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From Starbucks to Sam’s Club, Retailers Race to Keep Pace With Consumers

From Starbucks to Sam’s Club, Retailers Race to Keep Pace With Consumers

Retailers and suppliers like to say that everything they do is built around the needs of consumers. But that’s impossible to accomplish 24/7. The best you can do is integrate this goal into daily strategies and processes, and hope that it pays off most of the time.

Some companies are doing very good jobs with this. Two such cases were highlighted at the recent GMA Executive Conference and are worth pointing out here.

The first is Sam’s Club. At Sam’s it’s about “members” rather than “consumers,” but it’s really the same point. Sam’s puts member needs at the center of its strategies, especially in partnering with suppliers. In fact, suppliers involved in joint business planning with Sam’s often bring insights based on considerable research into Sam’s member needs. General Mills, for example, conducted research with Sam’s members that led to important product packaging changes for the in-store bakery and cereal departments.

A second company staying on top of consumer needs is Starbucks. That company’s presentation at the GMA conference put the emphasis on how it connects with consumers, from the role of baristas in one-on-one communications, to interactions over social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The company gains consumer insights in its retail outlets that can be translated into CPG products for retail, and vice versa.

If keeping up with consumers is the big industry goal, are there situations where retailers overall are falling behind?

Unfortunately, yes, and one likely case is mobile.

It’s true that retailers are stepping up to the plate with new and updated initiatives around mobile, including a string of new apps, but that may not be enough.

Consider that a little over two years ago, a recipe website for consumers, had less than 1% of traffic from mobile devices. That has grown to 35% today, and the company is predicting it will reach 45% to 50% by December, said Lisa Sharples, president, who was a speaker at the GMA event.

Mobile is “a platform in which consumers are currently ahead of brands and retailers,” she told me. “All of us have to reexamine our business to think about mobile-first.”

“Mobile-first” may sound like a radical step for retailers, until you realize it’s just another way of saying consumer-first, which suddenly makes this a no-brainer and a core mission. Read more about Sharples' GMA presentation here.

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