"Customers and Retailers Support Each Other With Information"

Interview with Sven Tollmien, Director Innovation Services, TrendONE

Mobile devices create a new type of connection between customer and retailer. Both sides can access information and sales offers at anytime and anywhere. In our current interview, Sven Tollmien, Director Innovation Services with the trend analysis specialists at TrendONE, explains why current solutions enable an increase in customer retention and new services in the store as well as how it benefits retailers if their customers take advantage of these offers.
Photo: Sven Tollmien; © TrendONE

Sven Tollmien: "One very important topic is the increasing individualization, which is reflected in pricing as well as services, the sales approach and even the range of products."; © TrendONE

What new solutions are currently on the market with which retailers are able to reach their customers in the store and ideally also create a stronger customer bond?

Sven Tollmien: At the moment, couponing is a very hot topic. This is why comprehensive couponing solutions are also successful in the U.S., like Shopular for instance, which serves as a “catchall” for the digital coupons by different providers. One important feature is selection. This is to say, directly at the POS, the customer is offered localized available coupons that are relevant to him/her. Retailers and individual brands of course are also able to position themselves well with these solutions and create incentives to buy.

What is also exciting are solutions that don’t just intensify the “customer-retailer relationship“, but also the “customer-customer relationship“. One example for this is Greentape. The app serves as a platform where suggestions and information about specific products are being shared within the user community. The retailer can also use this service very selectively to bring customers into the store.

What role do mobile devices play in the current development?

Tollmien: Mobile devices are door openers into the digital world of the retailer of course. If the customer desires, he/she can access additional information and current sales offers etc. at any time on his/her device. The exciting part about the current development however is notably its bidirectional attributes. The customer virtually connects with the store. He/she is not just being passively given information by the retailer, information also flows back from the customer to the retailer.

After all, one thing is often forgotten, particularly in Germany where data security is very important to so many people: the retailer is also able to collect data in this instance of course, albeit it’s usually unpersonalized. This also includes route tracking in the store for instance. Yet personalized data can also be collected of course.

When the customer uses the corresponding applications, he/she also voluntarily indicates which products are interesting to him/her for instance. This gives the retailer valuable information of course.

Mobile devices are also important on the retailer’s side. Today, customers are used to having information always available. This is why it is quickly perceived as bad service, if an associate has to first check back with the warehouse for instance if the desired product is still available. This is why many retailers – Apple is one of them for instance – also supply their sales assistants with mobile devices so that they are able to quickly and directly access all important information for the customer during the conversation. With the right application, the assistant is also able to order products at the store or have them directly delivered to the customer’s home. Customers perceive these services as a true value.

How can a comprehensive sales approach be realized through all of the available retail channels?

Tollmien: Many still believe that customer communication still only flows into one direction, that being from the retailer to the customer. Yet today there are more and more applications and technical innovations that provide the retailer with additional information about the customer. Tracking and analyzing customer routes in the store for instance is becoming ever easier, since tracking works via the WLAN network for example.

Collecting data is actually also the crucial factor for customer retention. If the retailer has information on what actually makes the customer come into the store and what products are particularly interesting to him/her, the retailer is then of course also able to further optimize the product choices.

Many retailers still think too much in terms of “channels”, thus clearly differentiating between print, online, mobile and POS. However, the customer does not think about channels, but about the different touch points that can be used. This means, as a retailer, I don’t just have to pay attention to serve every single channel, but I also have to understand the different requirements of the touch points. If I say “mobile channel” for instance, I have to remember that this channel in turn includes many different touch points, depending on where and in what situation the customer uses the mobile device.

A comprehensive customer sales approach works through cross-linking touch points. When a product is not available at the store for instance, I can offer the customer the option to pay by Smartphone and have the product directly delivered to his/her house the next day. This way, I am actually no longer operating in the classic POS channel, but in the mobile area, yet I still serviced the customer at the POS and also sold the product there.

What new services are retailers able to offer their customers with this technological development?

Tollmien: One very important topic is the increasing individualization, which is reflected in pricing as well as services, the sales approach and even the range of products. And this is true for all channels. Thanks to the various ways the data is generated, the individual buyer behavior can be relatively well predicted and offers retail a link for a direct, individual sales approach. Personal service can also benefit from this. Here is one example: if the customer needs a new piece of clothing for a special occasion, she can get an idea on what’s available on the Smartphone and get inspired.

If she has found something that she likes, she can have the garment sent to the store of her choice using the same app and make an appointment to try things on. This gives the sales assistant the chance to prepare for the sales pitch and ideally (complemented by additional data on previous buying behavior for instance) offer the customer suitable alternatives. This way, the customer perceives the consultation and service at the POS as more personal and individualized, which creates a special shopping experience.

Your lecture at the “Mobile Gipfel 2013“(“Mobile Summit 2013”) was titled “Living in a Post-Digital Era – What Comes After Digital?“. Can you give us a brief outlook on the trends that are going to determine/change communication between retailer and customer over the next few years?

Tollmien: ”Post-Digital“ at its core means that the differentiation between analog and digital simply disappears and that these two areas are going to blend more and more. At the retailer, everything – from the products on the shelves and so on – is surrounded by a “digital sphere” that the customer is able to access. The customer receives suggestions, information and new options to conduct and co-determine the buying process. In the future, the integration of everything digital will become even more normal and matter of course than it partly already is today. Especially at the store, the combination of online and offline aspects provides new interaction options for the retailer as well as the customer. The customer benefits from this by receiving a better shopping experience. The retailer is able to approach his/her customers even more directly, thereby strengthening the customer bond, and increase sales volumes.

Interview: Daniel Stöter; EuroShop
First publication at iXtenso.com