The retail industry is a rapidly changing marketplace in which those who don't read the trends and adjust to them will not be around for long, according to a leading authority on the subject.
While speaking at The Retail Show in Sydney recently, Joanne Walter, vice president of Future Retailing at NCR Corporation, said these changes are accelerating exponentially with technology. It is the retailers who build relationships with consumers that will benefit most according to Walter, who presented an essay at the show titled Communicating with your customers into the 21st century.
"Retailers who fail to get closer to their customers will fail to survive," she said. "Others who understand the consumer experience and provide the right shopping model will be very successful."
Understanding the consumer experience begins with identifying how involved and excited consumers are when purchasing specific products. Regular everyday purchases such as groceries and fuel do not invoke the same emotions as a significant entertainment purchase made in a computer store, she added.
While there are a lot of ways in which the Internet can be used to improve efficiencies and interactive involvement, it lacks the sensation that comes with a store visit, Walter said. Consumers can obtain more information from the Web than they can from a retail sales clerk. Retailers who also provide that sort of Web access and information in-store will better be able to compete with even the largest of online competitors, she added.
"Shopping in the virtual world can actually take longer than the physical world. There will still be a place for smaller stores - especially those that use innovative technology to understand and improve the way people shop."
This doesn't, however, mean Walter has no faith in the power and future of electronic commerce. "The entry and exit costs are low, while traditional retailers have very high exit costs. It can be a lethal combination," she said.