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The ICX Summit, taking place June 1 through June 3 in Dallas, spotlights a wide range of retail customer experience trends, technologies and strategies. Kicking off the event is retail prophet Doug Stephens whose keynote address will tackle the future of consumerism and key shifts in economics, media, demographics and technologies transforming the consumer landscape.

Founder of Retail Prophet, Stephens is a retail and consumer futurist, whose research and insights have helped major organizations — Air Miles, Home Depot, Disney, Intel — understand how mega trends are altering consumer and brand relationships. Drawing on 20 years of experience, Stephens analyzes media trends, financial climates, demographic shifts, emerging technologies, and everything in between to provide an unrivalled insight. His book, “The Retail Revival,” documents the rise of a new era of consumerism leading to a complete redefinition of what retail is all about.

Retail Customer Experience reached out to Stephens, ahead of the ICX Summit, to get perspective on what’s happening with CX in the retail environment. Registration for the event is open.

Retail Customer Experience: How do you describe today’s consumer without using the labels being tossed around and what is the top expectation in a retail transaction?

Doug Stephens: Regardless of age, geography or economic strata, consumers today are empowered, not simply by virtue of technology but also by an unprecedented level of access to choice and information. Consumers operate with the pervasive belief that virtually anything they want is at their fingertips and can be on their doorstep in a day or two. The consumer’s expectation of retail will depend on what they’re buying and the circumstances involved but generally speaking what they’re looking for can be grouped into two categories; High utility experiences that are fast, easy and frictionless or high fidelity experiences that are exclusive, personalized and immersive. In either case, retailers have to excel in order to be relevant with empowered consumers.

RCE: How does today’s consumer differ from those 10 years ago and 30 years ago?

stephensheadshot4-20-2016Stephens: They’re so different it’s difficult to even compare. Consumer behavior 30 years ago was largely driven by mass media. The path to purchase was known, predictable and controllable by brands and retailers and they had little option but to buy through physical distribution according to the retailer’s terms and conditions. None of this is the case anymore and we can see the obvious havoc this is causing for retailers who spent the last 100 years or so playing by the same set of favorable rules.

The other big change is the consumer’s expectation of brands. Brands used to act as shorthand for a predictable and dependable set of attributes. For example, if I was in a strange city without a pre-booked hotel, I would cognitively default to looking for recognizable logos and names, such as Hilton and Marriott, because I knew essentially what to expect. Brands hung their hats on dependability. Today, in that same situation I could easily use my smartphone to find the best little-known boutique hotels in the city and make a reservation, all within a few minutes. Discovering new brands and products has never been easier. This is placing new expectations on brands to not simply be dependable trademarks but to be innovators within their categories. Consumers expect brands to be bringing them the next and newest innovations, which many brands aren’t used to doing.

RCE: Are most retailers aware of how flexible and how technology-focused they need to be and stay with customers?

Stephens: Most of the retailers I speak to are intellectually aware of the degree to which they need to adapt, innovate and stay ahead. That said, most of them are plagued by organizational inertia. Many are apprehensive and risk averse and others have leaders that simply don’t get what’s going on.

RCE: Can you share a ‘no-no’ or big misstep as an example of what not to do with retail customer experience?

Stephens: I think the biggest mistake a retailer in any category can make is to think of their competitive market as being vertical. Consumers don’t think that way anymore. Consumers aren’t forgiving a bad shoe store experience because it was slightly better than another worse shoe store experience they had. They’re comparing their shoe store experience to the awesome Uber cab experience they just had. So, retailers have to benchmark their businesses horizontally and take into account out-of-category businesses that are fundamentally altering consumer expectations across product categories.

RCE: What do you expect to see in five years in the retail environment in terms of technology innovation?

Stephens: I believe virtual reality will revolutionize how we shop online and that we’ll see evidence of this within five years. Generally speaking, the web is going to seem a lot more physical to us. I also believe we will see the emergence of a new economic model for physical retail, where stores are used as media channels. Rather than simply continuing on with the wholesale to retail profit model, a new breed of retailer will begin to monetize the experiences that take place in their store and charge brands for consumer impressions and analytics which will be measured in real time using mobile analytics, beacons, video analytics and other technologies. It’s going to completely revolutionize the store experience and the definition of retail.

Reprinted with permission from

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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