The evolving dynamics of shopping
It was my niece’s birthday recently. She turned 7. I spent an entire Saturday hopping from mall to mall looking for the perfect present for her. She is a smart young girl who is good at swimming and skating; who likes to speak to adults as if they are her age; who has a piggy bank where she has so far collected 10,000 rupees towards buying a car for herself later in life. For such a child, any present won’t do. The process of buying a gift has to be a process that is thoroughly thought through and planned.
So after loads of lists, To Do’s and anxious nervous breakdowns, I finally decided to buy her a dress, a book and a toy kitchen-set. Thereafter, armed with my precious buys, I marched into the birthday party with all my confidence and smugness intact.
As you can guess, from the exaggeration of the above lines, a dramatic disaster awaited me. Perched on her parent’s new sofa in the most casual clothes and slippers was my niece, playing with, guess what? Ahem, her new Samsung Galaxy tab. As I fumbled towards the nearby seat, with my plastic-glass cola drink and paper plate full of potato chips, she gave me cool hi in between the stages of her ongoing “Angry birds” game. Other children at the party seemed equally other-worldly. Each was sagely aware of all new gadgets that have been produced at any robotic factory around the globe. Most had at least one fancy piece of machinery on themselves that I was curiously unaware of.
While I was greeted and made to feel welcome by the birthday girl’s parents, handed over chicken lollipops and dripping pieces of black-forest cake, I went closer to my niece and finally mustered the courage to ask her what she was doing. Then, she kindly showed me her tab which was a birthday gift from her parents and which she already seemed really comfortable with. After gaining her confidence with my fake pretended knowledge of fancy smart-phones, I even managed to learn more about her tab, finally ending my afternoon with an unsuccessful attempt at playing the ethereal “Angry birds” game.
As I walked back to my house, I got an opportunity to think deeper into what I had just witnessed. I realized that all said and done, I am myself a very alike. I like a certain kind of life, eat a certain kind of food, read certain books, have a certain variety of friends and wear certain kinds of clothes. Working for a multinational company and living in a metropolitan city, I have had the advantage of access to data, information and trends that I keenly have views on. Given this, it is surely obvious that I am a highly individualized person and when people are buying gifts for me, they better know exactly what they are getting into!
But the gifting bit aside, the above hypothesis also takes us into another very interesting area. It is the area of shopping. My shopping experience for my niece was a very small sample of how it is like to buy things now. With time movement and social evolution, the overall process is becoming more and more complicated, evolved, psychological and dense. I was so fascinated by the experience that I went back and read, researched and thought about it. So, here are my three scenarios on how shopping will look like, in say 2030:
SHOP FOR ME
We all know that the rich and the famous have hired helps that do everything for them, and at times we do wish it was like that for us. That we had fancy personal stylists, advisers and planners taking care of all our personal whims and fancies. They understood what we want to wear when we’re feeling happy, what we want to see when we’re bored and what we want to do when we’re blue. In 2030, shoppers will have exclusive personal shopping assistants (most likely unseen online entities)!
As some of you may have noticed in one of my previous posts on travel, I believe strongly in the power of individualization and customization. It does flow from my overall belief in personal choice and preferences that I elaborated above with reference to my shopping experience too. In that post, I proposed personal travel planners who will keep each and every need of the travelers in mind, while they plan the perfect trip for the person. I believe that in the future we will have personal guides for anything and everything, including shopping. And this will be done in the most cost-effective and effort-efficient manner. Here is how a shopper’s desire of exclusivity can be made to come true with systematic planning, simple execution and some technology:
1. Step 1: Highly detailed personal profile maps. In order to serve each shopper in the most exclusive manner, make him feel like each of his individual needs / desires are being catered to and truly become his personal shopping guide, companies will first need to understand the shopper in minute details. But there’s a twist in my theory. Most of us know that this kind of customer profiling is already being done by most companies today using fancy terms like Big Data, analytics, consumer profiling data, Quantified transactional, behavioral and customer profile data and what not. But with news of Facebook and some other giant customer data selling or sharing the data, most of the consumers are feeling violated.
But this doesn’t mean that the customers are dumb. Today the customers know that there are leaving cyber footprints even if they are conducting offline in-person transaction and each of their actions is helping marketers profile them. They know that advertisers are making marketing strategies and messages that are tweaked locally based on deep research into their psychologies. They know that analytics companies are constantly processing data on demographic, segmentation, behavior and geo-spatial data to discover their wants and preferences. And the consumers are smart to acknowledge and accept that now no information can stay hidden. And hence, I feel that in the future they will take the step beyond accepting the reality and actually becoming partners to it. They will share data and information not only voluntarily but enthusiastically with whoever wants it.
The only keyword will be ethics. Shoppers will share the data is they are assured that it will not be extracted forcibly / surreptitiously / stealthily! Let me tell you what I mean. Have you been in situations where you clicked on a toaster on a website and the next time every website you visited suddenly started recommending toasters of every shape, size, design and color to you? Has it happened that you mentioned on Facebook that you studied interior design or clicked on a FabIndia’s scrolling furniture ad on Facebook; and the next time you accessed your mails there were millions of mails with fancy teak, rosewood, rubber-wood and every possible knock-on-wood furniture ever made? Here’s the news: we DO NOT, like it. Not just because we feel spied upon, chased, stalked, threatened for our privacy but because we genuinely believe that random clicks on things, disclosures of some past information does not necessarily mean you can judge who we are. If you want to know us, ASK US. We are people who their own minds (mostly), have access to information that tells us what we like / dislike (generally) and are happy to share some information with you if we feel you will not misuse it (if you ask us nicely).
I feel that in the future, intelligent and ethical companies will surely have very detailed, accurate and accurate profile maps of all potential shoppers out there, but these maps will be based on information that has been collected openly, collaboratively and wisely. Now, surely a lot of you will think that nobody likes to fill tedious questionnaires / answer lengthy interviews about ourselves if that is what it takes to become collaborators with the shopping companies / portals / marketers. Yes, which is why this process has to be smart, swift and researched. It will be slightly drawn out, but definitely based on a consensus between the parties. Here are a couple of my ideas to share information towards making these detailed accurate shopper profiles:
- Questionnaires: Brief, powerful and leading is the key here. Each questionnaire should not have more than 5 questions, given the attention span of each successive generation (they even find video games slow now!)
- Periodic updates on sketch pages (refer to step 2 for details): The shoppers will voluntarily go and update their sketches from time to time, based on new things that they have taken a fancy to, new products or services they desire or any random information they want to add.
- Cyber footprints: The use of this will continue but will be more evolved and not blind judgments.
- Group theories: The influences of influence groups and peers will be recorded and analyzed (more in Scenario 2)
- Alright, there can be so many more innovative ways to map the shoppers – this is just the beginning!
2. Step 2: Taking the data forward. Once sales executives identify all unique customer profiles, it's time to put their relationships strategy into high-gear. Now that they have quickly and consistently filter through all the noise in the publicly available online environment and capture highly targeted, relevant customer/prospect signal information, they will use it to their benefit as well to that of the customers. Here are couple of my thoughts on what the marketers will do in 2030:
- Personalized sketch pages: Each shopper will have a page dedicated to his or her shopping profile. This will be either stored on a freely available mass of online data or on specific portals. All data collected through the above step will be shown here and the shoppers can modify them as and when they feel the need to.
- Predictions: The individual pages on shopper profiles will be accessed by anyone they chose, right from gyms who can decide customers’ unique fitness needs, clothing brands who will predict appropriate clothing for each occasion and travel agents who can design unique holidays for them.
- Recommendations: Marketers will routinely recommend the right products for each of the customers / customer baskets, based on all the various choices and preferences shared. These main recommendations will be followed by related complimentary and supplementary product recommendations, which be highly detailed and intelligent. E.g. instead of the rudimentary recommendation of chairs when a person orders a table, they will look at each buy, match it back to the personalized sketch and predict the next buying action to a fairly advanced degree, e.g. a person who has bought a musical instrument may next want to buy records or lessons. The important thing here will be not to swamp the shoppers with endless mails or calls, but make it an ongoing partnership based on mutual trust and solicitation.
3. Step 3: Reviews and assistance. A shopped, in order to feel truly cared for and personally catered to, will need to be shown that there is somebody out there who is available for questions / musings / anything like that. It is this relationship that will be go a long way in shoppers truly trusting the marketers and letting them take over the leash of their shopping horses. If there is somebody who offers honest views on each product and is available for any issues, the shoppers will happily tell them, “Shop for me!”
In that mysterious, much anticipated future, it is believed that people will drift apart unbelievably. Wall-E type silos will be the norm and any communication if at all will happen over social networking platforms. I don’t think so. With the world becoming so accessible, population growth rate reducing, money becoming easier, priority shifts already visible across the world, at least the urban and traveled customer group will tone it down a notch. I feel they will become less demanding, ambitious and anxious. Alright, not from service providers, only from themselves. So instead of living isolated lives with material possessions and giddying success, they will again want to reach out and connect with people.
Hence, in 2013, community shopping will be the new thing. People will form groups, starting off with friends and gradually prompted by more organized corporations which will become their sounding boards. Even today, most people reach out to their friends and peer groups for advise, suggestions and reviews before buying, at least more expensive or unfamiliar products. In the future this will become more organized, structured and fun!
1. Step 1: Forming the shopping groups. This is the traditional life model of an average human being:
Most people from a similar background, income group, age, education, geography etc end up following similar paths and that means buying similar products. The community shopping groups will be formed basis all of the above and simple allegiance and liking. The detailed personal profile maps from the previous scenario can also be used if corporations are making such groups.
2. Step 2: Enabling the groups. The groups will need to get to know each other, unless they are friends. They will need to re-align their expectation and preferences to a certain extent in order to arrive at commonly accepted needs from each product or service. They may decide to approach the shopping experience in their own unique ways, e.g. one group may decide to collectively visit the Diesel store for buying jeans and another may decide to go with the choice of one person. One group may rely completely on online shopping for buying their next mobile phones and another may expect the seller to meet them in a common spot with a presentation. Of course if they have the size and pull for that kind of expectation – almost like the difference between what a large corporation can do v/s a smaller one, but bottom-line will be that this kind of practice so far prevalent only in corporation will be the norm for individual shoppers too.
3. Step 3: Shopping process. Once the groups and formed and oriented, the shopping will start and vary from product to product. Imagine a bunch of video-game loving connoisseurs huddling across seven seas through clever conferencing and deciding which is the next gaming equipment they will buy from Sony!
And let’s face it, group shopping will be fun! :)
BEST IN CLASS
In the year 2030, there will be vendors that will stock nothing but the best, in anything that they specialize in. it will be the era of specialization – people will go to you if they know you’re nothing but the best, make nothing but the best, serve nothing but the best. Each seller will have one unique thing to offer and needs to consistently offer that at the best quality.
So if you’re a manufacturer of Basmati rice, shoppers will know you through easily available information and groups (even the community shopping groups which may have mushroomed by them according to scenario 2), and approach you for it whenever they want to make the best Jeera rice. If you’re a portal who stores gadgets, then shoppers will expect you to stock the best mobile available on the planet under each category: best mobile for gaming, best mobile for taking photographs, the best in terms of price v/s quality and the best for accessing data / internet. They will know their mind and expect you to be honest with them in what they want. So if they tell you that they need headphones which will neutralize background noise, have super comfort and be available for 5000, you will be the only person that they know they can come to, because you would have most likely pre-empted this from their profile maps and recommended to them, transparently and directly. And their shopping group will follow.
p.s. This post is written as an entry for this Indiblogger contest. eBay is a pioneer in innovative and convenient shopping. Now shopping online calls for an eBay check!