The Customer is King. Now What?
Flourishing in a world where the customer is historically empowered
In the past 10 years, we have seen astonishing changes in consumer technology buyer behavior, from the rise of the Internet and social media as research and purchasing resources, through a crippling recession from which we are only now emerging, to fundamental shifts in the value and function of brick-and-mortar retail, just to name a few.
But I would make the case that the most important shift is one that has taken place stealthily but with far-reaching ramifications on the way all of us are doing business, and will do business in the future. That is the rise of the customer to pre-eminence in the consumer technology purchasing equation.
I recently thought about a dinner 10 years ago, where I was privileged to sit next to the CEO of a multi-national CT manufacturer, who at some point in the evening turned to me and said, “The power has shifted from the manufacturers to retailers. How do we win it back?”
Since I was actually a retailer at the time, I found the question mildly offensive, but looking back on it, I realize how different the world was when he asked it. Ten years ago, all the power struggles in our industry were between manufacturers and retailers, and within the channels themselves.
We’ve seen catalog showrooms and mass-market retail replaced by big-box and warehouse clubs, who then competed with ecommerce and a rejuvenated mass market, and brands were forced to agonize about how to optimize their sales within these various warring factions.
Interestingly, none of these channel battles had much to do with the customer, or the customer experience. Communication with the customer from all of these channels was largely one-way. The channels told the customer what to buy and how much to pay, and for the most part the customer acquiesced.