As Brendan Witcher, VP/Principal Analyst at Forrester, took the stage to close the 2019 Path to Purchase Expo before an audience that had spent the better part of two days hearing about the advancements in AI, shopper data, and immersive AR experiences, I thought a closing keynote talking about the transformation of the industry seemed a likely spot to hear a mantra of “invest in technology and 1-to-1 analytics.” The presentation was much more grounded and focused on the realities of the consumer evolution through the consumer lens. I agree with Witcher’s perspective – as we think about our shoppers, we need to spend more time thinking through our own consumer perspective and what experiences we expect.
With that in mind, I’d ask you to put their consumer hat on, as you think through your product and retailer interactions, how it has changed, and what you have come to expect going forward.
1. Shoppers are fluid and expect engagment across multiple channels
There was a lot of reflection on the retail apocalypse of the past decade. It wasn’t new to me; I had been in consulting roles with various companies trying to evolve their customer experience and move to more customer centric practices at a time when their share was being diminished on a quarterly basis. One of the most disruptive and prevalent themes I saw during this span was the aggressive M&A strategy being adopted by these companies and the mass consolidation in the brick & mortar space. Buy, get bought, or die – or so it seemed.
What was interesting about this at Path to Purchase this year, when this had been the reality and felt like “old news”? Well, apparently, it never really happened. What might feel like a jab to Sears, is a fair perspective – especially if we think about this through the lens of our own consumer experience.
Feeding off an economic downturn and the growth of ecommerce, the retail apocalypse was a signaled shift in consumer behavior. Shoppers did not abandon retailers, and continued growth in the sector supports that. Shoppers have evolved and interact in more complex ways. From fulfilling needs based to impulse buys, they expect something from their purchase experience and that expectation drives their channel focus and purchase decision. More importantly, these expectations change quickly, increasing the importance of grabbing their attention with differentiation and more immersive experiences.
2. Gamification and partnerships will help differentiate
Several presenters, including Witcher, talked about the importance of brand partnerships to achieve both of these things – though Witcher’s example was a bit more entertaining than others, suggesting a partnership between Scope mouthwash and the dating app Tinder that could trigger an offer to customers to quickly achieve that “feel the tingle longer” experience for their date. The fluidity of shoppers and the need to grab their attention in new and distinguished ways was prevalent at the conference. There was even a dedicated session on blurring the lines between shopping and gaming to several vendors incorporating the concept of gamification in the experience they offer customers.
The importance of adding these elements is to enhance the customer experience, as customers are ready to engage across multiple devices in driving to a single purchase. It also drives the evolution of shopper behavior into your brand or retailer loyalty strategy. This is important because as of 2016 US consumers belonged to more than 13 loyalty programs on average but were active in less than half of them . Consumers are more actively managing and stacking their loyalty benefits to get the most bang for their buck. Relevancy and engagement matter in these programs, so knowing your customer, your brand relevance, and what engagement methods are driving better purchase behavior is essential.
3. Customer lifetime value is elusive, but remains the ultimate goal
Driving increased customer loyalty and engagement has been a focal area for me through much of my career. The goal: improve customer engagement across the customer lifecycle, improve their value, and prioritize your most expensive offerings for your most important customers or segments. The importance of 1-to-1 offerings will continue to grow, brand and retail strategies will continue to evolve around the insights gleaned from loyalty data, and customers will continue to expect a more custom-tailored immersion in their experience. The use of AI in everything from planning to creative will become more the norm.
We’re not there yet. With more and more programs and 3rd parties grabbing share of mind from customers, loyalty engagement is varied, and consumers are becoming experts at maximizing their benefit across many programs.
Even still, it is essential to attract and retain customer attention to create long term brand or retail success.
Taking these learnings into account, the importance of Shopper Marketing is most definitely on the rise. Engaging shoppers in new and differentiated ways is essential. We need to leverage partnerships and cohesive consumer strategies to get the most out of interactions with them.
Have your own take on what stood out to you at the Path to Purchase Expo? Please email me at AdamGolz@ForesightROI.com to continue the conversation.
 2016 Bond Brand Loyalty Report