The Virtual Retailer
In the SMART blog post topic “Apps and Mobile Solutions for SMBs” I shared a unique case study on North Korean grocery store, Tesco. In the captivating video, Tesco, the number two grocery store at the time, had a specific marketing and sales objective—to be Number One! Their strategy included using technology and existing integrated marketing tactics to ‘bring their store to the customer.’ They did this by creating lighted displays in subway stations; essentially creating a virtual store. Busy commuting customers shopped while they waited for the train. Once they’ve located what they want, like a carton of milk and a dozen eggs, for example, they simply scanned the QR code next to that product, the items went into a shopping cart on their phone, and the groceries were delivered to their door around the time that they get home that day. Tesco online sales went up 130%, registered users soared 76% and they were on their way to becoming number one.
This use case concept and execution is still blowing my mind! “Who is to stop a small grocery store or retailer from doing the same and putting all the big chains under?” I think to myself. “And, how does this change our models and distribution of not only products but services in the future?”
The Virtual Professional and/or Service Rep
While at the wireless industry enterprise trade conference, CTIA, a few weeks ago, I attended keynotes from the CEOs of Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. They proudly displayed the future of wireless with various examples. One that caught my attention was that of a physician interacting with patients over wireless devices (smartphones and/or tablets) alleviating the need for an in-person visit (and the time it takes to set up an appointment, wait for an appointment and even commute to the appointment during working hours). A prescription is called into the pharmacy within minutes of the patient feeling the ailment. This turn-around in care due to technology and access, is likely to detect disease and speed recovery, faster and more efficiently than ever before. These virtual house calls are gaining in popularity and could turn access to healthcare on its ear in the coming months.
For those who have recently shopped a Macy’s or Sears recently, you may have noticed that in store tablets and kiosks are being offered to customers in an effort to control and support a better “Shop, Learn and Buy” experience. Customers can shop and compare more efficiently, get questions answers in their own time and make better decisions. I suppose we’re not far off from that experience being enhanced by a live customer service professional; ready to answer questions in real-time, shop alongside of you, and even recommend items based on your personal preferences. Pretty cool! (a little creepy but cool) Imagine applying that to a plumbing service call whereby the analysis of a problem toilet happens via Facetime on a smart phone or tablet. We’re not far off from this happening. Best of all, the plumber’s time would be billable, without a commute and associated variable costs. It’s a win-win for the customer and the professional service provider.
Virtual Learning and Professional Development
I currently teach a course at New York University entitled “Mobile Marketing for the Small to Medium-sized Business.” It’s attended by students from Montana, California, New York and other areas of the US. The class is the first of its kind that is taught online and via mobile phones. Each Monday for eight weeks we meet online with video, audio and other interactive functionality (chat, emoticons, forums, breakout rooms, etc.), just as we would do a regular course—yet, minus the classroom. Students receive a mobile app each week with supplemental content including a required quiz for that week’s lesson. I’m amazed at the experience but moreso, how NYU is now able to expand their footprint to more potential students, mostly adult learners, who would not have otherwise taken a course from their university. I like to think it’s the marketing of the brand and quality of the education that draws the students in. Now, irrespective of physical location, students can earn a Certificate or degree from the university of their choice, and interact with those from other locations and backgrounds, adding to the overall learning experience.
Musicians, comedians and other performers are generating new touring revenues by performing live on a new online service called StageIt.com. Here’s how it works: The artists promote their concerts to a wider geographic audience using existing integrated media (i.e. email and direct mail lists, social media, radio, etc.). Fans pay admission that usually comes out to a fraction of the costs of seeing them in a real club. At the designated time, the artists perform the concert sometimes in the comfort of their own living rooms, giving a more intimate performance. Fans who sign up to attend the virtual real-time concert can tip and even submit questions and comments (i.e. song requests, peer to peer discussions, etc.) in real-time adding to the interactivity of the performance; a component that is not included in a traditional large venue or even small-sized club.
Your Virtual Business of the Future
There’s no mistaking, how we do business and generate revenues is changing rapidly, mostly because of new technologies in communications and delivery. Even though the Internet has been around for over ten years now, we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of business with advances in mobile, wireless and higher broadband connectivity. It is likely to impact every business and function. Therefore, it’s important, in my opinion, that we embrace this change and seek new opportunities and ideas to benefit from.
How to Prepare for the Future…
No matter what sized business you are or operate in, it will give you a competitive advantage to stay informed and prepare for the business of the future. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that today to stay ahead of the curve:
- Think outside the box and innovate: Pay close attention to what professionals, thought-leaders and other entrepreneurs and innovators are doing inside and outside of your space. Consider how that might apply to your own business.
- Get familiar with video: If you have customers, you’re in a service business. The way we communicate and interact with our customers albeit a sales, service, purchasing, accounting or other function is changing. Get comfortable with video conferencing (Skype, WebEx, YuuGuu.com, Facetime, etc.). It’s likely to present new, more efficient ways of interacting with key stakeholders in the very near future.
- Pay particular attention to your database. It has more value that you know: If new opportunities for revenues are going to come out of your existing database of loyal customers, continue to develop and nurture it. I bet musicians didn’t think much about a fan located 3000 miles from them, of course unless they toured, until now (referencing the StageIt example above). All of a sudden that fan could be worth 10x the revenue due to the new way of selling an entertainment service
- Earmark media that reaches your target audience: One thing the Tesco case study taught me is that brick & mortar retail stores are in jeopardy. Think about it for a second. If I can shop while I wait for a subway station why do I need to go to a store? Or, better yet, if that catalog or magazine that reaches me each month (that I access frequently throughout the month due to my special interest) were to make it easier to test a product or service, speak with a live representative and/or purchase, I may not need to visit a retailer. My prediction is that there will be a renewed importance on integrated media that reaches targeted customers such as magazines that essentially bring the store to the customer regularly.
What technological innovation will be next to impact your business? Will it be one of yours?
About the Author
Angelo Biasi is General Manager of SMART Marketing Solutions, LLC, a leading full-service integrated marketing company in Naples, FL since 2001. He has helped create and execute marketing plans and integrated marketing solutions for companies such as Playtex, Bic, Rogaine, Tauck, and over 35 colleges and universities, to name a few. Angelo has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut and teaches Marketing at New York University where he has for over five years. For more information or to learn more, email him at abiasismartmarketingllccom (abiasismartmarketingllccom) , visit www.smartmarketingllc.com or call 239.963.9396.