The Only Consumer That Matters

Posted by

Who is really a customer of yours?

I often get to hang out backstage at conferences and events. When you have that kind of access to other speakers, business leaders and authors, it would be silly not to take advantage of it. So, I do. I ask them questions. I prod them. I engage them. I do my best to not be a pest, while at the same time, I see these as moments that should never be wasted. If I’m lucky enough to be one of a handful of people to have direct contact with a former President or current New York Times bestselling author, it feels like a moment that should not be wasted. That being said, I don’t consider myself a professional speaker. Not like these people do. A lot of these speakers have one form of income: speaking. It always made me chuckle to hear professional speakers tell me that some group, company or organization that brought them in to speak is a "client." I’ve been speaking for close to a decade, and I never considered any of the organizers my client. It’s a term that never sat well with me. Just because I spoke at an event (even after being paid for it), it didn’t feel right proclaiming that the company was my client. It would be like me calling you a client simply because you bought one of my books.

So, who is really a customer of yours?

When I was spending time in Silicon Valley two weeks ago, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and bestselling author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) told me that a major brand once remarked to him that they don’t consider anyone a customer of theirs unless they have bought from them twice. Two is a big number in this day and age. Most retailers struggle to retain customers because of digital technology. It’s easy for a potential customer to walk through a physical retail environment, and then use their smartphone to either find a better price, become more informed about their purchase or ask their social network their thoughts on the pending purchase. It’s called, showrooming, and it’s something that I’ve written about countless time over the years. Initial thinking on showrooming was that it would cause mass disruption to the retail space. In fact, it’s become so pervasive that retailers have created other terms around it to put it into perspective. Reverse showrooming, is one such term. This happens when consumers go online to research a product and then head to a physical store to buy it. Silly, right? Did we call it reverse showrooming when we would ask friends about a product and then go to a store to buy it? Retailers now waking up to the fact that consumers do research online first (really, this is something new that retailers are just waking up to?) are now initiating in-store tactics like offering in-store pick-up of products bought online, free wi-fi and training a more knowledgeable sales staff to build a more congruous experience.     

Reacting to reality.

There have been many reports that dismiss the power of social media in relation to driving sales. What these reports often don’t take into account is how powerful of a referral source for both bricks and mortar chains and e-commerce sites social media is. What this really means is that consumers have a tremendous amount of firepower prior to making a purchase. They have power through the information available to them online via their smartphones, and they can also leverage the wisdom of their own crowds if generic searches and consumer reviews don’t pass the sniff test. So, while some retailers might argue that consumers are much smarter than they ever were, I would argue that they’re simply more informed and have more options than ever before.

How does this change retail?

In short, this ends the traditional retail cycle of "too bad." It’s the end of: we don’t have what you’re looking for… too bad. It’s the end of: we’re sorry you didn’t have a great customer service experience… too bad. It’s the end of: we’re sorry you had to drive all the way over here and we don’t have your size… too bad. It’s the end of: yes, it’s more expensive than somewhere else, but you’re already here… too bad. When consumers have information and options, it pushes traditional retailers back on their heels, and it forces them to provide a higher level of service (which, ultimately, is a mix of the physical and digital world). Ultimately, I’m hopeful that it also pushes brands to figure out who a customer is. A real customer. Like the one who buys from you twice. At least.

Call it showrooming, call it reverse showrooming… consumers just call it a pleasant shopping experience.