“She wants what she wants, when she wants it . . .” I counted no fewer than eight separate mentions of this supposedly shopper-centric mantra during presentations at the show and many more in various releases and stories before and since. It seems that ever since "multi-channel," “mobile” and “digital” entered the retail vernacular, retailers have decided that they are there to do shoppers' bidding (and that none of them are doing a particularly good job of it). To me, HSN's CEO, Mindy Grossman provided a welcome pause in the midst of all those passive protestations when she said “. . . not just giving them what they want, but giving them what they might want next – that’s the vision" during the closing Super Session.
Wanted: Shiny objects!
Hear, hear! If retailers' visions are guided by customers’ whims, they’ll all be running around crazily serving up the same stuff, and perhaps disappointing customers in the process. After all, do smart phones and the Internet really make shoppers “smarter than ever” (another popular mantra), or do they just create too many choices or, at the opposite extreme, enable everyone to fixate on the preferences they already had?
“If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would have said, ‘A faster horse.’” That’s a quote from a retailer from the past, Henry Ford, but I think it’s a timely reminder.
Any half-day unintentionally spent with HSN (guilty as charged) will tell you that retail is at its most compelling when it is creating desire, not just chasing demand (and that demand, when made visible to customers, can drive desire to even greater heights).
The term “predictive” came up more than once during the show – retailers are proactively executing against their predictions by, for example, creating shopping lists and issuing coupons based on consumer purchase history. Okay, fine, but to me, retailers, now more than ever, must pave a path to what's next rather than just extrapolating what's now.
I'll leave with one more mantra: “The shopper is in charge.” Power doesn't corrupt, it reveals, and if the retailer-as-enabler movement gains strength, retailers will find that “the customer who is always in charge” will become the customer who is most entitled and in the end, probably the least satisfied.