As we prepare for NRF2019 in New York, we wanted to share this fascinating interview from the CMO On-The-Go podcast on the emerging technologies that impact real-world business and consumer interactions. Are we experiencing the retail apocalypse? Are chatbots becoming the desired consumer experience? Are we still seeing e-commerce battling with in-store operations?

Below is an excerpt from my interview with an expert on the evolution of location-based, place-based, and online-to-offline advertising and host of CMO On-The-Go, David Kaplan. The full podcast is available at:

David Kaplan:
Cimarron welcome to CMO On-The-Go. You have a lot of interesting thoughts about this moment in retail. There have been articles about the retail apocalypse, and the state of big boxes, the idea of the rise of e-commerce and what that means for traditional kinds of retail. In terms of what Engageware has seen, what’s your sense on the state of retail at the moment and how is customer experience shifting?

Cimarron Buser:
To start with, I think there’s definitely a downturn in the number of retail and big-box stores, because what they’re selling can obviously be purchased on the web. It can be purchased through Amazon and similar channels, and unless you can differentiate your service, or have some kind of experience or a relationship with that retailer and the people that work there, there’s really no reason to go fighting your way down to the mall.

The companies that we’ve seen that have been successful have taken this situation and turned it to their benefit. One example is BestBuy—the prototypical big-box store! Really a big-box: you have lots of stuff, and you can buy on Amazon very easily. Especially things like computers that are very easy for a consumer to figure out the price of. You can look on the web and see a very similar kind of computer with the same memory or whatever … and TVs are similar.

What BestBuy decided to do is say “Look, we’re going to combine the e-commerce experience with the experience of the store. How we do that?” They’ve got very smart people who work at BestBuy called the Geek Squad…and they’re popular because they help people out.

If I’m on the web, shopping for a computer, I could go in and configure what I want: I know how much memory I need, etc. I’m a smart person, I figure it out, I can look on the web and see that everybody else sells the same thing within a few dollars. Why would I choose BestBuy? Well, because they give me a choice of how I want to get that product delivered. I have a choice of either having it shipped to my house like everyone else, or I can go and pick it up at the local store if I’m in a hurry. Or, I can go in and set up an appointment to meet with somebody at the Geek Squad and they give me half an hour training session!

David Kaplan:
So, these choices have manifest themselves: online through the e-commerce channel where people have a choice of “buy it now” or “pick up in store” in store on an app. Is that how it’s been happening?

Cimarron Buser:
I think that this idea of “pick up in store” or BOPIS – that is a good start, but if you actually combine it with a personal experience as they (BestBuy) did it’s even more powerful. Because I will say, “Yeah, I really do want to learn about the new operating system, or I want to get trained on an app, or learn more about PowerPoint.” Whatever it is that person is interested in, now you got them in the store. They talk to that person, they have a relationship, and at the end of that conversation they be asked “do you want the extended warranty? Or would you like this nice carrying case? Oh, by the way you walk around the store and see we have a sale down the hall?”

What you see is that they’ve taken a low margin purchase – which is commoditized, based on an ecommerce purchase where they may not even make money, and turn that into something where customers are buying value-added services which have much higher margin. The customer is happy, so everybody wins! That’s a great example of where you can use your retail footprint in an experiential way.

Experiential retail is also the new buzzword for other retailers, such as Sephora. For example, they have people coming in for classes for events, or to get a makeover. They’re not selling the product directly. What they’re offering is an experience and, they’re actually not selling it! They’re giving you the experience, and from that experience you then buy product.

David Kaplan:
It’s the idea that if people just want to quickly buy something or browse something they can do it very easily online get it: and that’s it. But if they want something more than just buying a product. Again, help with something, or guidance, it’s even with — you know chatbots for example — the idea of a physical person who is looking you in the eye and really understanding what you’re saying but you know to say it say 20 times to a chatbot…

Cimarron Buser:
Bots are really interesting…there’s been a lot of discussion about bots, obviously, and Facebook Messenger is one of the channels you see it. Going back to Sephora: they have a very clever way of using that. If you wish to just use the chat Bot for Messenger it’s pretty clear you’re talking to a Bot.

David Kaplan:

Cimarron Buser:
One of the options might be “Hey, I want to see what I look like with certain lighting or makeup”, and there’s this app. Like, in the field of financial services you see a “RoboApp”.

But, at some point, you say “you know what I really do want to come into the store and I want to see someone else do this for me”. Come in, make an appointment, have an experience.

So, they’re not mutually exclusive. I think there’s a historical issue with e-commerce and what’s happened with companies: they would set these e-commerce divisions up that were completely separate. Even different inventory. They were competing internally!

Now, it’s pretty clear that that is not the way to go. They’re actually synergistic, and you’ve got to make sure that as a company you look at it holistically. From the top down. And, not having the e-commerce and store people trying to squeeze a margin out versus each other. They can work together!

Check out the full podcast at:

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