Retailers can be pushy characters. They push their products and their advertising on customers. They push out information about themselves. They push strategies and ways of working onto staff. For a long time retail’s mind-set has been me, me, me.
But now a massive new shift in how retailers think and operate is emerging. Companies are moving away from pushing all the time in favour of pulling people towards them. That may sound like a subtle change, but like switching from telling someone to do something to asking them, it has huge implications.
There’s a lot to suggest that the successful retailers of the future will be the ones embracing exponential technologies. These are the often disruptive, hugely transformative technologies changing so much around us, including mobile, cloud computing, sensors, big data and artificial intelligence. All of these technologies are improving in performance every year, and coming down in cost at the same time. This makes them hugely valuable to organisations for keeping up with customer expectations.
It’s also prompted a wider change in thinking. Some retailers are realising that to fulfil those expectations they cannot work in isolation. In order to innovate more quickly organisations need to pull in ideas from the outside. This could be the assistance of experts that the retailer would otherwise not have access to. It can also be the involvement of their customers themselves via crowdsourcing and audience feedback. It could even be the input of staff outside of the usual director level decision makers.
This concept of open innovation is becoming more widespread. Lego’s Ideas community, where fans can design and vote on new set ideas, is firmly established. From John Lewis to TopShop, retailers are exploring working with start-ups to develop new products and stay ahead of the curve. Even luxury brands like Burberry have embraced the possibilities that come from co-creation.
Good marketing needs to pull people in, rather than just pushing the retailer’s message onto anyone and everyone. As Scott Cook, Co-founder of Intuit, says: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has expressed a similar sentiment as well.
A brand or retailer doesn’t mean one thing to all people. This is where traditional advertising often falls down. By trying to appeal to who the retailer thinks their customer is, in the broadest way possible, it doesn’t strike a chord with anyone on a personal level. If a brand’s messaging consistently says nothing to you as an individual then it becomes easy to filter out. It becomes background noise.
People are looking for retailers to solve their problems or answer their needs. They’re not looking to be sold to indiscriminately. Retailers need to invite customers in to their world. They should demonstrate the value that they can offer them.
Nike does this via its Nike+ Run Club and Performance Stylist services that make it part of its customer lives beyond just selling them shoes. Sephora’s BeautyTalk community lets fans share advice, while Lululemon’s Hub Seventeen is a space just for people to hang out and take part in classes – with no selling at all.
The shift from push to pull also extends to staffing. Smart retailers are making staff want to participate and want to do a good job, rather than pushing unnecessary bureaucracy on them. Nordstrom empowers its employees to ‘use good judgement in all situations’, giving them pride and a sense of purpose in their jobs. Trust is a great way to pull staff in and keep them long-term.
Other companies are pulling staff in with gamification. At a simple level this can mean tracking performance and awarding prizes for the best performing team or employee. At the other end of the scale it can mean using actual mini games to train staff. This type of tactic is far more motivating and interesting for staff, than your basic employee training programme.
Some retailers are even targeting their brand’s most actively engaged fans when recruiting new staff. These are people that the brand has already pulled in through their day-to-day activity. As such, they’re more engaged and more knowledgeable from the very start.
Retailers need to pull customers in
Today, customers are not only able to shop in a host of different ways, but also based on what’s important to them – whether that’s price, convenience, or product. They’re not stuck with the closest retailer to their home or the one that has the most advertising, but isn’t a good fit for them. In this new shopping world, retailers need to bring customers and partners close to them more than ever, not push them away.