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Are you ready for retail tech - or are you a Tinfoil-Hat Tony?

It’s fair to assume the key behavioural change of Gen Z related to retail is a preference for speed, familiarity and discovery, says  Juanita Neville-Te Rito.

Retail businesses need to fully understand the changing behaviours of Gen Z, or any audience for that matter, and what it means for their business models. The sooner they can adjust and respond to what will likely be their most important customers for the next few decades, the better.

Targeting Gen Z means recognising the importance of the all-powerful device in the Gen Z’s pocket. Messages need to be refined to the most compelling, concise version, mirroring Gen Z’s preference for efficiency.

Gen Z isn’t the only demographic whose behaviour is different – as a Gen X’er, my own behaviour has shifted significantly. I haven’t watched commercial free-to-air TV in weeks, nor have I bought a newspaper or listened to a radio station. Retailers need to move significantly to these shifting behaviours as the lifeblood to sales.

Let’s think about four different types of possible audiences and how they expect technology to enable their shopping. I have deliberately choosen different types of Gen X’ers (aka me) so we are keeping it real!

Tech-savvy Terry – Common sense Terry is digitally savvy and an adopter of anything technology. He is not bleeding-edge, rather, a leading-edge adopter who spends money on solutions wisely once they are proven. He isn’t going to buy a FitBit. Why bother? Your phone can let you do everything and anything. Terry expects seamless utilisation of technology and thinks it’s so “old school” to not have PayWave. Ask him a question and he has his phone at the ready to find out recommendations, reviews and other places which might have all he needs.

Kool-Aid Kate – She’s both a leader and a follower. Kate is easily influenced by the media. You might recognise her as that helicopter mum who will adopt anything from giving a kale cleanse a go to getting her kids extra tuition for school so they are never left behind. This kind of person will be inspired by stuff they see in Instagram posts, Facebook referrals and compelling storytelling. But Kate is time-poor and wants as few hassles as possible on her path to purchase. She would love it if you got her details at purchase so next time she comes you speak to her directly, send her relevant offers and better still email her the receipt. Kate is going to be annoyed if she missed a VIP sale release her friends knew about.

Tinfoil-hat Tony – Tony covers his hand at the auto teller and counts the money the machine spits out. He religiously checks his printed Visa statement so no one makes a mistake or steals his money. He is still dubious of online banking and often clears his cache. Tony isn’t going to give you his email anytime soon. Tony turns off his WiFi when it’s not in use so no one hacks it and it doesn’t run out. But Tony wants someone to store a copy of his warranty for his new TV in case his gets lost. And don’t send him emails – you are just trying to “sell him stuff.” But Tony will research what he wants and will look at printed catalogues as compare them with his Google search. And why can’t you tell him what size tyre he bought last time? He always buys his tyres from you!

Sensible Sharon – She has a love-hate relationship with technology. It’s great if it works for her, but she hates that people have lost the art of sending letters and cards. She locks her kids’ iPads and cellphones up each night so they aren’t surfing in bed.  But she just discovered Uber and it’s incredible. Sharon won’t shop online because she decides what she wants for dinner as she shops. But she loves that her pharmacy emails her when her son’s medication needs to be picked up, and also likes a reminder that her glasses have been fixed.

What technology do you need?

Technology is an enabler for seamless customer interactions that meet or exceed their expectations. It’s not a “thing” that you must tick off a list to get. And most certainly don’t think you need every new shiny widget on the market. There is a lot to be said for waiting for others to trial and test technology and get involved once the innovation is market-ready.

Things to consider

  • How do customers find you? Can I look up your contact details easily and find out when you are open and closed? An answerphone message is technology and nothing annoys me more than a retailer’s phone ringing out.
  • What’s the purpose of your website? Is it to tell a story about you and your offer, a transactional retail store or something else? The most critical thing you can do is make sure it does what it is intended to do, seamlessly. The fewer clicks, the better, and get a normal shopper to test it so they can tell you the good/bad/ugly. Also, what does it look like on my phone?
  • Social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest - the list is endless. Why are you doing it? Because everyone else is? To sell stuff? To inspire people? To create a movement. The key to social media is participation. So unless you are in it for a reason; and by in it I mean posting and actively engaging, don’t bother. It’s a distraction for you and disappointing for shoppers.
  • Stock management control – What, where is it, how much is it – the lifeblood of retail. Having a stock management system that helps you manage, control and identify stock is possibly the best investment any retailer can have.
  • Counting the cash – Point of sale systems that can tell you what was sold, when, how much, did you make any money and to whom is key. Effectively, it should be an extension of stock management control.
  • Apps – So you think you need an app. Why? The number of consumers using mobile apps is growing exponentially, and customers who use mobile apps are often your most valuable. What’s the likely use of frequency? Research shows around nine apps are used regularly on a mobile phone. And that includes Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, NZ Herald, Weather, Maps, etc. So your app has to be pretty relevant and compelling to have customers load and shop on it.
  • All about the customer – Who shops with you, how can you talk to them and what do they buy? Forget big data. The lifeblood of any business is useable data. If you have a retail business that relies on your customer coming back, buying more and ideally visiting more often you need to know about them and talk to them.

Finally, do you need super-duper bespoke systems? The majority of SMEs should be reviewing the many financially-accessible SaaS systems on the market. Just as Xero has made business accounting seamless, user-friendly and easy, the likes of Vend has made POS incredible; Shopify and Squarespace have made ecommerce easy; MailChimp, Hubspot and Marketo haves made digital marketing simple and easy. The list is endless. Most importantly, if you don’t have time to review these, get a specialist in to give you some advice.

Technology is an enabler. An enabler of flow, customer engagement, systems and process, making the complex simple. Can you afford not to spend more time “on” the business of the customer rather than “in” the business? What’s your plan otherwise to drive growth?

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 751 August / September 2017