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Shoppers in Control: How Can Retailers Bring Front-End Humanity & Back-End Algorithms Together for Success?

Recently, at Communispace, one of our clients worked with a group of customers, challenging them to shop in a way they had never shopped before (on their phone instead of in-store, etc.). In nearly every instance, people reported back that there was something disappointing about their new shopping experience. Navigating the mobile app was too confusing. They had trouble finding exactly what they were looking for on the shelf. They couldn’t get the best deal. Issues like these are frustrating, and they can ruin the entire shopping experience.

But shoppers are smart and adaptive. They’re creating their own shopping experiences, doing exactly what MIT’s Eric von Hippel has written about: “Consumers themselves are a major source of product innovations.” For instance, they’re using social media and mobile apps that were never designed for shopping in the first place to augment their experience. Sharing a cute dress on Instagram to get others’ opinions. Pinning a must-have handbag on Pinterest. Asking Facebook friends for recommendations on the best smart TV to buy. You’ve probably done something like this yourself. I know I have!

The pace of change in retail is dizzying and fascinating; full of opportunity, but not without some big challenges. How can retailers keep up with all the ways people shop when it seems like there’s a new “app for that” – for discovering, sharing, saving, buying – every week? And, what is the future for brick-and-mortar retail stores?

That’s why I’m excited to hear how brands are solving these challenges and evolving the shopping experience along with savvy shoppers. I’ll be in New York City on April 23rd for Hub Live: The Retail Experience Symposium, listening and learning with interest (connect with me on LinkedIn if you’re going to be there and want to schedule a time to meet up!). Here are some of the brands I’m excited to hear from.

Redefining Retail: How eBay is Taking Retailers into the Future

With customers tethered to their phones, there are lots of opportunities for brands to connect and make mobile technology work hard to elevate their shoppers’ experience – in-store and out. Easier said than done, of course, but if there’s one company that can do it, it’s eBay. The digital retail pioneer is bringing its e-commerce expertise to the in-store environment. Healey Cypher, eBay’s Head of Retail Innovation, will explain the company’s strategy for creating “shoppable moments” everywhere, and how they’re partnering with retailers to help inform the shopper experience across any screen.

Real-Time Retail: 7-Eleven’s Journey from ‘Convenience’ to ‘Convenient’ Store

7-Eleven is doing some really interesting things in the customer loyalty and mobile space thanks to an unyielding commitment to customer feedback and engagement. Their first-ever, mobile-only loyalty program, 7Rewards, is giving customers the flexibility and quick convenience they want. Laura Gordon, 7-Eleven’s VP of Marketing and Brand Innovation, will talk about how the company’s obsession with anticipating customers’ needs – and adopting a “mobile-first mindset” – is transforming 7-Eleven into a “convenient” store that’s focused on better serving them. (And, secretly, I’m hoping she serves us some Slurpees to sip on during her session!)

Understanding the Customer: How IKEA Strives to be the Leader in Life at Home

Shopping for the home is where taste meets need; it’s inherently personal. Leontyne Green Sykes, CMO at IKEA, will talk about how the Swedish furniture retailer is helping to “create a better everyday life” for customers by listening to them to understand the realities of life at home and tap into their unmet needs. From here, IKEA is designing products, messaging, and experiences that resonate and make life more enjoyable for everyone in the household – maybe the KÄT will soon become more than an April Fools’ Day joke?

Lots of retailers talk about personalization at scale. Amazon, for example, has introduced plastic buttons that enable easy reordering of household staples, like coffee and laundry detergent. But how can companies like Amazon translate all the information about your online shopping behaviors into a more human experience? The company that figures out how to add front-end humanity to back-end algorithms will win. Because inside every transaction lies a universal truth: customers want to be treated like people, not robots. I can’t wait to find out how the retailers presenting at the Symposium are bringing that truth to life.

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