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Why retailers shouldn't fear powerful customers

By Retail Technology | Tuesday July 22 2014

Tom Whitney discusses what retailers can do to embrace the age of the ‘powerful customer’

“Successful retailers generally create great communications and campaigns, of course. However, from time to time, many can struggle with reach, relevance, and resonance. Perhaps they’re too busy speaking (promoting the brand, its stores or ecommerce site, and its products) and not doing enough listening (or thinking)? “

Tom Whitney, European presales manager at Crimson Hexagon, says it’s easy to focus squarely on getting the latest campaign out and then concentrate on the campaign success metrics that define a marketer’s performance. But he warns this should not be done at the expense of another vital part of the marketer’s job: researching the market, and understanding consumer requirements.

The age of social media

“We live in the age of the ‘powerful customer’, where everyone can directly contact retailers (or even, their supply chain, individual stores, employees, or industry regulatory bodies), and widely broadcast their opinions into the public realm,” commented Whitney.  “Social media is, of course, key to this power shift, and most organisations, from retail and beyond, are now taking it very seriously, spending budget and resources on social strategies encompassing promotional campaigns and customer service. However these strategies often omit a vital listening or research component. “

He notes that social media is the single largest source of unsolicited consumer opinions and that social media data has ultimately changed the game for marketers. “With the right tools to tap into it, we can quantify the qualitative on a massive scale, to dig deeper into customers’ likes and dislikes, and to learn their preferences.  This should inform not just what we say in our marketing communications and campaigns, but can be used in almost every aspect of marketing and business. “

He feels that social sentiment is powerful and that conversations provide a genuine, real-time opportunity for brands and retailers to bypass the limits of traditional market research and engage directly with consumers to understand what are really saying, thinking and feeling.  “Social data give marketers insights that focus groups, questionnaires and polls simply cannot compete with – data on an enormous, unbiased scaled.

When it goes wrong

“There are many examples where retailers have successfully used this approach to ensure they think before they speak.  Unfortunately, however, there are also plenty who didn’t…”

Whitney gives the example of Watchdog, the weekly BBC consumer affairs show that aired on BBC One on 11th June 2014, which featured a section on Harveys, the home furniture retailer.  Watchdog discovered that a number of customers were dissatisfied with the sofas they had received and the level of customer services following complaints. 

“Many customers tried on several occasions to contact the retailer either via phone, mail or in person to discuss the issues with their purchased product. However, these customers noted that they only received a response from the retailer after posting complaints on social media channels. 

“Putting the complaint in the public arena gave a voice to the grievance and allowed complaints to be heard on a much larger scale, not only by other customer but by the competition. “

In today’s socially savvy world, a bad review, negative opinion or disgruntled remark are a now only a click away, warns Whitney.  “Customers are not afraid to speak their mind, to tell retailers want they want, and more importantly, what they don’t want.  In order to really be successful, and have more, happier, customers, retailers must not only listen to what is being said, but learn, take heed and use these insights to inform wider marketing strategies and business decisions.”

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