Retailers warned to get closer to customers

Retailers warned to get closer to customers

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, said these changes are accelerating exponentially with technology. It is the retailers who build and maintain relationships with consumers that will benefit most, according to Walter.

"Retailers who fail to get closer to their customers will fail to survive," Walter said. "Those who understand the consumer experience and provide the right shopping model will be very successful."

Walter continued, saying that 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 would a significant entertainment purchase made in a computer store.

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, she said. "Consumers can arm themselves with more information from the Web than they are able to obtain from a retail sales clerk."

Walters added that big and small 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.

"Shopping in the virtual world can actually take longer than the physical world," Walter said "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.

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