Technology, Retail and the Agile Consumer

First published by Contagious Magazine 17th February 2014

Today we’re all agile consumers – we search broadly, shop anywhere and anytime, and will share the ideas that feel meaningful to us. We think in the now, are open to novelty and innovation and will change easily if bored, frustrated or enticed.
We expect to move seamlessly between platforms, channels, media and devices to search for entertainment, products and services, shop for brands and share experiences. And we want to do this at home, in-store or walking down the street – a deep-rooted behavioural shift that’s largely based on the explosive growth of the smartphone.
At the end of last year Cheil carried out the Agile Consumer Survey 2013 among 1,000 UK smartphone owners. It revealed that half of these people bought their smartphone with shopping in mind, and that almost as many (42%) have bought something using their phone. 70% admit that they research and compare prices on their phone, more evidence of the growth of ‘showrooming’, and almost three-quarters (72%) say that they’d be more likely to shop at a given store if it sent personalised promotions to their device.
The agile consumers’ expectations of retail are that it must be Everywhere, Instant & Personal. That is a challenge for retailers and means many have had to adapt to survive. For example, Tesco’s Homeplus ‘virtual grocery store’ on the walls of a Seoul subway station became the poster child for the anywhere and everywhere transformation that is going on in retail.
But when that work was done in 2011, only 11.9% of South Koreans shopped with a smartphone (Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), May 2013). Last year, it was 62.6%. Seoul is the eleventh biggest city on the planet with more than 25 million people in the greater metropolitan area, most of whom have a smart device that enables them to shop anywhere. So it is no surprise that many retailers who want to engage today’s agile consumers are looking East for inspiration.
Emart, South Korea’s biggest grocery retailer, is one that understands how the traditional battle for location is just as important on the mobile device as it is in on the high street. It created Flying Stores, remote controlled floating balloons that were flown around shopping centres in Seoul offering free wifi. They instantly land every shopper that connects in the Emart mobile store, where they’re offered discounts and coupons.
Meanwhile, its Sale Navigation uses smartphones to guide shoppers to the best deals and direct to the aisle with items on promotion, redefining how to deliver navigation, education and inspiration in-store.
But to deliver ‘Personal’ you need to know your customer. Arguably the most successful retail experience in the world today is Amazon, a thriving retailer built on understanding and using data. Data enables business agility and getting smart with data is the core of modern retailing, as is Relevance and Experience.
Much has been written about big retailer failures and the slow death of the traditional shopping locations like the British high street, but the sad reality is that they are no longer relevant to the way agile consumers want to live their lives. Loyalty will always be defined by how brands make people feel, retail is no different, experience is everything. Retailers must ask themselves what it means to be relevant today, define their experience and understand how best to use technology to deliver value. After all, technology is transforming our expectations.
What’s more, the idea that Consumers and Shoppers are different, perhaps even different people, has long been a fundamental of traditional shopper marketing. That’s still relevant for much of the world’s big box retail, but today technology means agile consumers want to be able to buy everywhere and instantly and retail can no longer be the last thought or even the last mile.
P&G was on the money with ‘store-back’ a few years ago (where marketing efforts start with how they will be executed at retail, and work back from there) but in Korea, 42% of people claim to shop online while watching TV (TNS South Korea Digital Life Research, 2011). Brands, retailers and agencies must all take note: technology is realigning consumer and shopper, and agility, delivered via the mobile device, is their beating heart.

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