Technology won’t solve retail’s customer insight problem

There’s only one person who knows the future of retail and that is your customers. Fact. Trying to second-guess what generation X, Y, Z and now Alpha will do next is almost impossible. And these newer generations don’t necessarily know what they want themselves, but they’ll be the first to know because they are the ones inventing it.

Most retailers have built their businesses around Traditionalists, Millennials and Boomers, so embracing the new buyer is going to be hard, but here’s where to start. Take time to understand them, get to know them, and start to do the sorts of the things they like. Then you are more likely to succeed than companies that still know almost nothing about their customers except that they paid by credit card.

Customer insight means getting a grip on data

It is no longer enough to say that knowing the customer is hard; the data is already there, it just takes force of corporate will, and good technology, to get value out of it.

Not everything you do will work, but that should be in the nature of retail now – test and learn, test and learn, adapt and evolve. Diamond Shreddies, Jafflechutes and Zaou (thanks to consumer behaviouralist Ken Hughes for all these) could not have been predicted to have worked quite so well, but they have.

So perhaps it is time to ignore what tech companies, analysts, futurists, I and retailers themselves say what the store of the future will look like, because expensive mistakes are being made. After all, it is not the technology that is disrupting retail but customers. Throwing tech at the problem is clearly not the answer.

Retail innovation or just a distraction?

Already, well known brands are stuffing their stores with digital signage and changing room mirrors, that may simply be distracting customers away from the products and the chance to interact with store associates. They have been persuaded that these technologies will drive more sales, and they also want to be seen as innovative, but where is the evidence that these projects actually did deliver higher sales consistently over time?

Technology choices are broader than ever

After two days at this year’s RBTE, which had a record turnout, it is clear that retailers are faced with a larger than ever range of options for technology. And it’s only going to get harder and harder to find, choose, and implement the right technologies, even if the exact shape of the problem it solves has been identified

Simply collecting a bunch of data about customers is only the start. You then need insight. And only then should you see what technologies are available to enable you to meet customers’ needs.

Let’s take Jeff Bezos’ advice. Start with the customer and work backwards. Retail, as it tries to move from supply to demand, needs to follow suit.


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