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Future of shopping – Why does it matter to the consumers?

As I mentioned in my post on Wednesday – Do you think this is possible?, I have been researching improvements retailers have been making. They seem to be making an extra effort to get my business.

Don’t they all do that already? That is why we have a spending problem, right? Retailers have always researched consumers and made improvements to sell as much as possible.

The improvements fall under two categories

  • Manipulation
  • Providing value

I have talked quite a bit about manipulation. Identifying consumers’ weakness better than the consumers themselves and using the weaknesses to sell as much as possible. This time, though, more than just manipulation, a lot of changes I saw provided more value to me as well.

(Click on each section header to expand)

Mobile Checkout

Taking the lead : Apple & Sephora

Late last year Apple introduced a new feature for the iPhone in its Apple store app, called EasyPay. This allows people to just take a picture of the bar code of a product and buy the product on the spot using their iTunes account. This feature works only for small purchases according to the Apple employee I spoke with, but it is a convenient feature. So many times I have had a small purchase but been made to wait in a long line for someone to buy a cart full of stuff or stuck behind someone who will ask a 100 questions before making a purchase.

Sephora has rolled out a similar process, but right now it is only available in their New York city stores.Instead of waiting in line at the check out counter, the Sephora associates can ring up your purchases via an iPod touch.

Smartphone enabled product demonstrations

Taking the lead : Sephora & Macys

In Macy’s I saw several banners with QR code. I scanned them and learned that those take me to product demonstrations from the designers whose designs were right next to these banners. There were also instructions on how to best mix and match the design with relevant accessories. I can see how it can be useful if you do have a favorite designer.

Sephora’s app is more useful than Macy’s QR codes. It uses an iPad’s front facing camera to take a picture of you and you can “apply” different make up to see how they look. I don’t have a picture of this, but it looked sweet.

This got me into thinking whether someone is actually using this idea as a full fledged virtual fitting. A “mirror” that will let me change clothes virtually with a click of a button so that I can reject stuff easily? I would love that. I couldn’t find any stores near me that did that. But I did find a few examples online, like this one, from a store in Australia –

I think we can expect it to hit the US apparel stores in the near future.

Shopping getting more personal

Taking the lead : Anthropologie

Right now, personal shopping concierges are a luxury. I am assuming it takes a high roller in an expensive store to get their own personal shopping assistant. Apparently in Anthropologie (not a cheap store by any means but at least everything is not in 4 digits either), you can get a personal concierge to help with shopping or to answer questions.

Here is how it works.  You fill out a form online & choose a few design that you like. Anthropolgie will put together the stuff you liked for you to try out and also set aside a few extra pieces they think will go well with your taste. I am a Jeans/Tshirt girl, I have been thinking about getting more fashionable clothes but have no idea where to start. This type of service would be very useful for me to start my wardrobe.

Also as soon as the customer enters, they ask for a first name and always use that. They even write the name on the fitting room door :) The personalized touch does make you feel good (see my name on the first door)!

Bring the store to consumers

Now onto my favorite –

Taking the lead : Homeplus’ (Korea)

Another brilliant idea that I didn’t see personally, but turned up in my searches – bringing the store to the consumers. Online shopping already does this, but there are several things that we usually won’t shop online. Groceries being a prime example. I don’t want to order vegetables online and wait for 3 days for it to get here, but grocery shopping does take a lot of time. So does commuting.

Homeplus, a grocery store in Korea, brought these together and installed virtual grocery store in the train station. The walls were covered with real store-like images with bar codes. Consumers can check out the “aisles” just like they would in a grocery store, scan the product and order. It will be delivered to their home that evening!

  • Homeplus’ online membership increased by 76%
  • Online sales increased by 130%
See it in action –

Fitting rooms getting a makeover

Taking the lead : Anthropologie, Ann Taylor

May be it is the stores I go to, I hate fitting rooms. The don’t have a proper place to hang all the clothes I want to try, no place to keep my hand bag and no place for others to wait. My husband, who feels weird to stand near the entrance of the fitting rooms, invariably wanders off. I have to make a call to find him and bring him back to see if my selections look good on me. But I see that has changed in a lot of stores.

Ann Taylor had a great fitting room that felt like a luxury hotel room. So did Anthropologie. There was a shelf to keep my belongings, a closet big enough to hang 50 dresses, a backlit mirror and a waiting area with comfortable looking couches. It was nice.

Apparently some Ann Taylor stores have accessories inside the fitting rooms. Classic upsell, but convenient too if I am planning to buy some anyway.

Omnichannel marketing

Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and mailers

I never understood the idea of “checking in” via all the social media. Why would anyone care where I am? But now I have a reason to create a non-personal profile to check in – coupons and discounts.

Several retailers are sending targeted offers or coupons to the stores when you check in. The coupons are sent to the mobile from which it can be scanned directly during check out. Depending on how we use the social media, retailers are targeting all the channels to attract consumers.

Electronic Receipts

Taking the lead : Sears, Kmart

I bought something in Lands’ end, and while at the checkout I was asked whether I want to get the printed receipt and/or get an email receipt. As my information was already there, I opted for an email receipt. I use the labels in gmail extensively to tag my purchases. If I need it for the future, I also scan the receipt as a pdf, email it to myself and then tag. So this e-receipts were very convenient for me. Especially for business purchases, I can tag them and keep the records for ever.

Samples, classes and free stuff

Everyone who is a member of Costco can vouch for their delicious samples. I saw several stores doing this recently – Starbucks, See’s candy, Tea shop, L’ocittane. More than samples, I love free classes. Our local William Sonoma has been doing this for at least a few years now. They have theme classes (summer entertaining, dessert party, etc) and teach you how to cook the entire spread. They also have the ingredients they used right next to that as a package.

William Sonoma is not cheap, but I do find the quality excellent and if they teach me how to do some good dessert I am more likely to buy everything in one place. Saves me time and I know the quality will be good.



Why does it matter to the consumer?

All the changes stores make are to make us spend more right? So why does it matter what changes are happening in the retail world? Several reasons –

1. Value for money : It matters because for me value for my money is more important than the cheapest price. I think that goes for a lot of my readers too. By making use of all the resources we have available we are getting the most value for our money. If I shop in William Sonoma the extra cost the store spent on arranging these classes are factored in the product price anyway. So I might as well use the resources available for me, right?

2. Time : Also, if several of these changes are adopted widely, they will save me a lot of time. If there is a way for me to get my chores done quickly I want to know about it.

3. Privacy : If you are already using Foursquare, Twitter and other social media, you could as well look for these coupons to save money. On the other hand, you should know what information you are sharing and if it is worth the money you are saving. Which brings us to –

4. Conscious decision : This is the whole idea of this blog. Every decision we make should be a conscious decision. I have bought stuff from Costco even if the price is higher because I know I get a good warranty. To make an informed decision, you need to know more than the price. You need to know what value a store provides.

And more than anything, we should understand that stores are not doing this as charity. These are first and foremost, up-sells and cross-sells. If they make it too convenient to get an earring or matching scarf or just that bracelet that goes wonderfully with that dress… you will blow your budget in no time. We have to train ourselves to use the convenience but also know exactly where to stop.

Why does it matter to an entrepreneur?

Business 101, competing just on price is always a losing proposition. Whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee, to succeed you have to constantly improve what you offer. There is nothing in the world that cannot be made better. And the improvements should not be one sided. A business should see how its clients are changing, work with them, provide them value and constantly improve.

Finally this is not really related to this post, but did you know that Amazon filed a patent for a gift conversion system? It is not in use yet, but when it goes live, you will be able to automatically convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred to gift cards or whenever  someone orders you another toaster, you will get a gift card instead. I found it very interesting!

So what do you think? Do you think we are headed in the right direction? Or is it too dangerous for our consumerist society?

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