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GUEST COMMENT Three top tips for retailers to meet the needs of today’s demanding ‘Information Generation’

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Across the UK and Ireland we have become a global, digital community; always connected and holding the world’s information at its fingertips. Unsurprisingly, today’s youth, who are gradually becoming the world’s future decision makers, consider internet connectivity to be a utility, and possibly even a human right.

From a teenager’s perspective, a minute won’t pass without a Facebook message, WhatsApp, or Snapchat causing their phone to quietly vibrate. As a result, they are inseparable from their devices. And there’s an even younger generation who expect to be able to tap and swipe every screen they encounter.

Whilst we all know youngsters are impatient, they seem increasingly more impatient than previous generations. Naturally, growing up in an era of digital instant gratification makes them want answers to everything, now. If they can’t book tickets with one app, they’ll just use another. If one shop doesn’t have a service they need, in just a few moments online, they’ll find an alternative.

This mobile and social media savvy generation see the four inch screen of their smartphone as the connection which pulls different aspects of their lives together. Subsequently, this is resetting the expectations and pressures being placed on today’s businesses in meeting the demands of the ‘Information Generation.’

The rise of the future decision maker

It won’t be long before this generation becomes the driving force of our economy. While they may not be immediately buying cars, houses or investing in long-term financial services their purchasing power is fast growing.

The consequence? Those organisations that are too slow at shifting tack to cater for these demands will be abandoned and very quickly find themselves out of business.

Research from EMC, conducted by Opinium, amongst the youth (18 to 24-year-olds) of the UK and Ireland has further highlighted just how important use, access and the security of data is. More than half (57%) of today’s youth will change provider if they are unable to control their personal data, whilst a similar number (53%) would do the same after a data breech and a third (36%) would leave if mobile services aren’t provided.

The factors driving brand loyalty today are different and far harsher than the criteria that governed it in the past. Your parents shopped where their parents shopped, banked where their parents banked and supported their parents’ football team. Their kids will bank where they have the assurance of their security, will shop with people with the most compelling experience, price and range of goods, and will consume entertainment and media from organisations that value their data privacy.

Businesses that continue in the way they have and can’t adapt rapidly to the new technology fuelled demands of today’s youth, will die – replaced by firms, products and media that are inextricably connected with the lives and needs of today’s youths. The market is more punishing than it ever was, so the window to keep pace – even for today’s market leaders – is very small. We have only to look at the effect WhatsApp has had on text messaging and that Uber has had on the taxi industry, to realise just how vulnerable the traditional industries are.

While the pressures facing business to cater for these consumers are becoming clear, the reality is that many of today’s businesses struggle to cope to fulfil these demands.

Three tips for retailers to meet today’s digital youths’ demands

There are three core steps retailers need to take to ensure they’re meeting, and exceeding the demands of tomorrow’s consumer and today’s Information Generation.

1. Continue investment into mobile platforms

Starbucks is a prime example of a company that has invested in its mobile platforms, and continued to invest as it looks to stay ahead of its competition. Offering store locators, pre-orders and loyalty points, customers can also pay through the app without hassle. As well as drastically impacting overall sales (the app has over 1,000,000 installations on Android alone), the popularity of the Starbucks mobile app further highlights the mobile expectations today’s youth has on brands.

This rise in investment of mobile applications isn’t constricted to any one industry – it’s rare to meet a UK bank that isn’t busy at work on improving their digital and/or mobile strategy. And it’s not hard to see why: research findings from EMC’s Information Generation study reveals a failure to provide mobile services will lead to 36% of customers in the retail sector deserting their supplier for one that can cater to these demands.

2. Experiment with digital innovations

e-Commerce trends are fast-shifting. Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the mobile commerce channel; we’ve seen experiments in in-store/digital integration, and we’re now seeing interactive mobile experiences, where consumers can virtually dress themselves in a potential new purchase without having to be physically in the store. Retailers need to keep experimenting with new mechanisms to meet the needs of the up-and-coming generation. Yet while investing in future platforms is essential to the long-term growth, ensuring that the digital world remains secure still remains a key consideration for this generation; 53% of respondents would be likely to switch providers if a data breach occurred.

3. Analyse data to expose a goldmine

Although the necessary investment in the correct technology platform to enable all of this will generate a better customer experience with improved loyalty there is much more to it. This approach will generate valuable data, lots of it. That data is gold and can readily provide an insight into your customers that can revolutionize a business.

This isn’t just about a customer experience. A thorough digital experience provides huge data and insight which with the correct tools creates the ability to predict behaviour much more accurately.

Take last summer’s heatwaves in the UK as an example as to how retailers are listening to what is taking place on social media and benchmarking it against historical data to ensure stock levels are right. These insights allows companies like Tesco and Sainsbury’s to ensure appropriate stock level of food for the BBQ, ice and drinks to be in the right stores. Under order and they find themselves missing out on lucrative business to other retailers, over order and they’re left with stock that is difficult to move on given the seasonal changes we have in the UK.

Yet this becomes a fineline between using this data effectively and being too intrusive – 57% of 18-24 year olds would be willing to switch to a competitor if their current provider didn’t give them control over their personal data. We’re increasingly seeing the need for a “fair exchange” to take place between the consumer and retailer in which both receive benefits. Anything else will immediately be seen as unappealing and lead to consumers switching to a rival brand where the exchange is deemed far fairer.

While many retailers may have started on their journey to embracing a digital future, the demands around mobile innovations, data security and transparency of today’s Information Generation and tomorrow’s big spenders highlight the expectations and pressures being placed on today’s businesses. Combine this with operating in an increasingly disruptive industry and a relative lack of brand loyalty, the need for the industry to invest in platforms that allow and support new business models and revenue streams has never been so apparent. This isn’t just about investment in a better web site, businesses need to transform and be prepared to operate completely differently to ensure they stay competitive.

Retailers are already well aware of the impact of social media and digital platforms, however, if they aren’t moving flat out to surf this tidal wave of both digital change and opportunity, they will either get overtaken by their competitors that do or wiped-out by an upcoming business that came from nowhere.

Ross Fraser is VP and managing director, EMC UK&I

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