Catering to the Empowered Consumer

Like Jobs, Zuckerberg, Page, Bezos, retailers must figure out what makes their offer special

Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP

Michael Sansolo

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- "Consumers are now in charge. They have more power today than ever."

That statement, made at Convenience Retailing University (CRU) this week by Michael Sansolo, president of Sansolo Solutions, gets to the heart of what retail is today. "Every day you have to give [your customers] a reason to come to you," he said. Long gone are the days of simply putting up a store and watching customers walk through the doors. If you're doing business the way you were in 2008, you're not relevant any more, he said. "Now more than ever, consumers can beat a path away from your door."

Sansolo, who spent 13 years as vice president of FMI and is a former editor of Progressive Grocer, went further with his message of the changing retail landscape by referencing a Fast Company article about four men who have affected every retailer in the country.

"No one is immune from these four guys," Sansolo said.

Retailers must be aware of what these four leaders are doing to influence retail today:

  • Steve Jobs: Apple "has changed the nature of retail," Sansolo said. "They sell a different experience."
  • Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook has changed the nature of communication and community, he said.
  • Larry Page: Google "continually looks for ways to impact our lives."
  • Jeff Bezos: "He has made it clear that he's going after everything" with Amazon.

Continuing a recurring theme at CRU, Sansolo urged retailer attendees of his general session to figure out who they are as retailers and what makes them special. "In looking at your competition, how do you blow them away? The more defined your niche is, and if that niche is properly served, the happier your customers are."

Sansolo cited an example from overseas. Despite the company's retail woes in the United States, Tesco has a strategy that works well in England: It builds different types of stores tailored to different areas. A store near a highway or touristy area looks much different from a Tesco supercenter.

"They want to make sure they have the right store for you," Sansolo said.

On the other side of the retail coin is Best Buy, a retailer with beautiful stores that is becoming merely a retail showroom, having fallen victim to the stark reality that consumers have more information than ever before at their fingertips. Consumers do their shopping for a new TV at a Best Buy, then go online and shop for the best price.

Another unfortunate example: Car manufacturer Tata built a $2,300 vehicle for consumers in India, many of whom could not otherwise afford a car—but it may "occasionally" burst into flames. Competing auto companies are using that fact to market themselves as the best value for the money.

For more coverage of CRU 2013, watch for the March issue of CSP magazine.

By Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP
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