Coincidentally, this week, I ran across the concept of “Customer Identity.” The article I found was “3 reasons why customer identity should top retailers’ 2017 holiday wish lists.” It sounds like one of those pie-in-the-sky articles, but it really gets to the heart of the matter.
A company can no longer chuck goods onto shelves and expect foot-traffic to save the day. Of course, we’ve known this all along. We’ve seen how brick and mortar stores of all kinds have shut down because customers can pick out, generally, what they need, from Amazon. And now Walmart. With relative ease.
Because there is a wealth of choices on Amazon, if a company really wants to reach out to finicky customers, it has to develop that customer identity mentality. Key in the article above is item #3. “Personalization means increased revenues.” The art of reaching out and creating a relationship with customers is paramount. For a good example, see: “How Harley-Davidson Used Artificial Intelligence to Increase New York Sales Leads by 2,930%.”
The trick will be how to do that even as Amazon and others (maybe Apple as well) assume control of the conversational gateway.
Brick & Mortar Might Resurface as the Gateway
I think I’ve always had a vague notion that brick and mortar stores need to amplify the buying experience. What’s interesting is how many stores seem to be getting away with the old way of doing things. They carry on valiantly, rolling the money up, until the final collapse. But ultimately, stores are where people help people. As the authors wrote in The Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations.
Laying off sales people and presenting an empty store is a sign of the very, very end. Amazingly, many companies don’t know that yet. Apple understands. That concierge who greets you the instant you enter the store is crucial. I fear for JCPenney.
All this has made me wonder how Apple got so disconnected from its Mac customers in the past few years with all those glorious retail stores. If Apple had been data mining and working to be in close contact with Mac customers, it might have become clearer, much earlier, that there were a boatload of customers looking to upgrade their Macs, whether Mac mini, Mac Pro, iMac or MacBook/Air/Pro.
Instead, it seemed to me that customers were connecting, instead, with journalists to express their needs because journalists were listening. There was a conversation. For the Mac, Apple was distant, pre-occupied, disconnected.
Future of Shopping
My expectation for the future is that these smart speakers, the Amazon Echo-like devices, (perhaps one from Apple) will become more of a conversational partner. Yes, they may pry into our personal needs a bit, but merchants have been doing that for years with loyalty cards. AI’s just make the merchant’s knowledge more obvious.
As I mentioned above, one problem is how merchants will compete, make themselves visible, and create a relationship with the customer even as the high tech AIs dominate the conversation with customers. In any case, Apple could very well feel that it also needs that competitive edge with its own smart speaker. Perhaps: Siri Speaker.
I’d personally like to see Apple create a better “customer identity” relationship. That way, over the course of the fall, in the future, Siri can chat with me about what kind of new Mac I’d like. Or iPhone. Then, instead of getting up at 1:00 AM to fight with millions of other customers amongst Apple’s overloaded servers, Siri would already know which iPhone I want.
Siri: John, I can get you an iPhone 9, black, 128 GB.
John: Yep. Order it now.
I’d get a lot more sleep. On my very special pillow.