Monthly Archives: March 2017

Success in the Digital Age Requires Extraordinary Retail Leaders

The carnage intensified last year. “There were 15 shop closures a day across the UK in the first half of 2016 and the number of new openings has fallen to the lowest level for five years” writes Graham Ruddick, senior business reporter at The Guardian. And the carnage is continuing this year. “Brick and mortar stores are suffering due to competition from online sales and the closures just keep coming” according to Daniel Kline in MotleyFool. What is happening? Where are the retail leaders?

The advent of eCommerce, mobile shopping, interactive social media and marketing automation caused a ‘digital disruption’ in the retail industry. However, many established retail brands failed to adapt to the fast changing behaviors and high demands of their consumers. The digital age has come for them and moved on. As a result, retail leaders that couldn’t cope with the disruption have capitulated. But what type of retail leaders does the sector need during these turbulent times?

Retail leaders in the digital age

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal 1. But how can retailers lead and influence their staff during this digital disruption? Maybe it’s time to challenge retail leadership says Ken Silay, Partner, Innovator’s Equation. Ken suggests writing for Innovative Retail Technologies that “The truth is retail is run by old thinking and old metrics” and “difference between the old and new thinking in business creates a gap in retail leadership that will continue to get wider”.

Dr Ganesh Shermon, Managing Partner for “R for C Talent Management Solutions” (North America) recently highlighted the challenges retailers face. He said that retailers are confronted with dramatic managerial changes, given the convergence of the human mind, (Intellect), behavioral psychology (Cognitive), smart machines, and deep learning science and knowledge (Neural networks) as the basis for management actions. That’s really a mouth full!

The truth is that the old way of leading a retail business does not work anymore. But what should retailers do to get their businesses on par with the digital age?

Strategies that leaders should consider in the Digital Age

Prof Kamal Kishor Jain, Head of HR and Business Psychology Department at IIM Indore, recently said digital age leaders need to acknowledge the limits of their expertise. Additionally, the leaders should build a reliable network of knowledgeable experts to help them navigate through their choices. Prof Jain suggests the following:

  • Speed – is the most distinguishing characteristic of the digital age. No matter how fast you are moving to transform your business; the depressing reality is that you still probably aren’t moving fast enough.
  • Knowledge creation – we need to become more right brained to compete and survive. Leadership is not a noun, it’s a verb. The real charismatic leader is one who disseminates knowledge into his subordinates.
  • Primarily leadership qualities – leaders should be daring, caring and sharing. ‘Failing fast’ and ‘falling forward’ are critical precursors to success in the digital era. Such disruptive change requires leaders to be caring about people are affected by such changes. It is only by caring that a leader can elicit support from followers.

The Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, an initiative of IMD business school and Cisco, and HR consultancy metaBeratung, have identified four competencies (HAVE) that business leaders need in order to excel in the era of digital disruption:

  • Humble – in an age of rapid change, knowing what you don’t know can be as valuable in a business context as knowing what you do. Therefore, digital leaders need a measure of humility, and a willingness to seek diverse inputs both from within and outside their organisations.
  • Adaptable – in a complex and changing environment, an ability to adapt is critical. The global reach of digital technologies has opened up new frontiers for organizations, shrinking once insurmountable continental divides and erasing traditional boundaries between territories. Dealing with the cultural and business impacts of this requires adaptability.
  • Visionary – in times of profound disruption, clear-eyed and rational direction finding is needed. Therefore a clear vision, even in the absence of detailed plans, is a core competency for digital leaders.
  • Engaged – painting visions for the future, successfully communicating these visions and being adaptable enough to change them, requires constant engagement with stakeholders. This broad-based desire to explore, discover, learn and discuss with others is as much a mind-set, as it is a definable set of business-focused activities or behaviors.

How can leaders change their retail business to digital?

It is impossible for retailers to change overnight from doing their things the old way to embracing the digital economy. Indeed, the process must get started and in quick time. Therefore, the ability to digitally re-imagine the business is determined in large part by a clear digital strategy supported by leaders who foster a culture able to change and invent the new 3.  Kane et al proposed the following strategies for retailers to use getting their business to the digital age:

  1. Create a strategy that transforms – when developing a more advanced digital strategy; the best approach may be to turn the traditional strategy development process on its head.
  2. Get the right people for job – just as important as developing talent is reducing the risk of losing it.
  3. Take risks – to boost risk taking in their companies, executives need to change their mind-sets.
  4. Sparking new ideas – many new ideas arise through collaborative efforts among people of different backgrounds.
  5. Telling the story – storytelling is becoming a popular means of gaining employee buy-in and organizational traction for digital transformation.

After all, it will probably require an extraordinary retail leaders to facilitate the move of their businesses from analogue to digital.

Watch this video: “A successful leader must be a global leader, says Marshall Goldsmith.”

Concluding

“If something isn’t working within your organization, challenge it. And if your leadership steps on your challenge, find someone to work for who isn’t afraid of a challenge. An organization that doesn’t try to define their future isn’t moving forward anyway” advises Ken Silay. Therefore, if you are one of the retail leaders raising your hand to lead your company into the digital age, make sure that you have the right qualities.

Read also:

Crossing the digital threshold – adding Clicks to Bricks for sustainable retail outcomes

Notes

1 Saint, S., Kowalski, C.P., Banaszak-Holl, J., Forman, J., Damschroder, L. and Krein, S.L. 2010. The importance of leadership in preventing healthcare-associated infection: results of a multisite qualitative study, Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 31(09):901-907.

2 Shermon, G, 2017. Bringing disruptions into the workplace, Human Capital, p44. March, 2017.

3 Kane, G.C., Palmer, D., Phillips, A.N., Kiron, D. and Buckley, N., 2015. Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation. MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte University Press, 14.

Image and video

wikimedia.org; Big Think

 

Word of Mouth Marketing for Better or for Worse

Word of mouth (WOM) is one of the most important communication channels that customers use to discuss retail shops and brands. WOM is informal, frequent and important and the outcomes can be beneficial or disastrous for a brand or a retailer.

Word of mouth has a huge impact on consumer behaviour. Social talk generates over 3.3 billion brand impressions each day and shapes everything from the movies consumers watch to the websites they visit 1. A study by Bughin, Doogan, and Vetvik (2010) 2 suggest that “word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50% of all purchasing decisions and generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising”.

However, negative WOM can quickly cause havoc with a brand or a retail shop. The advent of the internet, together with social media platforms has changed how peers communicate their experience with brands and shops.  A single bad experience shared by a customer on a social media website, may hurt your brand or business badly.

For retailers to use WOM strategically as a marketing tool, they must first understand why customers discuss your business. Why do they praise or criticize your brand?

Customer conversations aka ‘word of mouth’

Customers love to talk about their shopping experiences because they need to share and receive information, have social interactions, or express emotions 3.

Lu-Shien, living in San Francisco, USA had this to say on the Yelp review site about a new restaurant in their neighborhood: “The vibe, the serving ware, the food. All of it is presented in a modern fresh bistro style. A simple menu with a few headliner items – just the way I like it.” Maybe Lu-Shien has said enough to fill the restaurant to capacity because WOM is perceived by consumers as more credible than, and free from the bias of, firm-to –consumer communications 4.

Sometimes, however, customer reviews aren’t that positive. Said Ali D, from New Orleans, USA also on Yelp about a clothing store “You know, I’ve bought and sold here a few times over the course of a few years, but today’s experience means I will not be going back. I had questions but could not – really – get the attention of the sales girls, because they were having the ultimate bitchy conversation at full volume in front of several customers.”

Nevertheless, according to Ken Davenport writing in The Producers Perspective, only 8% of brand-related word of mouth conversations are “mostly negative”. Hence, the average online review is 4.3 stars out of 5. But what about the customers saying nothing online, and just walk away from your business? Ken suggests that 9 in 10 word of mouth conversations about brands are offline.

Therefore, there is no respite for retailers keeping their customers happy.

Word of mouth marketing – the retailer’s response

Retailers need to take word of mouth marketing seriously, especially now that is taking place in the cyber space. Silverman (2010) 5 identified the following properties that make word of mouth a powerful marketing tool:

  • Credibility – its independence makes it the most powerful, influential, and persuasive force in the marketplace;
  • It is an experience-delivery mechanism;
  • It becomes part of the product itself;
  • WOM is custom-tailored, more relevant, and complete;
  • It is self-generating, self-breeding, and grows exponentially, sometimes explosively;
  • Because it is virtually unlimited, word of mouth happens fast and big;
  • WOM can originate from a single source, or a relatively small number of sources;
  • It is extremely dependent on the nature of the source;
  • Word of mouth can be very inexpensive to stimulate, amplify, and sustain.

If word of mouth has such a big influence on image and profits, then surely retailers should make it part of the marketing strategy.

Silverman suggests taking advantage of these properties, retailers should look at:

  • What is the content of the word of mouth?
  • Who is originating the word of mouth (its sources)?
  • Who is receiving it?
  • What are the channels through which it travels?

“When we understand the answers to these questions, we’ll be ready to look at how to trigger a chain reaction leading to an explosion: how to get it started, how to amplify it, how to channel it, and how to cause it to go in our direction”, proposes Silverman.

Have a look at this video from The Word of Mouth Marketing Association:

Concluding

Getting people to talk about your brand and shop is the way to go. The most important rule of WOM marketing is to “be interesting” and that “nobody talks about boring companies, boring products, or boring ads.” 6 But, word of mouth also has a sharp end. So, retailers need to make WOM work, like a marriage, ‘for better or for worse’ (preferably for better).

Notes:

1 Berger, J. 2014. Word of mouth and interpersonal communication: A review and directions for future research. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(4):586-607.

2 Bughin, J., Doogan, J. and Vetvik, O.J. 2010. A new way to measure word-of-mouth marketing. McKinsey Quarterly, 2:113-116.

3 Lovett, Mitchell J., Renana Peres, and Linli Xu. 2016. There’s No Free Lunch Conversation: The Effect of Brand Advertising on Word of Mouth. Marketing Science Institute.

4 Thomas, V.L. and Saenger, C.  2017. Promoting or protecting my brand: The identity-expression and fear-of-imitation conflict, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 34(1).

5 Silverman, G. 2011. Secrets of word-of-mouth marketing: how to trigger exponential sales through runaway word of mouth, AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn.

6 Berger, J. and Schwartz, E.M. 2011. What drives immediate and ongoing word of mouth? Journal of Marketing Research, 48(5):869-880.

Image and video:

  1. Pixabay.com
  2. WOMMA

Chatbots in Retailing – a Fact or a Fad?

Retailers are frequently yelled at by frustrated customers, or, if things go well, they are commended. That’s part of the emotional exchange that comes with a retailer’s job description. However, chatbots may change all of that.

A chatbot is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. In other words, sales assistants in a number of retail businesses are now robots. To this end, bots can help retailers in many other ways.

“Chabots are seen as easy and fun ways to help customers achieve an outcome. You’ll encounter them on web sites, social media and even on your smartphone. Say hello to Siri, Allo and Alexa, to name a few”, writes Christine Crandell recently in Forbes.

Siri, Allo and Alexa are computer characters which, through natural language-style dialogs with humans, perform various tasks, such as answering questions, helping them to navigate websites. “They can either look like a human being, or a digital avatar, an animal, alien or may have an image that does not look like a living creature at all” according to ChatBots.org

Apart from retailers not having to face angry customers anymore, the bots allow Bricks and Clicks retailers to catch up on lost sleep. A chatbot is a handy aid for retailers with online customers when their bed time arrives.  “We’d all like to be all things to all customers, but even the most dogged marketer has to sleep sometime”, according to TargetMarketing magazine. The fiction of chatbots has now became a reality as many retailers has bought into the technology.

How chatbots can be used by retailers

Chatbots can be used in many ways by retailers. Nicki Baird (Forbes) suggests that chatbots can do everything – from interacting with customers about new products, to helping them to figure out the trading hours of your shop. Furthermore, leverage chatbots the ubiquity of messaging apps and allows retailers to conduct one-to-one conversations with customers in real-time. Besides, retailers have the opportunity to make money with chatbots.

Ross Simmonds (Crate, Hustle and Grind), identified seven ways retailers can make money with bots:

  1. Bots as a Services (BaaS) – help people and teams to be more productive. They can manage tasks or tackle communications challenges – by replicating business models already in use;
  2. Bots plus sponsored and native content – native or sponsored content is a model in which brands pay to have their content distributed by media companies directly into their channels;
  3. Bot leveraged affiliate marketing – for example: retailers can develop a bot that offers tips and tricks on how to stay healthy and use affiliate links to send people to fitness products that have affiliate links associated with them;
  4. Bots for research – there are bots that you can pay to do the research for you.
  5. Bots for lead generation – may act as a lead generator with an initial focus on content. Chatbots designed to deliver insights and information to users who are looking for advice or information can be lined up with products that the retailer offers;
  6. Pure retail sales bots – the user will make the purchase directly through a chat with the bot and it will act similar to a transaction from a typical website;
  7. Cost per conversation/task – as bots become more sophisticated, people may be willing to pay to have conversations with the bots that can help them with various challenges in life.

“Thanks to big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics, as well as the proliferation of messaging apps, retailers finally have the tools (including chatbots) to get the right messages to their customers”, suggests Craig Alberino in TotalRetail. However, the chatbot hype is not favored by everyone…

Consumers that use  chatbots can complete a purchase in a minute or two. Have a look at the video from Kore:

The future use of chatbots

Although the use of chatbots is getting much attention nowadays, not everyone is excited about it. Jon Evens writing last year in The Walrus reminded us of the “Eliza effect: “Humans unconsciously assume that software which communicates conversationally has much more intelligence and sophistication than is actually present.

Inevitably, the software eventually fails to match that assumption, disappointing and frustrating the user who unconsciously expected more.” Consequently, your frustrated customers may want to communicate (again) in person with you. Because the computer does not understands… Above all, what is good and bad about chatbots? Quora.com responded as follows:

The Good Things about Chatbots The Bad Things about Chatbots
1.       Chatbots are a good alternative for mobile apps 1.       Chatbots have a high error rate
2.       With bots, nothing new needs to be learnt 2.       Chatbots don’t put people first
3.       Bots are capable of providing a great user experience 3.       Bots are limited in their capabilities
4.       Chatbots as the factotum for all business needs 4.       Chatbots aren’t as intelligent as humans

Concluding

In summary, are chatbots the “silver bullets” that retailers can use to compete in a digitized retail environment? Or will it be another fad with demanding customers not getting assisted properly? I suppose we have to wait and see. However, Leo Sun (fool.com) recently asked: “Were the social network’s chatbot ambitions ahead of their time?”

Importantly, this is after Facebook is reportedly scaling back its chatbot efforts on Messenger after the programs failed to fulfill 70% of users’ requests. Consequently those requests couldn’t be handled without human agents, and bots built by outside developers “had issues” because the “technology to understand human requests wasn’t developed enough.”

Finally, perhaps Dale 1, (2016) sobering comment can be noted by all: “If we want to have better conversations with machines, we stand to benefit from having better conversations among ourselves.”

Additional reading:

  1. Artificial Intelligence – Digital Outcomes or Digital Disruptions for Retailers?

Note:

1 Dale, R. 2016. The return of the chatbots. Natural Language Engineering, 22(5):811-817.

Image and video:

  1. Pixabay
  2. Kore