Customer-centricity is the be all, end all of the new now

Stephen Megitt | 08/05/2020

Retail is having a moment. A big one. The way retailers embrace this opportunity to reshape and respond to customer’s changing needs can give them a fighting chance at defining Canada’s consumer landscape in a post-pandemic world. The key, though, lies in abandoning old habits and focusing on new consumer demands. We know disruption was sweeping through bricks and mortar stores well before this global crisis, and that’s about to go into overdrive. Forty-two percent of consumers believe the way they shop will fundamentally change post-pandemic. Any retailer that’s already moved to a digital model will tell you: eCommerce isn’t as simple as flipping a digital switch. Getting it right means reframing what you do based on how your customers prefer to buy; not how you’d like to sell. That means drilling down to understand what your customer is up against (and how you can cultivate eCommerce experiences that makes sense specifically for them) is now the be all, end all. Keeping these three steps in mind as you dive in can help you move forward:

• Start by figuring out their barriers. How do people experience your products? Do they need to touch that pillow, snuggle into that jacket, or sink into that couch to make a purchase? The barriers that held your customer back before this (think price point, knowledgeable service, range of choice) may have shifted dramatically (consider inability to touch, feel and contemplate on site, have a discussion with a sales associate). Deciding where to take your retail operation next comes down to understanding your customer 2.0. And that requires the right mix of design thinking, and human-centred design. Working through a true discovery phase, and redrawing the lines around the personas your customers represent, is crucial. Assume nothing. Learn everything about what they’re facing today, and design with those obstacles to sale in mind.

• Put the impossible back on the table. What’s the wildest idea you’ve ever had? Did you bat around using augmented reality to give customers a sense of what their new kitchen appliances could look like in their home? Had you tossed around the concept of a subscription service to get more of your yoga pants into more yogis’ homes? The next-level ideas you put in the parking lot last year may just be the ones that define your success next year. There are no limits for the way technology can – and should – help you help customers overcome obstacles to sale going forward. In China, retailers who’ve gone full throttle into streaming are enabling home shoppers to ask a staffer questions like: “How does that sweater feel in the shoulders?” as they try the clothes on in real time. The new model is already driving hundreds of millions of dollars in sales just a few short months in. Discount nothing. Explore any idea that helps a consumer experience your products better, faster, more fully and start putting pen to paper on the possibilities. To be honest, creating that free-flowing dialogue around what that newness could be has always been one of my favourite parts of this job. I love seeing what we can come up with when we open ourselves up to the art of the possible.

• Give yourself permission to fail. If ever there was a runway to test, try, and fail: this is it. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of this all-new environment to do what everyone’s always said you simply can’t? Embedding the ability to try in your corporate culture, and putting a real value on experimentation, isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a business imperative that could reshape your future as a retailer. The most important thing you can do for your people right now is make it okay to create a prototype or attempt a change. Discourage nothing. Celebrate any attempt to innovate, regardless of the outcome, and encourage others to follow suit. It’s patio season. Well, as much as it can be at this stage of the game. Every spring, I watch restaurants move tables onto sidewalks and wonder: who was the chef with the courage to put a table outside their kitchen, and call it a restaurant? Change is hard; harder still for organizations that consistently perform well. The thing is, what worked for retailers before this crisis won’t necessarily work after. That time is now for any retailer set on succeeding in this changed world. Infinite things can happen as a result of the infinite environment retailers have before them. We’ve never had greater permission to fail than we do right now. Bridging from what you did before, to what you’ll do next, begins by understanding what your customer needs most.