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IMS recently participated in a Path to Purchase Institute community gathering webinar that explored how merchandising, marketing and technology have all evolved quickly over the COVID-19 pandemic to meet today’s rapidly changing consumers’ needs. One of the panelists, Nick Fearnley, is IMS’ SVP of Merchandising Technology and a founding member of the Path to Purchase Institute’s SM2 Commission to Standardize the Measurement of Shopper Marketing. He asserts, “Technology investments are essential in building the retail ecosystem of the future. Data helps brands truly understand customer behaviors and engagement.”

Other panelists in this provocative session included Art Sebastian, VP-Digital Experience, Casey’s General Store Inc., Jalal Hamad, Retail Strategy and In-Store Transformation Leader, The Home Depot and Joel Warady, President and Strategic Advisor, Catalina Crunch.

The Pandemic Accelerated a Trend

As the digital and physical retail worlds converged, how customers found and shopped for products was already evolving. According to the panel, COVID-19 sped up the momentum. Ultimately now, the consumer is in control. They want the products they want, when and where they want them.

A whopping 86% of consumers expect retailers to change to accommodate their needs and wants. What’s more, brand loyalty is waning, and 56% of consumers will try new brands if they are fulfilling a need. This is especially prevalent in our current shopping environment, where convenience and service may take precedence over brand loyalty. If a consumer has a less-than-satisfactory shopping experience, they will quickly move on.

In light of that fact, retailers are looking more holistically at the entire browsing and shopping experience. Data, digital merchandising, building exteriors, and post-sale follow-up are all top-of-mind for today’s retailer.

“The days of a retailer being a building with metal shelves are long over,” says Warady.

Effective Retail Programs Will Involve Both Consumers and Brands, Powered by Data

Another key trend that will impact the store of the future is the desire of consumers to have personalized and curated experiences. They now expect the stores they shop to understand their buying patterns and make recommendations for products and services that meet their needs. Although shoppers are concerned about data privacy, they are willing to give up information to make their lives better and more convenient.

Localization and transparency are also critically important to the retail shopper of tomorrow. They want the brands with which they spend money to be part of their communities and be honest and responsive in service delivery.

Tomorrow’s retailers must also stay on top of buying patterns. For instance, Hamal noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 75% of shoppers invested in home improvements. The curbside pickup experience has also evolved and is as important — if not more important — than in-store shopping. In fact, the panelists believe that they are not mutually exclusive. Today, many buyers will combine different shopping modes, and data is now available to spot those patterns and deliver shopping experiences to consumers that meet their needs and preferences.

Safety has become more important to today’s shoppers, and smart retailers have responded quickly and adroitly. One panelist talked about how vendors came together with store management to rapidly install 600 square feet of acrylic partitions in stores. The pandemic has given rise to many collaborations and support between organizations just like this.

Collaborative Technology Informs Better Decisions

Fearnley stressed the importance of the “platform ecosystem” and the use of digital data in retail decision-making. Retailers must be comfortable sharing consumer data to help create a more robust picture of consumers’ needs, wants and shopping habits.

The path to purchase is a complex one today. The consumer is ultimately in control and is selecting what they need but has multiple options regarding where and how to buy it. Understanding behavior patterns and providing convenience and service that connects with customers is the best way to capture the sale.

Creating highly personalized in-store experiences can be extremely powerful, according to Fearnley. For example, merchandising kiosks — which capture data at the point of sale, make recommendations and close the loop by feeding behavior and purchase information back into a consumer database — fulfill customer needs and provide retailers with more in-depth insights for future action.

The people who work in your stores are also critical. As technology becomes more prevalent, the remaining humans also play a role in delivering a best-in-class experience.

The panelists believe strongly that only by looking at all the ways consumers shop can retailers delight and serve them — today and tomorrow. Curbside pickup, BOPIS and digital shopping are all here to stay, and the data that retailers capture through every transaction is invaluable.

Working with forward-thinking marketing and merchandising experts will enable retailers to better understand and capture their wallet share — long after the pandemic is over. Let IMS help you plan YOUR store of the future.

Article Author: Stephanie Islas

Stephanie is a Digital Marketing Associate at IMS. She specializes in building creative marketing content and raising brand awareness. Her areas of expertise include social media management, digital marketing strategy, client relations, execution and promotions.