Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Jill Puleri, Global Retail Leader, IBM

By Jill Puleri

2013 will mark the beginning of an era for every retailer, no matter how small or large, to engage and interact with customers in ways unlike ever before. And for the first time in decades, retailers will be targeting a new and growing consumer group. Since the 1960’s, retailers have focused their efforts on connecting with Baby Boomers, the largest demographic and the one responsible for more than half of consumer spending.

But as the Baby Boomer generation has matured, so to have their children. This new consumer group representing more than 95 million in the U.S. alone is referred to by the media as ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millennials.’ But in my line of work, we call them the ‘Future of Retail.’

Over the past few years, my clients have noticed huge spikes within this customer demographic, and they’ve also seen the downfalls of failing to secure their loyalty.

Let’s face it, we don’t live in a world where you’re limited to the local general store anymore. Today consumers have a plethora of stores to choose from, both online and physical, that supply similar goods. Today online-only stores are securing sales in a matter of moments, never giving the bricks & mortars even a glimmer of hope.

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My sons (ages 16 and 19) have been a couple of my greatest mentors throughout my career as a retail professional. I observe their shopping preferences and how they obtain product information, and I share those observations with clients. Recently, my youngest designed his own hoodie sweatshirt. When he couldn’t find exactly what he wanted in the store, he went searching online. There, he found a site that allowed him to design his own sweatshirt, which they created and subsequently delivered to our doorstep – all at a lower cost than what we could’ve found online. I logged onto Facebook later that evening to see that my son had shared a link to his design with all of his friends.

This one example highlights a retailer who got it. They offered a personalized, cheap and convenient shopping experience for my son through a channel he prefers. And guess what? I guarantee he will forever buy his hoodie sweatshirts from that retailer.

This retailer has captured the loyalty of a 16 year-old customer that they will enjoy for a long time (or as long as he’s wearing sweatshirts). More and more retailers are starting to “get it.”

This year especially, I expect to see retailers make drastic changes in the store in the form of complementing mobile and online channels. When we think of Millennials, we have a mental image—young kid, headphones on, and a smartphone in hand. And if you ran a quick Google search of their name, you’d likely find a plethora of social media profiles linked to them.

Equipped with a slew of communication technologies, Millennials have the opportunity to become your loyal customer with literally the swipe of a finger. Doing things like offering free WiFi in stores, mobile checkout, free delivery and social sharing are just a few ways retailers can begin to attract this new consumer group.

So as we round out 2012, I challenge you, retail professionals, to take a leap of faith this New Year and explore the possibilities of what a little technology can do for your business. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and neither will your customers.


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