Don’t slow down. Don’t stop.
There is a massive chasm that still exists between the world of business and the expectations of the consumer. Ultimately, when it comes to the retail experience, I believe there are two types of consumers: The ones that want to get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then those that want a bit more of an experience (they want to walk around, get information from the sales associates, be handled just a little bit). What unifies these somewhat divergent consumers is their to desire to get the best price and service with a smile. It’s a near impossible feat for most brands, because we live in the day and age of real-time expectations. In short: consumers knows more than most retailers about what they’re buying, and if they don’t, the information is readily available in the palms of their hands.
Howard Stern is your perfect consumer (at least one of them).
I was listening to Stern’s show on my drive in to the airport this morning (hoping to see you all at DX3 in Toronto!) and he was raging against the retail experience and RadioShack‘s most recent announcement. Yesterday, the electronics retailers reported brutal earnings (they lost close to half a billion dollars) and that they would be shuttering over one thousand stores in an effort to better manage the business. While Stern and his crew may not be financial analysts or Wall Street reporters they are – like you and I – classic consumers. Stern falls into the first camp. He wants to be in and out as quickly as possible, without being screwed on the price. He recounted what his experience was like buying from RadioShack over the years. Stores that had only one or two employees, a check-out system that demanded a whole heap-load of personal information before you could paid for the $3.99 adapter that you needed, and a lack of sales rep knowledge in terms of what was what within the store. While my experiences have been different, Stern’s comments were in direct line with my brand perceptions of the brand. You could also hear similar stories being told by other members of his staff on air. It’s most troublesome, because we live in a strange world where we can’t imagine retail without Radio Shack, but few of us spend any time spending significant dollars there or recommending them to a friend. As sad as that may be. Consumers can be very nostalgic, but it all floats away if you have to wait in line twenty minutes to buy an alarm clock because there are only two people working in the store, or if you’re asked more personal information questions about your purchase than what you have to hand over when opening a checking account at the bank.
Let’s not blame one retailer.
Brands seem to do this to themselves on a constant basis. And, instead of adjusting to this new, connected and empowered consumer, they tend to put more policies and practices in place as a way to herd everyone into one bucket. Not the smartest of strategies. On a personal note, I was recently in the market for a camera lens. Located near our offices is a local retailer with a fine reputation. I received excellent service and good information, and was happy to step-up and buy this lens (it was more than I had wanted to spend). Upon returning to my office, I went online to check out some reviews and noticed a huge price gap between what I had paid and what was being advertised on Amazon. Recognizing that Amazon always has cheaper prices, I checked out another local photography store. Guess what? Yep, that store’s price was much closer to Amazon. It’s a conundrum. On one hand, I definitely want to help out and support local merchants. On the other hand, if these merchants feel that they can get away with charging a significant premium, without thinking that consumers will go online to price check, they are deftly out of touch with the consumer of today.
Consumers are not patient. Brands need to understand this.
Consumers don’t care about your IT roadmap. They don’t care about your stance on showrooming. They may not even care about the fact that you’re not interested in online reviews, or that consumers have the ability to find out a significant amount of information about the products and services that you sell, which are also online. Brands can displace themselves from reality and stick to their own dogma. This is a true and often seen stance, but it’s silly. Brands don’t have to like the current state of consumerism, the lack of care that consumers have for decades of knowledge or whatever else. The truth is that the Internet is a truth serum for all of this. RadioShack can decide that their business is in selling computers, mobile phones and headphones or they can go back to their roots. Become a brand that focuses on the hobbyists. The people who are interested in building drones, electronics projects with their kids, audiophiles who need these random accessories or pieces. In a world where you can buy a computer or phone anywhere, the world desperately needs a retailer to provide more depth to our technological needs and desires. Not only can RadioShack be that brand. RadioShack was that brand. While some may think that it’s near-impossible, at this stage, I would argue that shifting the focus – not just on what they sell, but how they sell it – can save them. It’s hard. Don’t underestimate the challenge is shifting a business of that magnitude, but survival at what price? When I put these retail stories together, I am often reminded of the great quote by General Shinseki of the US Army, who said: "if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less."
Consumers shop differently. Change is the new normal (as they say).