Chain of Thought

It’s Cyber Monday 24/7

This Thanksgiving was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Aside from Aunt Marge’s traditional Jello-encased Ham & Sauerkraut Surprise, there were even more reasons to escape the dinner table. Deal hunting was the main course of action for many households. What that Jello monstrosity lacked in palatability it made up for in functionality by speeding dinner past the taste buds and down the gullet, leaving plenty of time to run out the door and get in line at WalMart with thousands of other cattle positioning themselves for the stampede toward the two $19.99 plasma screen TVs they heard about via Facebook.

If they’re smart, retailers will be picking through the lessons to be learned while they pick up the debris left in their parking lots by the cattle. As I mentioned in a recent blog, many retailers have yet to bridge a communication gap between their sales & marketing and their logistics people. This puts brick & mortar retailers at a competitive disadvantage with online retailers like Amazon and adds volatility to pricing strategies.

And they can forget about that quaint old notion of customer loyalty. Not only are customers not loyal to retailers, they’re actually using the competition to wage price wars at a moment’s notice. This makes bridging those information gaps between sales and logistics an immediate infrastructure priority for protectors of store brands.

I spoke about this with Gil Roth, head of innovation and portfolio strategy for Retailix, provider of software and services for such retail giants as Target and Tesco. He told me social media have made customer loyalty a more complex phenomenon. In fact, Facebook and Google are now the recipients of customer loyalty. And if retailers aren’t careful, consumers stand to be better equipped information-wise than the stores they patronize.

“In every country we see very rapid adoption of smart phones and retailers trying to catch up,” Roth said. “In the past customers went to a store and were impressed with the technologies the retailer had with all the kiosks and touch screens. Today the technology consumers hold in their phones is much stronger than what the retailer has. In the past you would ask an associate if they had a product in inventory and they would take out this Motorola device, scan the item and see if it’s in the back room. Today consumers can visit websites that will tell them in which store they can find a specific product in inventory.”

Customers are being trained to expect ever shorter order cycles and are leveraging ecommerce to fulfill their desires on a whim. Roth says Tesco often guarantees same-day or next-day delivery and many smaller retailers are catching on—looking at the consumer’s smart phone as an extension of their own systems or as an order entry tool that will allow their customers to shop from the home delivery warehouse or from a store or, in some hybrid scenario, on the way to the store.  

This new competitive environment makes guys like Gil Roth very happy.

“We think the retailer will need to invest in technology to be better prepared for the expectations of the new consumer and for the competition that will result from the technology the consumer has,” he concluded. “The retailer’s competitors are  offering full visibility to their inventory in the store and if they don’t offer something similar, the consumer will go to that  competitor.”

As I write this, it’s the traditional Cyber Monday—but as Black Thursday 2012 taught retailers, consumers are no longer constrained by the calendar or the clock when there are bargains to be had. Now if they could only free themselves from Aunt Marge’s Jello Surprise.

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