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    Retail Tech Changing in the Blink of an Eye

    Digital communication among most-talked-about NRF Show topics.

    NEW YORK — Technology can change faster than the speed of light, something definitely evident at the 2016 National Retail Federation (NRF) Convention & Expo, Retail's Big Show, taking place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here through Jan. 20.

    Last year, EMV — an acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, the three companies that originally created the security standard — and related security technologies were the talk of the show, whether it was in educational sessions or during discussions with vendors on the expo floor.

    Although security still held a prominent place at the 2016 NRF Show, its spotlight was shared by plenty of discussion regarding digital communication and how to build customer relationships in this new environment.

    This topic was the subject of several educational sessions, including one entitled “Creating Lasting Relationships in a Digital Age.” According to session speaker Jim Barnes, CEO of Enspire Commerce, the digital age will not go away any time soon. The main question is how retailers can convert customers as times change.

    The first mistake retailers make is having separate brick-and-mortar and digital strategies, stressed Barnes. “Retailers don’t think horizontally, only vertically,” he told a standing-room-only crowd.

    Retailers must think about creating intimacy in a digital environment, added Barnes. The way to do this is via “clienteling,” the art of helping a customer buy vs. selling to them.

    To create more in-store engagement, Barnes recommends retailers do the following three things:

    1. Develop a customer service roadmap. Start with an end goal in mind and know how customers buy products in the retailer’s store.
    2. Change mindset. Move from having sales transactions to building a personal relationship. Salespeople should become personal shoppers for their customers. Be a brand ambassador.
    3. Evaluate enabling technologies. “Is new technology the answer?” asked Barnes. “Yes and no. Technology can also be an inhibitor."

    Sales associates should have a "personal ‘black book,'" concluded Barnes. “You need to have one-on-one relationships. Contact [customers] via text for example and tell them they bought a certain item and maybe they’ll like this [other] item.”


    Of course, you can't talk about digital communication without talking about smartphones. In another educational session entitled “Capitalizing on Key Consumer Moments at Retail,” speakers Russell Young, senior vice president of marketing and creative services for Stratachache, and Josh Johnson, senior manager of digital innovation for AT&T Inc., noted smartphones are ubiquitous and retailers need to connect to customers both in-store and outside the store.

    In fact, Johnson revealed that consumers tend to look at their smartphones an average of 150 times a day, which equates to five or six times during the average retail visit.

    “The challenge is creating tech-enabled moments and turning these moments into a story,” said Young. “We need to remind customers the value they have.”

    Retailers should follow a four-step process when trying to attract digitally active customers:

    • Create an experience for customers;
    • Test and establish goals;
    • Learn and refine a program based on takeaways;
    • Scale and deploy in rapid fashion for the most impact.
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