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There is a new breed of consumers - and they are demanding to be treated as individuals

There is a new breed of consumers - and they are demanding to be treated as individuals

So how is this environment impacting ICT departments?

Despite the success of online retail websites, in-store sales still dominate and consumer preference for a physical in-store experience is rising.

Consumers go to the store to touch, feel, try on and get reassurance that their purchase will fulfil their specific requirements. They use their mobile technology to search for detailed product information, best prices, social media, reviews and comments. However, this online information does not verify product suitability re their specific needs, so they ask the salesperson.

One of the key functions of a professional salesperson is to “ask, listen, understand and recommend” the best product for a user’s requirements, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. Sales people work hard to keep up with the latest product developments, features and technical specifications, but due to an ever increasing range of product choices is makes it impossible for any-one salesperson to know the right answer.

Related: If companies are not making customer obsession their top priority, they are making a grave mistake, says Forrester

The village marketplace

Before the advent of long distance shipping and mass production, the consumer could speak directly with the manufacturer to ask specific usage questions, authenticate source material and agree on “the best choice”. As product diversity grew and retail stores offered more-and-more brands, the manufacturer was edged out of the sales process and forced to rely on the skill, enthusiasm and knowledge of the retail outlets.

The manufacturer-retailer-consumer formula has worked well for many years. There was a time when it was possible for the salesperson to remember the features of all products in the store and to accurately recommend the most appropriate product based on individual needs. The in-store sales process was able to add value and trust to the transaction and formed the basis of an ongoing business relationship for repeat purchases and personal referrals. But all that has changed and sales revenue is being lost. Manufacturers are seeking ways to re-connect directly with their customer without offending their existing retail channel.

Read more: Z CIO Lois van Waardenberg: Pure energy

Employees may have IT controlled restrictions to information during their work hours, but once they leave the building, they become a 'connected shopper' via their mobile device.

Catch 22

Retailers want their people to build an in-store sales relationship and recommend the most suitable product, but it is impossible to keep up with all the specifications and latest product details.

Read more: CIO Upfront: The User Experience guru

Manufacturers have the information that the salesperson and the consumer are searching for, but the manufacturer is excluded from the sales process.

So what are the imperatives for CIOs in this environment?

Customer focus: Recognise that today’s tech-savvy consumers are willing to take their business elsewhere and collaboration, transparency and connectivity are critical to the success of the consumer in-store experience.

Technology:The balance of power regarding access to computer information has shifted. Employees may have IT controlled restrictions to information during their work hours, but once they leave the building, they become a “connected shopper” via their mobile device and they are demanding accurate answers, product verification and an authentic relationship.

Read more: Key to telco prosperity in 2015: Become more ‘customer adaptive’

Delivery:Transform your customer’s experience by providing real answers to consumers and retailers. Move away from out of date manufacturer-retailer separation, use technology to get alongside the people that are buying your product and re-connect directly with your end user.

Rediscover: Rediscover your market. Strengthen business relationships and increase sales by making sure your information is readily available to the people who are searching for it.

Keith Lightfoot (keith@onlineshopassistant.com) is business development manager for Connective Retailing, a cloud based service that is part of the Wired Internet Group in Christchurch.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Read more: 360-degree leadership: John Emerson of Tait Communications

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

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