The rise of the smartphone-powered consumer
By Guy Courtin, VP Industry and Solution Strategy at Infor Retail
Steve Jobs reinvented an entire industry when he introduced the iPhone at Macworld San Francisco on June 29, 2007. Phones – and our lives – haven’t been the same since.
In and of itself, the first iPhone was a magical device. But the iPhone’s impact hasn’t been limited just to personal technology. The iPhone, and every smart device that’s followed, has given people a window to the rest of the world. It redefined how we communicate, research, learn, share, and buy. And it eliminated the constraints of trying to carry a powerful computer with you wherever you go. Almost overnight, anyone could access the internet with a device that could easily fit into their pocket.
Perhaps the iPhone’s most profound effect was unleashing a new wave of creativity among consumers and businesses, forever changing our expectations of the products, brands, and services we interact with. It’s changed entire industries, and disrupted business models along the way. Hotels gave way to AirBnB, taxis gave way to Uber, entertainment went from purchasing physical media in stores to downloading and streaming over services like Spotify and Netflix. The list goes on. It’s even changed the way we speak.
We used to research, write, take pictures, and say yes or no; now we Yelp, tweet, snap selfies, and swipe right or left. Indeed, the iPhone has changed the world since it was first introduced in 2007. And as Apple announces the 10th edition of its signature product, there’s little doubt mobile devices will continue to influence our lives and businesses in the years ahead. Although we can’t entirely predict what the next 10 years will bring, we can look at how the iPhone has changed the world of retail so far. Here are 10 ways it has reinvented the industry over the past 10 years:
- The phone is the center of the retail universe
- The everywhere consumer
The balance of power has shifted. Because of mobile phones’ ubiquity and ease of use, the amount of information freely available online, the number of retailers to choose from, and easy access to social media for reviews and advice, consumers now have more influence than the retailers that serve them. Retailers no longer dictate when, where, or how to shop. Consumers can research products anywhere and at any time. They have more selection than ever, and more price points to choose from. And the internet is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
- The personalized supply chain
If the supply chain is a means to an end, the end is no longer the physical store. Mobile shopping has opened the door for consumers to choose how and when products arrive. Retailers can no longer expect the customer to come to them, and it’s given rise to a new wave of personalized options for delivery. From buy online and pickup in store, all the way to subscription services, drop shipping, and two-hour delivery, customers now expect the products to come to them. And they expect greater transparency about how those products are made, how they’re delivered, and how they’re priced. It’s elevated the role of supply chain from a back office function to a competitive differentiator along the way.
- The store is more than four walls and a door
About those stores: Smartphones have completely changed the definition of what retail should be. Physical presence used to be everything for a retailer. Wherever there was an addressable market, stores would follow, up to the point where the landscape was oversaturated with retail real estate. It led to dated physical assets and the cannibalization of same-store sales. The rise of smartphones (and the online and mobile shopping experiences that followed) have inspired retailers to rethink what a store can be. It’s been a painful experience for some, who have begun to close stores and shrink their physical footprint. But it’s also led to a reimagining of what the shopping experience can be, too – from pop-up retail stores to new services and omni-channel offerings along the way.
- Experience is everything
Thanks to smartphones, customers have more information and more buying power than ever. And retailers can no longer compete on just price or assortment. Retailers now must provide an experience that matches consumers’ raised expectations, and those experiences should be consistent across every touchpoint. Whether it’s the thrill of the hunt at a bargain brand like TJ Maxx, or more sophisticated and personalized service at Nordstrom, experience is what sets a successful retailer apart from its competition.
- The rise of the brand ambassador
The retail experience lives and dies with a retailer’s employees. And in the age of highly connected and uber-informed consumers, it’s imperative that retailers empower store associates with the tools and technology necessary to keep up. Store associates should be equipped with enough knowledge to answer a customer’s question and make informed recommendations on products. And if a particular product isn’t in stock, associates should be prepared to work with the customer to either find it at another store, find an alternative, or ensure the product’s delivered to the customer when it comes back in stock. Otherwise, that customer might (and probably will) go somewhere else.
People like to comparison shop. And smartphones have made it that much easier for someone to see an item in the store and immediately turn to their browser for further information on products, prices, and alternatives. Or they might try something on in-store to see if it fits, take a selfie, and ask their friends how it looks. Sometimes those customers might go ahead and make the purchase, but more often than not, they’ll take their time deciding when to buy, whom to buy it from, and what price they want to pay. For retailers, this new capacity for customer choice emphasizes the value of playing the long game, the importance of consistency across channels, and the benefit of carrying exclusive products that customers want to buy.
- Data and connectivity matter more than ever
Smartphones have helped customers gain deeper knowledge and more access to retailers and the products and services they offer. They’re also an opportunity to build brand loyalty and put the product right in front of the customer. Savvy retailers use this to their advantage by building a better picture of the customer, connecting data from various touchpoints, and investing more money into targeted promotions across search and social to target the right customers with the most relevant offers.
- A direct path to the buyer
Mobile apps and phone-based shopping have blurred the lines between brands and retailers, giving more businesses a direct path to the consumer. It’s amped up the competition for customer loyalty, and has given rise to faster product lifecycles. It used to be that when a brand introduced its new collection at Fashion Week, customers would have to wait months before they could find it at their local store. Now many labels start selling a product as soon as it appears on the catwalk. But retailers and startups are pushing back with their own private labels and exclusives, many of which make their first appearances in-app or on social media.
- Customer is king (or queen)
If there was any doubt of the customer’s influence over retail, mobile helped shatter it. Since the rise of the iPhone, not only is it important for products to look good in-store or on catalog pages, but also online, but also with real-world users. Mobile phones and the social connectivity they brought forth have given rise to strategies like influencer marketing, and a new wave of VR and AR experiences that help customers envision themselves using a retailer or brand’s products before they buy.
Before smartphones, people used to visit stores. They’d browse the shelves, ask an associate for advice, and choose from a limited selection of products. Now the phone is the beginning – and often the end – of the entire transaction. Because so many consumers have smartphones, and because those smartphones are so convenient and easy to use, they’ve changed the entire relationship between consumers and the brands and retailers they choose. As a result, retailers are under more pressure than ever to provide a consistent experience across channels and stay in front of consumers wherever they may be.
And one more thing …
Steve Jobs was a great marketer and master showman. He always kept his customers wanting more. People stood in line to see, touch, and buy the iPhone when it was released in 2007. And every year since, Apple fans have anxiously awaited whatever came next. No smartphone has ever been perfect – the iPhone included. But Apple and Steve jobs never let perfection get in the way of progress.
To stay relevant in a fast-changing market, it’s critical that retailers think like technology companies. Customers’ wants and needs are constantly changing, and the only way to keep up is to continuously evolve the business, learning from other industries and incorporating new technologies along the way. Entire industries have transformed since smartphones took center stage 10 years ago, and the pace of change has sped up every year since. If retailers want to keep up, they must choose the path of perpetual innovation.
Tagged: customer experience, iphone, mobile retail, omni-channel, rise of the consumer, supply chain, think like a tech company