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Whatever the Consumer Wants, the Consumer Gets

In the 60’s (guess I'm dating myself) we always heard the slogan “Power to the People.” It looks like the people are finally getting some power, at least in retailing.

That was the theme that emerged across two sessions and one meeting yesterday at the FMI Show. This may represent the final evolution of retailing. In the beginning, the manufacturer of a product had all the power. Then retail giants like Wal-Mart Stores began to assert themselves and power gradually shifted toward retailers. Now, thanks to communication technologies like the Internet and the mobile phone, and the advent of social media, consumers are gaining power and are in a position to determine what happens at retail for themselves.

Michael Webster, vice president and general manager, retail and hospitality, NCR, Duluth, Ga., called this the evolution from B2C to C2B, or C-tailing, in a workshop called “Consumers Rule. The Changing Face of Retail. It’s a C2B World. Are You Ready?” Leveraging the Internet, mobile phones, the call center and in-store technologies like kiosks and self-checkout, consumers can “dictate the terms of their relationship with retailers,” he said.

To be successful in the future, retailers have to recognize this new reality and strive to provide consumers what they want, he said. This means personalizing the shopping experience by responding to consumers’ preferences for everything from preferred method of tender, preferred language or whether they want a receipt printed or emailed, among many other areas.

This idea was echoed during the Speaks 2010 General Session yesterday when Terry Soto, president and CEO, About Marketing Solutions, urged retailers to “ask your customer what they want to see from you,” especially Gen X and Y shoppers who are “into connectivity.”

I really knew this trend had legs when I heard it repeated at software vendor Retalix’s booth. Dar Hackbarth, senior manager of marketing, told me Retalix is developing Bluetooth applications that, with the shopper’s OK, will interface with her mobile phone and know when she enters the store; based on her profile, it will offer her targeted promotions on the phone. “The in-store experience will be driven by the customer,” he said.

Both NCR and Retalix want to make the self-checkout experience more personalized for shoppers, allowing them to select whether they are left-handed (so the instruction buttons are on the left, not right) or whether they prefer not to hear voice instructions.

Power to the People, indeed.