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Consumer 2.0: How brands and retailers must anticipate the shopper behavioral shift in five yearsBy Mickey Alam Khan
Most dialogue within marketers and retailers focuses on how to tap new technology and marketing to hang on to consumer relationships. What they should be discussing is the sea-change in consumer behavior expected in the next three to five years – thanks, in large part, to mobile and social.
It is painfully clear from attending numerous conferences and talking to senior executives that marketers are stunned by the pace of change induced by new technology. Mobile and social have enabled consumers to take control of the marketer-customer relationship to the nth degree.
And here is the scary part: companies are not wired to deal with Consumer 2.0.
Book of jobs
It is easy to get mired in the tumble of technology out there: scanning, pinning, posting, liking, tweeting and, of course, good old Googling. But is the marketer’s message coming through all of these channels, tactics and technologies undiluted?
In other words, are marketers gearing their organizations to convey their brand values and proposition regardless of rapid-fire change? What is the one thing that the consumer can be sure of the brand: price, customer experience, product quality?
The truth of the matter is, internal org charts still mirror the 1990s world. There is still an abundance of job titles and descriptions geared to tactical functions as opposed to customer experiences.
Sooner or later, marketers will realize that they cannot have a vice president for every marketing tactic, from online marketing to social media to mobile to in-store promotions.
The titles and the responsibilities for the 21st century have to reflect customer expectations. More relevant are responsibilities for user experience, frictionless checkout, ease of returns, customer feedback, product discoverability or brand integrity – across all channels.
Mobile and social can share blame for single-handedly relegating most technology before them to the same heap where typewriters and horse carriages landed thanks, respectively, to computers and cars. Mobile and social have shown consumers how to control their relationships with third parties to their extreme advantage.
And mobile and social are fast-tracking human evolution to the point where every experience, be it personal, work or recreational, has to be instantly gratified.
Are marketers geared to instant gratification? Is there a department set up within major Fortune 500 companies to deal with expectations based on instant gratification?
Indeed, does the CEO – the chief executive officer – know that his or her new job is Chief Evolution Officer? Does the CFO – the chief financial officer – know that his or her title means Chief Future Officer?
Four score and then
The United States market, and some overseas, are in a holding pattern for another couple of years.
But make no mistake: smartphones and smart televisions and smart cars and smart clothes and smart food will shape consumer behavior in the next three to five years where most marketing fundamentals developed even a decade ago will be rendered obsolete.
Here are four experiences that consumers will expect to have – or already are on their way to doing so – when it comes to interacting with brands or retailers with whom they shop or maintain a relationship:
Impatience: The consumer of 2015, 2017 and 2020 will have no time for sloth, be it in product discovery, page uploads, physical or online/mobile checkout, returns or customer service response. It is not seconds, but milliseconds that matter here.
Frictionless: The entire searching, shopping, browsing or buying experience has to be devoid of hurdles or pain points. Smooth transactions will be the minimum expectation, and intuitive response to customer overtures will be the norm.
Affordable: Blame marketers for this expectation. Having trained most consumers to shop by price – except in the case of brands that maintained their mystique and value to customers – price will be the deciding factor for most purchases. It is a race to the bottom where everyone running to the breasting tape would rather not be in the sprint – but the starting gun’s off. Consumers do not expect cheap, they expect affordable.
Connected: Consumers do not expect brands to have a downtime in any area – be it shopping hours, product delivery, returns, customer-service calls or email or text responses. They expect to access the marketer or retailer on their own terms – always on, always there, always helpful, always friendly, always obliging.
MARKETERS MUST also be mindful of an emerging medical condition: technostress. Companies such as Best Buy are taking that term seriously.
The launch of new devices every year – new tablets, new ultrabooks, new smartphones, new smart TVs, new applications and Web sites, new smart appliances – is forcing consumers to adapt without pause.
The road to a frictionless consumer life of fun, frolic and good times is paved with lifeless devices. Not surprisingly, keeping up with the Joneses is becoming the norm, indeed, the necessity as the price to stay competitive and relevant in the marketplace for work, play and love.
So, for those marketers planning for the future, anticipate these behavioral changes they can expect from consumers who want nothing but the best at the most affordable rate, with the least pain and for the quickest delivery time – and be rewarded for such standard expectations.
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