Editor's Perspective

The editors of Retail TouchPoints spend most of their waking hours exploring, learning and studying every aspect of the retail industry. To that end, they are bringing their unique insights and outlooks to a special Editor’s Perspective column each week on the RTP site. The pieces could include personal experiences, new takes on the latest world news, or a different look at how technologies may impact the future marketplace.

Data Is The Bedrock, But It Needs A Purpose: Thoughts From Salesforce Connections

Two weeks ago when I attended Salesforce Connections in Chicago, one major theme captured my attention: it is vital to track, analyze and understand shopper data. “Data is the bedrock,” noted Heike Young, Manager of Industry Strategy and Insights at Salesforce, in a panel discussion that continually emphasized why today’s retailers won’t succeed without knowing the customer’s every move. It appears that successful brands are getting this message. Elite performers — brand leaders that reported a revenue increase of at least 10% in the past fiscal year — focus on data at nearly 2X higher rates than underperformers across all areas, on average, according to the Salesforce-Deloitte Consumer Experience Report.

#RIC18 Store Tours: From Luggage, Books And Running Gear To Kitchenware And Candy

Every year, Retail TouchPoints kicks off its annual Retail Innovation Conference by hosting a Store Tours event that gives attendees a first-hand look behind the scenes at leading retail brands. This year, attendees spent Monday, April 30 at The Shops at Columbus Circle in New York City, visiting five retail locations and hearing about them straight from the executives themselves. The stores included: TUMI, the luggage and travel company that operates a small, partner-owned retail store that produces top sales-per-square-foot figures; Sugarfina, an “adult candy store for grown-ups” that houses many delicious sweets in a kiosk store format; Williams Sonoma, a kitchenware and home furnishings store that offers classes, book signings and private events in its flagship location; Amazon Books, a physical version of the e-Commerce giant’s online offerings; and New York Running Company powered by JackRabbit, a one-stop-shop for everything a runner or athlete could possibly need, from top brands such as Brooks, ASICS, Nike and more. Read on to get an inside look at some of the highlights from this year’s Store Tours event!

Magento, NetSuite Conferences Illustrate What B2C Can Teach B2B

While the Retail TouchPoints team is gearing up for next week’s 2018 Retail Innovation Conference in New York City, I had the opportunity to attend two user conferences this week in Las Vegas — Magento Imagine and NetSuite SuiteWorld. While we’ve discussed the concept of a “retail transformation” ad nauseum over the past year, wholesale also is undergoing its own transformation. Although RTP focuses on how retailers can bolster their customers’ experience, I noticed a number of sessions and in-person meetings at the two conferences that actually touched on the world of a somewhat different audience: B2B buyers. But the crossover felt very relevant, especially since it appears B2B wholesalers can learn a thing or two from their retail counterparts. In some cases, companies that function as both retailers and wholesalers, and that seek to excel in both areas, can leverage practices on the retail side to benefit their B2B operations.

Answering The Question: Why Change Now?

At the recent Oracle Industry Connect event, I had the opportunity to learn about the digital transformation of Casey’s General Stores — the fourth-largest convenience chain in the U.S., with 2,000 stores across 15 states. It’s a small-town retailer based in Iowa: many of the stores serve towns with fewer than 5,000 residents. The Casey’s case study is a good example of a traditional retailer completing a digital transformation while maintaining its focus on company culture. Casey’s is a company with longstanding values focused on employees: “The company doesn’t lay off people, and offers its own child care,” noted Thomas McElroy, Principal, Deloitte Consulting, who worked hand-in-hand with Casey’s during the transformation. It was not a culture focused on change and disruption.

Why Your Chatbot Must Speak With Your Brand’s ‘Voice’

When your advertising slogan is “Just the right amount of wrong,” and your commercials feature a combination of kinky S&M imagery with bunnies, puppies and kittens romping through the halls of your hotel, you just can’t have a boring chatbot. That’s why the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas created Rose, a bot that is “witty, sassy, bossy and confident — exactly who you would want to show you around Las Vegas,” according to Mamie Peers, VP of Digital Marketing for the hotel. “Bots need to match your brand,” said Peers in a presentation at the Forrester Consumer Marketing conference, held April 5-6 in New York City. “For us, she’s a bot with a personality, our resident mischief maker. She’ll play jokes and games with people, take them on art tours of the property and talk about things to discover at the Cosmopolitan. She’ll say things like ‘I see your cocktail hand is empty. You can get wine by the glass for half price at one of our lounges.’”

Is There A ‘Silver Bullet’ To Stop Offensive Products?

Whenever an offensive (or sometimes just plain tasteless) product or ad campaign makes it out into the market, the same question is inevitably raised on social networks: “In all the design meetings and during all the approval processes, didn’t somebody notice that this would be problematic?” Even with an acknowledgement that hindsight is always 20/20, it’s a legitimate question when in recent years we have seen:  H&M use a black child to model its hoodie emblazoned with the slogan “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”; Zara release a top decorated with a yellow Star of David in a way that seemed to trivialize the Holocaust; and  Pepsi produce a big-budget TV commercial featuring Kendall Jenner (quickly pulled after protests) seeming to imply that all that’s needed to stop a potentially violent protest is for a celebrity to offer a cop a cold soda.

Discover How Managed Services Can Streamline In-Store Technology Deployment

While it may not be as glamorous as launching a new mobile app or introducing virtual reality, having a streamlined process in place for in-store technology deployments is critical to controlling costs and avoiding customer service headaches. During a Retail TouchPoints Connected Consumer Series webinar, titled: When A Managed Services Approach Produces Better Consumer Experiences, Diana Pace, Partner of Managed Services North America at Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, highlighted the benefits and best practices for leveraging Managed Services to integrate retail tech solutions in stores.

Cashierless Retail: Great In Theory, But Still Shaky In Practice

The Amazon Go convenience store opening in January 2018 shed light on the next new shiny concept in retail — cashierless, checkout-free stores. While Amazon is the biggest player making this push, technology providers such as Standard Cognition and AiFi are building out their own AI-based checkout-free solutions, creating the potential for competition in the space. But all this news makes me wonder: Just how feasible is any of this technology at scale? Even in the case of Amazon Go, the e-Commerce giant used the Seattle location as a testing ground for more than a year before opening to the public. This means that Amazon went through a year’s worth of data, shopper patterns and trials to get its “Just Walk Out” technology right. While Amazon’s plan appears to be to build as many as six new stores this year, no plans have been announced about including the technology in Whole Foods stores. That seems to indicate that workable deployments in spaces larger than the 1,800-square-foot spot in Seattle are still far in the future.

The Sad Demise Of Unlimited Returns At L.L.Bean

I’ve always been impressed by the unlimited returns policy at L.L.Bean. I think it’s the faith in humanity that the policy represented that impacted me the most. Personally, I don’t have the kind of faith that believes most consumers will be honest and forthright when they return a product. Unfortunately, it looks like the consumer population has proven me right and L.L.Bean wrong. I know that the executives at L.L.Bean always anticipated some level of fraud or misrepresentation from consumers returning a product, but the overall positive impact on the brand image outweighed the negatives. Industry research has proven that L.L.Bean is highly regarded by consumers. The company ranked number three out of 100 as a customer service leader, according to the 20th Annual Mystery Shopping Study by Astound Commerce.  

The Silence Of The Customer Service Representative

There’s an old saying in advertising about the power of repetition: Tell them you’re going to tell them something; tell them; and remind them that you told them. Perhaps it’s too old-fashioned for today’s fast paced world, but it’s a mantra that should be adopted by retail customer service. Recently, a lack of communication made a bad CX experience — a long wait for a product I had ordered — that much worse for me.  A few CX basics that this experience highlighted for me: If there’s a delay, let the customer know: Set up a triggered email that goes out when an item is X number of days past your promised delivery date; Explain but don’t blame: Even if you’re relying on a third-party shipper or fulfillment house, meeting customer expectations is still the retailer’s responsibility. Let the customer know you are dealing with the problem (this is assuming that you are dealing with the problem); If you say you’ll get back to me by next business day, then do that: Even if it’s just a no-news status update, follow through on what you’ve said you would do; Spread good news when you have it: When the problem is finally fixed and the package is…

Music-Themed Pop-Up Showcases Pay-By-Phone Technology

I was recently invited to check out Mastercard’s music-inspired, experiential pop-up shop in New York City — The Mastercard House — which hosted a variety of shopping and music events leading up to the Grammy awards that were held on Jan. 28. The best part? All you needed to shop was your phone’s camera!

H&M Hoodie Debacle Made Worse By Brand’s Slow Response

H&M came under heavy scrutiny earlier this month for an advertisement image placed on its UK web site, showing a black child wearing a green sweatshirt with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” on the front. The misstep sparked outrage at the company for the perceived racist overtones, and there were even protests at some H&M stores in South Africa. As if the post itself wasn’t bad enough, the retailer actually may have made it worse by not taking it down until after the deluge of complaints came in.

Listen Up! 3 Retail Podcasts With Something To Say

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 — albeit easy to accomplish — is to listen to more podcasts. Whether they’re simply just for fun or for editorial purposes, I resolve to listen more and hear what influential people in the world have to say about important topics. I watch more TV than I’d like to admit so it will be refreshing to shut my eyes and digest content in a new way. I know podcasts aren’t necessarily a new thing. They’ve been around for quite some time, but they’ve skyrocketed as a content format in the past two years — thanks to Serial. The good news is people are listening! 2017 research from Edison revealed that 40% of Americans (age 12+) said they have listened to a podcast.

Retail 2008 To 2018: A Decade Of Revolutionizing The ‘How’ Of Customer Engagement

I’ve been covering the retail industry for a long time. In one of my first jobs out of journalism school, I worked for a magazine called Giftware Business, then I moved on to Private Label Product News and — fast-forward to the age of digital-only — I eventually landed at Retail TouchPoints (RTP). Now heading into the 10th year of publication for RTP, I thought this would be a good opportunity for a bit of reflection. So, I looked back at my digital folders containing articles from 2008 and, not really surprisingly, I found a lot of similarities between the topics we covered 10 years ago and the topics we’re focused on moving into 2018.

Why I Love Self-Service (And Could Learn To Love Chatbots)

It’s ironic that I write about technology because in many ways I am the quintessential late adopter. Friends and family have long mocked me for my belated embrace of the latest gadgets, gizmos and services throughout the years. (Confession: I still listen to music on CDs.) However, years of using ATMs, self-checkouts at supermarkets and self-service ticket machines at airports have won me over, or worn me down. Now chatbots are the latest wave in self-service, and they are gaining ground. A recent survey indicated that 55% of American consumers are becoming more accepting of chatbots in mobile and online customer service. The use of chatbots by the Mall of America seems like a strong indicator that they are going mainstream (though it’s nice to note that there are human concierges to serve as backup for the bots).
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