Customers are humans and they want to have a relationship with other humans that they can rely on and trust. Successful brands, rather than bombarding us with ads and promotions, are shifting their mindsets along these lines showing their human faces and qualities.
Kevin Kelly, a futurist and the co-founder and executive editor of Wired magazine, recently published “The Inevitable”, an article where he offers insight into 12 technology trends that will shape our next 30 years. Many of these trends, like Sharing, Accessing, Filtering, Cognifying, Remixing, or Screening, are currently in motion, with already advanced technologies to support them.
While this post is too short to analyze all of these trends, there is one theme that permeates throughout the book: the notion of “nouns to verbs”. Kelly writes: “our society is moving away from the rigid order of hierarchy toward the fluidity of decentralization. It is moving from nouns to verbs, from tangible products to intangible becomings. From fixed media to messy remixed media. From stores to flows.”
That might sound a bit scary if you are running a business. You need lots of tangible knowns to mitigate risk and forecast as far into the future as possible. Mr. Kelly’s vision defies this, offering many unknowns and constant change – and that is what clever businesses will see as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Five years ago I tried to describe the Next Generation of Retail Stores by setting up 5 characteristics that would define them: Online In-Store, Pay Anywhere, Relationship, In-Store Edutainment, and Social Hub. In the past few years, Online In-Store and Pay Anywhere became known as Omnichannel, as continuous flow of customer touchpoints with a brand/retailer. Last 2 characteristics have become a norm as well, from the introduction of Verizon community tables, social and comfortable AT&T store learning centers, all the way to the renaming of Apple Stores to Apple Town Squares! This may sound dramatic and pretentions to some, but remember; Apple is the forefront runner in the wireless industry game. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the third characteristic – Relationship. Customers are humans and they want to have a relationship with other humans that they can rely on and trust.
So, what is in the wireless retail cards in the next five years from the customers’ point of view?
It’s very good news for retailers. Kevin’s vision suggests that all wireless offerings are and will be the center of our lives for the foreseeable future. Customers have some new norms though. Some businesses have anticipated them already:
- (Relative) plateau of phone technology and features: For the past few years phone manufacturers were able to offer only incremental improvements to devices. Despite big promises of wearables, VR or AR, there still hasn’t been a revolutionary change that would disrupt the market. Customers can still — without any fear of missing out — use older phone models equipped with the newest OS updates. It is the same experience for a smaller cost. Shoppers would rather spend $50-100 on updates or service & repair than $1,000 on a new device.
- “Amazon mentality”: Customers are able to find and order anything, anytime, any place - that is almost expected. If they can’t find a product in-store, they will find it elsewhere and have it ordered in no time. However, it may be the case that if they have a good relationship with a brand, they will order through their system and pick up the order in-store whenever it is delivered. Here again, relationship plays a key role.
- Contextual sales which include lifestyle products and non-tangible services. The value of physical goods in our life is diminishing and value of experiences is on the rise. No wonder we are willing to spend hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars on a concert, a festival, or a sporting event. However, there are many products and services in this domain that are directly tied to great experiences. What is a great party without Spotify? What is a water cooler chat without the latest season of a Netflix show? What is a great ski trip without GoPro vids, Instagram, or Facebook live feeds? If a brand can give me triggers for those experiences (whether in-store or online) I am willing to listen, learn, and try some of the related products or services.
How can wireless businesses react to those changes?
If the good news is the relevance of the wireless industry, what's the bad news? I’d say it's sticking to the old model, opening stores with a counter, one or two product displays, and pretending that everything is business as usual. Physical stores are just part of the retailer equation but used wisely, can be an instrumental and vital touchpoint for a brand – place where “humans can establish relationship with humans”.
- If the first consumer trend above is related to the rise of Service & Repair, let’s not just include that service into a store, but designate an area and design the whole flow related to that experience. I have recently had a great experience with a stand-alone Service and Repair business; a clean, professional, well-designed store, with friendly conversations where my phone was repaired on time and at a reasonable cost. I was delighted and the brand is now on top of mind if any of my friends ask for referrals.
- Your wireless business has already plugged into the dropship service that Brightstar, Voicecomm, and other distributors provide. You don’t want to lose sales to Amazon, even when you don't carry all available inventory options in stock in-store. Through the drop shipping service, customers can order the most obscure items through you. Now that your store has become a pick-up location, don't lose the opportunity to create a touch point to reinforce a positive relationship. As always, physical context, technology, and—most importantly—a human element are all part of that experience.
- Contextual sale is becoming a major revenue generator for wireless retailers. All things (audio, video, home and on-the-go, outdoor, kids, small business, etc.) can drive revenue growth, but if customers are not prompted to enjoy your store experience, there can hardly be any sales. But don't panic! There are ways to capture customers and entice them into your storefront. For example, if home security systems seem like a huge feat to explain and sell, a simple contextual display and demo can make all the difference. Allow the customer to have an 'ah-ha' moment and become ready to commit and purchase. Providing these experiences again involves space and experience design.
Add to these trends the notion that sales reps with mobile POS now want to work side-by-side with customers (not against them over the counter), that mobile is now a whole family game with various demographics visiting the store, and that seasonal fluctuations dramatically affect in-store dynamics. With that in mind, we can easily see how carefully planned in-store experiences can add to a company’s bottom line.
Adaptability as a major business advantage
Today’s world is so connected and causally related that the simple metaphor “from nouns to verbs” truly makes sense. Adaptability to the ever-changing world around us is a new major business advantage, but it requires stronger collaboration of all business stakeholders involved, transparency, a much faster flow of information and feedback loops, and some new tools and processes that will support it. Evolution is a constant reminder of the ones who adapted and those who didn't. New store concepts should focus more on being flexible and adaptable, rather than being designed and built once to withstand the next 10 years! You could argue that experimenting with the physical store is a timely and costly feat, however, digital tools are so advanced now, that this shouldn’t be the case.
Historically, iQmetrix has invested in software that drives the growth of our wireless businesses. This continues today with a wide variety of products like Retail Management, Payments, omnichannel solutions, and all the aspects of metrics to support you. Keeping in mind our leadership role in this industry, level of domain expertise, and the awareness of the ever-changing trends, we feel that we need to introduce a tool to bring all of those solutions, partners, OEMs, and carriers services, together - in the physical store context. Our vision is to provide you with a simple collaborative 3D and VR tool where you could prototype and validate a variety of store scenarios before a single dollar is spent on the build.