The Consumer is Dead: Long live the Retailer Community
Consumer is such a terrible way to describe the people who come into our stores and spend money with us. It’s equally inappropriate and impersonal even for those who never dare to darken our doorways.
Consuming is a process of devouring without consideration. Power stations devour fossil fuels. Blue Whales devour plankton indiscriminately. Ultimately consuming is only about necessity.
Consumers of a bygone age.
In terms of retailing, the use of the term “consumer” originates from the “Golden Age of Consumerism” of the 1950s. During this time, mass production brought affordable products to an eager home owner with deep pockets and unprecedented disposable income. It’s true to say “the consumer” did have a voracious appetite.
To put this bygone age into perspective, one of my favourite observations describes a world where” average retailers sold average products to average people.” It was simply the way that it was.
However, fast forward to today and the customer is far from average.
As a result, the product must be something special. And ultimately retailers need to be anything but average or face the commercial consequences. Its an appropriate thought in a week when Sears has finally filed for bankruptcy.
And so, the process of buying is no longer about existing, but about living.
That’s why the terminology “consumer” – one who consumes is no longer relevant. Worse than that it is inaccurate, and no longer a commercial way to view the customer.
Of course, consumer can be a throw away phrase. We use Consumer Research without necessarily thinking about the word. Hoover is used to describe the most technologically advanced vacuum cleaners and even robots.
The danger is behind the word. It is when we unconsciously view and treat our customers in an impersonal, generic and presumptuous way that we lose their loyalty and their custom..
Retailers that focus on the consumer purely as numbers are businesses with a short future ahead of them.
And whilst online AI continues to transform Personalisation, delivering screen content focused on sales histories and demographic segmentation and profiling. There is a vast difference between Personalisation and Personal.
To close the loop. For retailers across channels but specifically in the physical world the key to personal is personnel.
To all actions there is a reaction. The customer of today craves experience and personal interaction with other people. It complements the convenience of digital and the frenzy of social media activity.
And whilst distant HQs reach many customers through technology, the final mile can only be reached through a network of personnel, of real people. CEOs and head office executives cannot personally engage with every customer, however there is no reason why the people who work in every store cannot personally know a sizeable number of their customers.
The key of course is community. A community of interactions within a retail business engaging with the communities where stores are located and where employees live.
The final mile is the final smile.
Make your “consumers” into customers through the personal touch. Embrace them into your retailer community.