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Mobile and the evolution of the connected consumer

One of the recurring themes at this year’s National Retail Federation Big Show in New York was the ongoing evolution of the connected consumer.

Technology has played a leading role in the creation of this new kind of retail customer and, in turn, has changed the way we all interact with our favorite retailers. Consumers’ shifting preferences have created a dilemma of sorts for all merchants as the most important question for them has become how to capture sales when customers are interacting with them on smartphones, tablets and Internet-connected devices such as smart appliances.

“There has been a huge shift in consumer behavior, which means commerce is changing,” Les Matthews, MasterCard senior vice president of U.S. market development, said during a panel he moderated about what’s next in payments for retailers.

“Tech has created the connected consumer. This creates a whole new challenge for brands. How do you interact with that consumer?”

Buy buttons could be one way.

NRF panel on the connected consumer

From left to right, Les Matthews (MasterCard), Jodi Khan (FreshDirect), Ratnakar Lavu (Kohl’s) and Michael Haswell (Google) discuss the connected consumer

Facebook, Google, Pinterest and Twitter have all introduced buy buttons to allow consumers to purchase products, digital goods and services within the confines of their preferred digital outlet.

Each of these brands has said in the past that they added the buy button feature as a tool to help retailers reach consumers where they are, which increasingly is on a mobile device.

But one panelist warned the audience to be cautious about the buy button’s potential at this early stage.

“We are at the apex of the hype cycle [with buy buttons] and the beginning of [their use],” Michael Haswell, Google Commers director of product partnerships, told audience members. “Ultimately, we want to deliver enhanced experiences. Right now, we’re in the stage of trying to make things work, not from the tech perspective, but [from] the consumer experience [perspective].”

How retailers can perfect the consumer experience is all anyone at the Big Show wanted to discuss at some level. Now that Tier 1 merchants have moved past the EMV liability shift, they’re focusing on their own initiatives such as customer engagement with loyalty programs and how consumers can have a consistent experience across different environments such as mobile or in-store.

Ratnakar Lavu, Kohl’s executive vice president for digital technology, talked about the retailer’s approach to this challenge.

“The key is to make this journey very seamless,” he said. “Within the four walls [of our stores], we are really focused on how to create mobile experiences to enhance the [in-store] experience. We’re using mobility to create in-store experiences. We are also looking at mobility to make it easier to shop outside out our four walls.”

A company such as FreshDirect needs a different approach altogether since it operates online and the online grocer can draw a direct line between its popularity with consumers and how technology has created new expectations.

“We need to makes sure all of our channels are talking to each other,” Jodi Khan, FreshDirect chief consumer officer said during the panel. “We have to figure out where our consumers are at the moment.

“The mobile progression [with consumers] has had a huge shift on us as a company. We’re now very furiously looking at mobile experiences.”

Photo courtesy of the National Retail Federation.

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