Bricks and Mobile · Mobile · Omni-channel · Uncategorized

A very mobile Christmas?

It’s no secret that mobile is becoming increasingly important in consumers’ shopping journeys. Retail brands as diverse as Target and Neiman Marcus have alluded to the pivotal role that digital plays in driving both their online and physical store sales. And of course when we say “digital,” often we mean mobile. In fact, for many retailers, mobile is becoming the front door to the store.

If a just-released study by Adobe Analytics proves to be correct, an important milestone will be reached this holiday season. For the first time ever, more U.S. shoppers will visit a retailer’s site using a mobile device than a desktop computer. Because conversion rates remain higher on “traditional” devices, the amount of actual purchases made on desktops will still exceed those made on a smartphone or tablet. But that’s not likely to be true very much longer.

This shift is profound, and mirrors what other studies have shown about the growing integration of mobile devices across all dimensions of retail. For example, Deloitte has been tracking digital’s influence on physical store shopping, and their research shows that in 2016 some 37% of all brick & mortar sales were influenced by a mobile device. It seems certain that number will easily surpass 40% this year.

The reasons this year’s holiday numbers are so important are twofold. First, and most obviously, it’s the busiest shopping time of the year, so shifts in customer behavior are amplified. Second, for consumers seeking great gift ideas, in many cases they’ll be visiting new or infrequently trafficked sites. A poor (or even less than remarkable) experience can have a significant impact on customers’ future buying intent.

It would appear that there is no going back in the move to mobile. As the folks at Google like to say (full disclosure: a recent client), we no longer go online; we live online. More and more, our smart devices are a constant companion in the shopping process. Whether it’s for product research, checking prices, locating the nearest store, downloading a coupon or making a transaction, employing mobile technology to enhance the customer experience is moving from novelty to habit.

The growing challenge for retail marketers therefore is to win these mobile moments that matter by being relevant and remarkable throughout the critical aspects of the shopping journey. Here the increasing role of mobile presents many important opportunities, most notably the chance to leverage context awareness in consumer engagement. But the limitations of mobile are apparent as well and must be navigated carefully.

A few things seem certain. Mobile will play a much larger role this holiday season and that momentum is likely to carry forward into 2018. Brands that have a compelling mobile presence will reap great benefits. For those where that is not the case, they can expect a big lump of goal in their stockings.

Shopping-Apps

A version of this story appeared at Forbes, where I am a retail contributor. You can check out more of my posts and follow me here

For information on speaking gigs please go here.

Inspiration · Leadership · Uncategorized

Lasting peach

The Trump administration’s issues with spelling are “unpresidented.” Here’s a brief history, which doesn’t even include yesterday’s announcement of “John” Huntsman as the new ambassador to Russia.

To be sure, Trump’s problems with spelling and diction are hardly the scariest things about his Presidency.  But any important relationship is built on trust. And sometimes it’s the little things that give us away.

Imagine boarding a plane and as you pass by the cockpit you notice candy wrappers strewn about the floor and that the captain has his shirt untucked and shoelaces untied.

Imagine you are doing some financial planning and your advisor has gotten the time of your appointment wrong the last three times you were scheduled to meet.

Imagine you are being prepped for surgery and the anesthesiologist keeps forgetting your name and can’t seem to remember where she left her glasses.

It’s all too easy to get distracted by small, unimportant stuff. And our obsession with perfectionism often does more harm than good. But some behaviors are small, yet meaningful clues to issues that demand our concern.

As long as we’re dealing with humans, mistakes will be made. We need to let most of that you-know-what go and strive to be compassionate to ourselves and others when the inevitable happens.

Yet a consistent pattern of general carelessness or wanton disregard for others can be another matter entirely and we shouldn’t take such an accommodating stance.

Ultimately learning to discern the types of mistakes to actually worry about is where we should put out attention.

I hope we all can make peach with that.

 

 

 

 

 

Being Remarkable · Customer Growth Strategy · Customer-centric · Omni-channel · Retail · Share of attention · Strategy · Uncategorized

Retail’s big reset

It’s been happening for a few years now, but the pace is accelerating.

Retailers waking up to the reality of a slow or no growth world.

Retailers beginning to understand that if you don’t garner share of attention, you have little or no shot at share of wallet.

Retailers starting to comprehend that it’s not about the silos of e-commerce, catalogs, social, mobile and physical stores. It’s about one brand, many channels.

Retailers seeing that it’s not only a digital first world, increasingly it’s a mobile first world.

Retailers coming to terms with having too many stores, and being confronted with the cold hard facts that the ones that should remain are often too large and, more importantly, too boring.

Retailers recognizing that continuing to offer up average products for average people is a recipe for either long-term mediocrity or inevitable bankruptcy.

Retailers realizing that most of their e-commerce growth is now coming from channel shift and that much of their “omni-channel” investments are proving unprofitable.

When historically strong brands like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus start taking a big whack at their corporate staffs and pulling back on capital investments, it’s hard to argue that this is just about low oil prices and weak foreign tourist traffic.

The big reset is upon us.

Some get it. But too many clearly don’t.

Change is happening faster and faster. Disruption is now just part of the ecosystem.

If you believe, as I do, that we are in for an extended period of muted consumer spending, that we are way over-stored in most major markets and that the power has shifted irretrievably to the consumer, then business as usual–and relentless, but vague promises to become “omni-channel”–will not cut it.

The discipline of the market will be harsh. Good enough no longer is.

If you aren’t worried, chances are you should be.

And if you aren’t in a hurry, you might want to pick up the pace.

 

 

CRM · Customer Growth Strategy · Customer Insight · Personalization · Share of attention · Uncategorized

This time it’s personal

A book that I read more than 20 years ago fundamentally changed my perspective on business overall and marketing in particular.

Peppers and Rodgers “The One to One Future” embedded in my psyche the notion that knowing more about your customer than your competition was a critical component of competitive advantage. And before long “treat different customers differently” became my mantra.

As brilliant as Don and Martha’s book is, it was, for the most part, way ahead of its time. To be sure, many brands and marketers benefitted from its wisdom. But overall, few brands saw personalization as a burning platform and many of the espoused concepts simply could not be operationalized in any practical and cost effective way.

For most, a strategy of uniquely identifying customers, differentiating them by their needs and value, interacting with them to understand their desires and then customizing the experience in a relevant and remarkable way, lingered somewhere between a dream and a nice-to-do.

Yet today personalization is not only increasingly possible at scale, it is rapidly and inexorably becoming a business imperative.

It’s an imperative not because it’s cool or sexy or sounds good at a conference.

It’s an imperative because the battle has shifted from market share to share of attention–and it’s increasingly difficult to be the signal amidst all the noise.

It’s an imperative because one size fits all marketing strategies are well past the point of diminishing returns.

It’s an imperative because we are drowning in a sea of sameness and delivering average products for average people gets you average results, if you are lucky, and gets you fired, if you aren’t.

It’s an imperative because the power has shifted irretrievably to the consumer and the only way to stand a fighting chance is to compete on deep customer insight, intense relevance, remarkability and trust.

That means small is the new big and intimate is the new interesting. And that, at last, the one to one future is here.

 

I will be moderating two very different expert panels on personalization during the next month. Stop by and say “hello” if you can.

On April 20th I’ll be with the Dallas-Fort Worth Retail Executives Association. Pre-register here: http://bit.ly/1Moj5ag  

Then it’s ShopTalk in Las Vegas on May 17th. More information is available at http://bit.ly/1qYKvul  Readers of this blog can use my promo code “sageb250” to save $250 on their conference registration.

Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership · Uncategorized

Yeah, but you started it

Overtly acknowledging that someone started something important or invented a wholly new product, process or movement seems like the decent thing to do. In fact, when another person is the pioneer or ups the ante it can be precisely the impetus we need to get moving and be more creative ourselves. After all,  until we’ve started, it’s all really just talk.

But more often we hear it in the negative.

In the past week or so, two US presidential candidates, at opposite ends of the spectrum, employed the “yeah, but you started it” defense to justify a mean-spirited–and in one case, completely erroneously based–attack on their opponent.  Confronted with this logic Anderson Cooper at least had the gumption to challenge one of them by saying “with all due respect, that’s the argument of a 5-year old.”

Exactly.

When we are acting like adults, we respect those that have come before us, we are motivated by other’s initiative and we learn to start before we are ready ourselves.

When we act like children, we get stuck in victimhood and a cycle of defensiveness .

When we have the choice, perhaps we should opt for the one with the best chance to unleash our potential and bring us all closer together?

And let’s not kid ourselves. We always have that choice.

 

Being Remarkable · Customer experience · Personalization · Uncategorized

Reach is not impact

This Sunday dozens of brands will pay for multi-million dollar Super Bow ads because those spots will get them in front of what is likely to be the most watched TV show in US history. The odds that more than a handful of these massive budget campaigns will accomplish their objectives sits somewhere between slim and none. Great reach, little impact.

Today, tomorrow and the next day, many thousands of brands will send out many thousands of email and direct mail campaigns to many millions of customers–and most will be ecstatic to get a 1% response rate. Huge reach, very little impact.

Each and every day many of us fret about how many friends we have on Facebook, our Twitter follower count or the number of “likes” we get for something we post. Our often fragile egos may get a temporary hit from multiple retweets or for a bunch of “likes” for our super cute outfit, some random photo of our lunch or the preciousness of our kid and/or dog. But to conflate the number of superficial affirmations we might get with making a meaningful difference is a mistake. We crave more and more reach, but substantive impact is almost always lacking.

As Bernadette so rightly reminds us: “it doesn’t matter who encounters your message, your product, or your service if they don’t care about it.”.

It’s one thing to relentlessly pursue more. It’s another to relentlessly pursue better, more remarkable, truly relevant, deeply connected.

Maybe the people in the tribes we lead want us to turn it up to 11, to increase the frequency, to go for more, more, more. Maybe average or boring is just fine by them.

Or maybe it’s about easing back on the throttle, turning down the volume and choosing instead to uncover and celebrate the people that really matter to us. And then, very intentionally, crafting a message and an experience that deeply resonates with them.

There isn’t only one right way to do this. Your results may vary.

But when we confuse reach with impact, we’re bound to end up in a bad place.

When we ask the question: “who cares?” and the answer is probably only a handful of the people we’re talking to, marketing to, sharing with, then the quest for reach has likely gone to far.

 

Uncategorized

Informed by connection

It’s so easy for those born into affluence to tell the man struggling with poverty to resist a “handout”, to just bear down, work harder and to himself up by his bootstraps. No matter that the advice giver has never been exposed to the reality of that person’s circumstances at anything close to an intimate level.

It’s so easy for the politician to put forth a “kick in the ass whomever I don’t like or fear” doctrine–and sign-up for a “more boots on the ground” plan–when they’ve never worn those boots or never had had to look family members of those killed or maimed by those strategies in the eye.

It’s so easy for the sober person to tell the addict to just say “no” and to simply employ greater willpower to get themselves on a path to recovery. It all sounds so obvious to anyone who has not experienced the powerlessness, disconnection and shame that fuels addiction.

It’s so easy for the CEO to assuage shareholders by promulgating off-shoring plans, store closings or mass layoffs, when the people losing their jobs are merely numbers in a press release or anonymous names on some list of those affected by their actions.

And at a far more mundane level, it’s so easy for the marketer to create seemingly brilliant new marketing strategies without taking the time to understand consumers’ wants, needs and motivations at a deeper and more personalized level.

If you are anything like me you may find it easy to stay stuck in a need to be right, without trying to connect with the person on the other side of our self-righteous. And that’s a huge miss.

Data and logic are great. Detachment and hypotheses generated at a safe distant can be useful to achieving objectivity. But more times than not the best decisions, the innovative plans, the work that ultimately matters must be informed by connection. Connection with our partner, our families, our teams, our customers, by anyone affected by our opinions and our actions.

And not surface level connections. Risky connections. Emotional connections. Vulnerable connections. Connections that risk our being wrong, looking stupid, failing miserably.

Informed by connection means being willing to go beyond what we’ve always done, what we’ve always believed and what is expedient or popular. Informed by connection may shake us to our core or merely compel us to say ” you know, you were right, I was mistaken.”

Informed by connection demands humility.

And we could all use a bit more of that right now. At least I know I could.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

So much of any year is flammable

At a time when many of us are reflecting upon (dissecting?) the year just ended and now find ourselves struggling to live up to a new set of resolutions, I’m reminded of the words of the poet Naomi Shihab Nye:

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
 
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
 
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
 
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
So much of life is impermanent. So much is out of our control, despite the illusion that often holds us, twists us around.

Very little of what consumes our thoughts, fills most of our days and fuels our resentments matters one little bit over the long run. Some of it doesn’t even serve any purpose right this very second. We don’t need another resolution. We need better perspective, mindful awareness, radical acceptance.

So rather than beat myself up about the small stuff or lament the things that only the creation of a time machine would allow me to fix, I’m looking ahead, without a long list of impossible to meet resolutions, mindful of the important things that I didn’t do, where the crackle still calls.

 

h/t to the Reverend Dr. Daniel Kanter
Leadership · Uncategorized

Escape velocity

There is a concept in physics called escape velocity. Escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to break free from the gravitational attraction of a massive body and continue moving forward without further propulsion.

Now I may be pushing the analogy a bit–not to mention my basic comprehension of complex scientific theories–but I think businesses, brands, project teams, individuals, and organizations of just about any type, can benefit from understanding what their own version of escape velocity is and by identifying the fundamental factors which fight against achieving it.

We all suffer from powerful forces that hold us back. All too often, the greater the aspiration or risk, the more we feel a strong pull back to the tried and true, the warm and comfortable, the familiar. The fear of being wrong or looking stupid can be tough to break free from, as evidenced by the simple fact that many of us never do.

And even if we begin to conquer our own insecurity, even when we stop listening to the voices that tell us to slow down or reconsider, even when we muster the courage to say “here I made this“, the gravity-like forces can creep back in, killing any inertia we might have gained.

In other situations we don’t achieve escape velocity because we lack adequate resources, key information or the requisite skills and capabilities. Here, if my experience is at all common, it’s rarely the case that we are unaware that we need these things. Most often we simply fail to ask for the help we need or we’re afraid to go from knowing to doing.

The beauty of achieving escape velocity is that things become so much easier. The forces that once limited us are no longer constraints. We no longer find ourselves saying “if only…” Momentum is achieved. We go from constantly selling our ideas to actually doing the work. We begin to find our flow.

It’s obviously easier said than done.

But, from where I sit, if we don’t understand The Resistance it’s a much tougher dragon to slay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luxury · Uncategorized

Luxury retail’s big stall

Neiman Marcus and Saks both just reported disappointing sales and earnings. And both cast most of the blame on the strong dollar’s effect on their tourist business. There was also some whining about the unseasonably warm weather, low oil prices and volatile capital markets.

To be sure, these factors have not been helpful. But the problems in the luxury market go deeper, particularly among the department store players. First some quick context.

The widely held notion among analysts that luxury brands are immune from the vicissitudes of the economy reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of their actual customer base. Yes, a significant percentage of the business comes from the very wealthy, who are not very price sensitive and not affected much by the sturm und drang of the economy. But for all but the most rarified brands, most luxury retail spending comes from what I call the “solidly affluent” (others call them HENRY’s–High Earners Not Yet Rich). These customers have much more volatile spending and much greater price sensitivity (I know this well from 4 years at Neiman Marcus diving into the data and conducting scores of studies). When the economy wanes they pull back. When prices get too high they shop less frequently or trade down to lower priced brands.

So with that as a backdrop–and going beyond the near-term headwinds– here are the key reasons I see a tough longer-term outlook for luxury retail–at least in North America:

  • Little new customer growth. Other than through e-commerce, luxury retail has had a tough time with customer acquisition for more than a decade. With e-commerce maturing, unfavorable demographics (see below) and few, if any, new store openings, luxury department stores, in particular, will struggle to replace the customers they lose.
  • Little or no transaction growth. While not widely appreciated, most of the comparable store growth in luxury retail for quite some time has come through prices increases, not growth in transactions. There is nothing to suggest this trend will change.
  • Unfavorable demographics. Affluent Baby Boomers have propped up the sector for the past decade or so. But as customers get older they spend less in general and quite a bit less on luxury products. The Baby Boomers are slowly but surely “aging out” of the sector. Gen X is a smaller cohort and there is little evidence they will spend as much on average as the Boomers. Over the longer term, Millennials will need to make up for the Boomers who, to put it bluntly, will be dying off. So far, most studies suggest Millennials will be more price sensitive and less status conscious then then the cohorts ahead of them.
  • Limits to price increases. For about 15 years, average luxury retail prices have grown at more than twice the general rate of inflation. In accessories it’s more like three times. Prices just don’t rise forever without affecting demand.
  • Shifts in spending. The affluent continue to value experiences and services over things–and are allocating their spending accordingly. Maybe this multi-year trend will start to reverse itself. Color me skeptical.
  • The omni-channel migration dilemma. Saks, Neiman’s and others are spending mightily on all things omni-channel and frankly the ROI is often terrible. Now they must do so to remain competitive. But it’s incredibly expensive to create a more integrated customer experience and, for the most part, the better you get at it the more you accelerate a shift to digital away from physical stores. Most often this is not accretive to earnings. For either Neiman Marcus or Saks to get a pay-off they need to grab market share. And the reality is they have more competition on the higher end part of their business from the wholesale brands that continue to open up stores and dramatically improve their e-commerce game. And on the lower end of their business they are playing catch up with Nordstrom.

For me, what I see is a sector that clearly has immediate term headwinds. But, more importantly, I see a sector that has much more profound long-term demographic and psycho-graphic headwinds. A sector that will have increasing difficulty wielding it’s tried and true big hammer of price increases. A sector that can no longer count on e-commerce for much new customer growth A sector that has 2-3 years of significant investment in digital and omni-channel capability building just to remain competitive.

Even if the dollar weakens or oil prices rise or we have colder winters, it’s still not a very pretty picture.