these that have convinced Rosen of the importance of breaking down organization silos.
“Stop thinking about a business strategy with a digital strategy,” he said. “It should be integrated; digitize your business strategy.”
Marie Driscoll, CFA is an industry analyst focusing on apparel brands, retailers and luxury goods and providing consulting services to academia, industry, investors and non-profits through her firm, Driscoll Advisors.
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