The New Connected Shopper?

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While reading today of sophisticated mobile-marketing strategies – complex concepts such as “creating meaningful retail connection points,” ” transforming points-of-sale into points-of-service,” “engaging the new connected shopper” and “becoming an omni-channel retailer” – I was reminded, in contrast, of simpler shopping experiences that I enjoyed decades ago.

I lived in the classic small town – centered by a tree-shaded park that served as its formal square, complete with ornate gazebo, comfortable benches and bricked sidewalks, surrounded by merchants with storefronts large and small, a bank on one corner, a hotel on another … well, you know the scene. It was a less complicated era when many such towns were still home to a tailor and cobbler, a haberdasher, a butcher and a baker … heck, even a blacksmith.

Becoming an omni-channel retailer? The haberdasher’s name was Julius, but everyone called him Pop. I guess that’s two channels, right there. My scant patronage wasn’t going to make or break Pop, yet he remembered me by name whenever I stepped through his door and kept my measurements on file for future reference, including hat size. Pop joked that it was all the new knowledge that caused my head to grow from a size 6¾ to 7½ while at college, though we both knew it was just that I’d returned with so much more hair.

Creating meaningful retail connection points? When Pop received a shipment that included something he thought might interest me, he’d call, although the likelihood of our standing simultaneously by our respective telephones was slim, and answering machines did not yet exist. Failing that, he’d drop a note in the mail, and I’d receive it in a day or two. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but there were days when I visited Pop’s shop and made some small purchase just because it felt good to be there. So, how many connection points is that?

Transforming points-of-sale into points-of-service? Pop carried a pad of sales slips in his pocket with a piece of carbon paper between the two top pages. He’d note my selections as I made them, and, when I was done, he’d bag my purchases and bring them to me – wherever in his store I stood – along with the top sheet from his pad, keeping the carbon copy for his records. There was no cash register to queue up behind, nor even a checkout counter. At the end of the month, the postman would deliver Pop’s bill, and I’d mail him a check in return. When a customer was in Pop’s store, that customer was the point-of-sale and the point-of-service.

Pop would often conclude our transactions with a teaser, a description of whatever shipment he expected next, and always with a handshake while thanking me by name. Pop looked me in the eye when we talked and always spoke clearly, although with a decidedly Western European accent. When I was in his store, I felt I had his full attention, even when other customers were present who undoubtedly felt that they did as well. He let me know in every gesture that he was glad I was his customer. Now that I think about it, so too did the tailor and the cobbler, the butcher and the baker. I never had reason to trade with the blacksmith, but I suspect he would have as well.

I find myself also reading today about major retailers encouraging shoppers to use their smartphones to “scan in” as they enter their stores, tracking customers’ purchases and predicting their shopping behaviors. My first reaction to each of these strategies was negative: that it was vaguely creepy, a tad intrusive. Do I really want major retailers knowing me as more than an anonymous face among many anonymous faces, tracking what I’ve purchased from them in the past, predicting what I might wish to buy in the future?

And then I remembered Pop, who knew me as more than an anonymous face, who could recall from record and memory every purchase I’d ever made from his store, who could indeed predict my shopping behavior and who was charmingly intrusive in sharing those predictions. Pop, a retail merchant with whom I became so connected as customer that I remember him vividly still, all these decades later.

Engaging the new connected shopper? Pop was a living object lesson in forging positive connections with shoppers and engaging them in the most effective ways. And, no, now that I think about it, there is nothing creepy about a retail merchant knowing I’m in his store, even if only because the smartphone in my hand told him so. When you boil all the fancy marketing concepts down to their basics, although their operations are much larger and the challenges they face more complex, major retailers are simply trying to recreate the positive shopping experiences I enjoyed in Pop’s store, and if mobile technology can help them accomplish that, I sincerely hope they succeed.

As much as I enjoyed that simpler era and trading with Pop, now that I’ve experienced all that mobile technology has just begun to deliver, I’ve no wish to go back.

This blog is courtesy of L-Tron’s guest writer, Gary Parkerson. Parkerson is the Managing Editor of Astronomy Technology Today.