Today’s consumer has less money, patience, and time. However, that same consumer is more demanding, empowered, and intelligent. This fundamental shift in the consumer’s identity has changed the game and how it’s ultimately won.

Before AskjeevesGoogleWikipedia, or the internet in general, how did we settle those heated debates with friends or family over pointless trivia, like how many children did Squints Palledorous and Wendy Peffercorn, from the movie The Sandlot, end up having? In 2007, the search process became even easier as the first generation iPhone afforded many the ability to have access to the internet at any time and from anywhere. At first, this on-demand access to information was a luxury. Eight years later, it is now the norm, and many hate the dreaded zone where mobile internet service switches to 4G or, even worse, 3G. Why? Because one second too slow equals one second too long. This small example is a microcosm of a greater macro trend. The internet and its increasing accessibility has caused a paradigm shift in how society receives and finds information and, for better or worse, altered our expectations and changed how we interact with the world.

This year’s Future Stores Conference in Seattle was my formal introduction to the retail industry and it was intriguing to listen to retailers articulate how this paradigm shift has changed the way retailers strategize to win. Assortment, inventory, and real estate used to rule the day but the internet and the ability to have all information a tap away has commoditized these elements of retail – or at least they have in the eyes of the consumer. Because of this phenomenon, retailers have been forced to reevaluate their strategy of how to win market share. Currently, all the buzz is about improving the customer experience by retailers creating a more personalized experience for each consumer. The pragmatist in me questions whether this is possible, however, assuming it was, is this even what the consumer wants?

To answer that question, I applied a philosophy that I learned at the Future Stores Conference: listen to the vision of the consumer rather than the voice of the consumer. The voice of the consumer represents the past so it is always one second too slow. However, the vision of the consumer provides insight into what the consumer wants in the future. With the help of Uber and Lyft, who recognized the paradigm shift and capitalized on it, a component of the consumer’s vision has been exposed. While the industries are fundamentally different, we’ve learned that control is enticing and control attracts consumers. As such, the winner in this new environment is the retailer that acknowledges the paradigm shift and gives the consumer more control. Therefore, retailers shouldn’t be asking: how do we create a personalized experience for our consumers? Instead, they should be asking: how do we give more control to our consumers so that they can create their own personalized experience?

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