Doneger: The Future of Retail Will be Omni-Personal

Sourcing Journal
Tara Donaldson
December 9, 2016

Move over omni-channel, 2017 will be all about omni-personal.

Speaking at the 2016 U.S.-China Retail, Logistics & Investment Summit in New York City Thursday, Roberto Ramos, SVP of global strategy and communications at The Doneger Group, said the consumer is driving the conversation and it's time for retailers to reimagine brand engagement.

Today's consumer is more informed and more mobile, but they're also more overwhelmed as a result. So what many want now is to take a step back, pare down, embrace simplicity—and for retail, this means a return to the human touch.

"It's inspiring that the future of retail is going back to basics," Ramos said.

There's a recalibration of wants, Ramos explained, and the new definition of evolution means the fluid and agile development of something especially cumbersome and complex to something simple and reasonable. Retailers will have to focus on the consumer's desire for optimal relevancy.

Shoppers don't want goods just for the sake of having them. They want things that are useful and meaningful and they want them on their own terms. As Ramos explained, consumers are moving away from product consumption toward items with personal value.

"It's this new way that has ushered in consumer centricity," Ramos said, as evidenced by the rise of companies like Uber and Netflix—consumers can have a car when they want or watch a show when they want. With online, consumers can now shop when they want but the personalization and ease that comes with Uber and Netflix hasn't quite yet crossed over to retail.

Shopping needs to be four things, Ramos said: simple, intuitive, smart and fun.

The consumer is looking for flexibility and expedient product delivery. From a retail perspective, they want less clutter on the floor in favor of a simpler, more engaging product flow. But they also want goods they feel were meant for them. They want retailers to understand what they might want before they necessarily even realize it.

"You should think of your consumer as your chief strategy officer," Ramos said.

Companies should always ask themselves what their consumer would do, what their consumer might be facing. Some retailers are starting to invite customers into the decision making process, picking their brains for marketing steps that would resonate, listening to what they say on social media and even co-creating with their consumers.

"It's this whole idea of almost an open source way of approaching product creation," Ramos said. "If you do all of this, it's omni-personal retail."

Omni-personal retail means revolving the business around consumer demands. It's considering a target profile, tracking that customer's journey, capitalizing on co-creation and finding new avenues for engagement. It's also less about functionality and more about being experiential.

"Functional is now the bare minimum," Ramos said. Functionality is the deal breaker. If retailers aren't delivering on time or there's inconsistent pricing between a product in stores and on their e-commerce platform, those things will be "clunky and annoying" for the consumer. Unfortunately for their business, Ramos said, "A lot of brands are still in that functional, reliable sort of phase," and doing little beyond that.

The next big thing right now, according to Ramos, is a merging of niche and big, getting more consumers an experience that feels like it's just for them. Branding is now a conversation and the consumer is shaping that conversation and creating new opportunities.

"It's a realignment, it's a recalibration to be more open," Ramos said. "The idea of openness is really what's anchoring this new form of branding."

In 2017, brands will have to be a lot more human to cater to that consumer craving for the less over-stimulated experiences of years gone. New brand business models will embrace transparency, showing consumers how they do things and where goods come from. The future of retail will also be about brands showcasing values that would appeal to their consumers and consolidating into smaller experiences that are simple, yet focused on the relevancy and personal value shoppers seek.