Keep Control In The Age Of Discovery

The fourth quarter is here. This year’s retail performance in many respects is now in the hands of the consumer.

A prominent industry trend watcher reminded me during a recent meeting how the measure of shopping delight has changed during the past several years. It has evolved, he said, from bragging about the product you bought to bragging about how little you paid for it to bragging about where you’ve discovered it.

Entitled Consumers

To be sure, in a digitally enhanced merchandising realm that has entitled consumers with more control over what, how and where they buy, there is something to be said for an offering that doesn’t seem imposed on the shopper by a corporate board meeting.

A predictable, somewhat homogenous mix might have succeeded without much shopper revolt during the boom times of the big-box, mass-retailing onslaught. Today’s housewares consumers (and not just newcomers to the market) are likely to be more swayed when they believe they have had a hand in uncovering something— a product, an outlet, a deal, etc.— that seems as if it has been cultivated just for them.

E-commerce, unbound by the assortment limits of a selling floor, often gets much of the credit for asserting this new age of discovery in retailing.

This special issue (October 13, 2014) previewing the New York Tabletop and High Point markets includes features on two digital retailers— One Kings Lane and Pure Home— that have staked their claims on personalizing the consumer shopping experience. 

Pure Home bills itself as a personal home decorating advisor. One Kings Lane, a leader in the emergent channel of members-only sites, blends a curated, lifestyle-driven mix with exclusive, short-term “flash sales” to compel shoppers to act fast.

Special Access

Is the allure of such special access to a special product or offer that won’t be around long really any different from what TV shopping channels, warehouse clubs and off-price stores have been touting for years? And is it any surprise that many of these longstanding retail formats have been among the most successful in the face of the e-commerce surge?

The things that delight shoppers really haven’t changed that much. They still want great products at great prices. But they want to feel like their purchase decisions are not pre-determined by someone else.

Surprise Agility

Someone else, of course, has to make the merchandising decisions. Retailing in all formats, from bricks to clicks, requires a higher level of agility to surprise shoppers frequently without neglecting the operational efficiencies of more predictable merchandising continuity.

The delight of personal discovery is a powerful purchase elixir for shoppers today. Putting retail performance in the hands of the consumer, though, doesn’t mean the retailer has to lose control.