The National Retail Federation's Stores.com website recently published a list of predictions for the upcoming year in retail. While there were no real surprises (consumers will continue to shop despite threats of recession, "green" practices will continue to pervade the way retailers appeal to customers, shopping excursions will become less of an event for more shoppers), there were a few interesting points of interest and one glaring omission.
First, the interesting bits. While social networking remains a dominant activity on computers, its infiltration into portable devices (cell phones, smartphones, media players) will drive a need for retailers to provide a more proactive approach to engaging customers. When a customer is able to get their questions answered by referencing a website or personal expert via their handheld device while they're standing in front of the product, retailers will need to be able to communicate a compelling reason to buy from them.
Another interesting, if not perplexing, conundrum facing retail in the next year is the growing rate of consumers' paradoxical desires. As Stores.com puts it:
You know this guy, right? Installed solar panels on the roof of his home; insists on cutting his grass with a push mower; recycles with vengeance. Yet, parked in his driveway is a Hummer. Having trouble putting the pieces together? That’s the challenge retailers and marketers face.
The real challenge will be to provide an experience on the retail floor that appeals to all sides of this consumer's psyche. Expect to see more and more customer segmentation and personality profiling studies over the next twelve to eighteen months.
Finally, it looks like one prediction was left off of the list. It speaks to a few different items on the list, but it deserves to stand out on its own because it's something retailers can have direct control over so that it doesn't adversely affect their business. We predict that over the next twelve months, customers will continue to grow increasingly intolerant of unengaging store personnel. As time and money start to reach parity in terms of value and scarcity, and more and more retail employees are brought on board with little-to-no customer engagement skills development, the result will be more consumers turning to the web or other avenues for their purchasing, eroding the loyalty that's so valuable to growing a business.
Well, just like Ebenezer Scrooge was able to prove the Ghost of Christmas Future wrong by changing his ways, retailers can thwart this course to destruction by investing the resources into making their sales talent engagement specialists. The retailers that succeed beyond the next year will be the ones that have customers singing the praises of their people.