Appointment-based shopping. Many consumers expressed that the introduction of shopping by appointment proved a revelation during the pandemic, as they were hyper-wary of crowds or encountering in-store queues that could compromise their ability to maintain social distancing. They want retailers to continue to create more of these concierge-style services, so they can schedule and conduct a planned in-store consultation that is personalized around their individual needs.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Federman, CEO of JRNI.
As CEO, John Federman is responsible for JRNI’s strategic direction, growth and corporate vision. He is an enterprise software executive with more than 25 years of experience driving revenue and profit through innovative eCommerce, SaaS and media platforms designed to connect buyers and sellers.
Prior to JRNI, he served as CEO of Webcollage, the leading cloud-based content management platform for the publishing of rich product information, through its acquisition into the Syndigo platform. He has also served as CEO of Dailybreak, Searchandise Commerce, eStara, Dotomi, Newmediary, and AdSmart. Federman began his career at Ziff Davis Media, the world’s number one trade journal, where he held a number of positions culminating as publisher of PC Week.
He currently serves as an advisor to Boston-based Salsify and sits on the Board of New York’s Touchcode. He is a regular speaker and contributor about omnichannel, customer journey, and eCommerce strategies. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in business and art. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Out of college with no connections, I got a job through a temp agency for a publishing house. I was hired as a Promotions Coordinator, there being no Marketing Director yet on board. As a result, I got exposed to so much more than an entry level marketer ever should. In fact, before long I was writing sales presentations which prompted my transition to a sales role.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, like many, I was lucky enough to have a mentor. During my interview we discovered that not only had we both attended the same university, we loved the same bartender! That bond led to a 13-year career reporting to him in various roles.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our ability to be nimble has differentiated our company from others. In short order we collaborated with customers, developed solutions to create business continuity and cemented our role as a strategic partner like never before.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
There are two things — one professional and one personal. On the professional side, put yourself in the position of your consumer. Relish the experience you have orchestrated. See the impact your decisions have had on the buying process. On the personal side, it’s easier than ever to not have balance. After all, there’s an “always on” element to our all working from home. So, take time off, recharge — as there’s lots more to do until our new normal takes over.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Those retailers that have flourished are the very same that have recognized the shift towards experiences vs the more traditional retail model. So, there’s no surprise that during the pandemic those evolved retailers were the ones to grow and create even deeper customer loyalty.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Price will always be an important part of the puzzle. But, what Amazon has taught us is that it’s much more than price. It’s about options — in pricing, delivery and product. It’s about experience and that creates habit and loyalty. So, offer a better experience and a fair price and you will fare well.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake is to presume you know what consumers want. Data will drive better decisioning and an open and collaborative process that takes that data in to inspire best practice.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
It’s as simple and universal as can be: we’re all people. We want our time and interests catered to in a way that is natural.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
It starts and stops with creating a foundation to demonstrate respect for the consumer. In these times, that respect can manifest itself by creating an environment that inspires confidence in the safety of the shopping experience. So many tools today can deliver on that — from appointments to queuing to occupancy management technologies. Each of these technologies combine in a way to compliment the core value proposition of the retailer.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
Moving into 2021, public health is still significant concern, as is the fatigue of staying in and staring at a screen. As such, retailers will need to deliver more than strong product to get shoppers back into the stores. The experience economy is here, and that means consumers want to buy into more than a quick transaction. They want an experience that is personalized and unique to them, and it will be crucial for retailers to have the right technology to support that. This includes the ability to match the right staff to consumers based on their needs, the ability to book time for a one-on-one experience eliminating the interruption of others as well as ensuring that capacity is managed for social distance requirements.
The great thing about a human-to-human connection is that retailers can use it to provide a relationship that is truly personalized. An example would be a customer who booked an appointment to visit the store, and then is greeted by name by a staff member who has already picked out some items she thinks the customer might be interested in. Or a store assistant knowing the customer’s style and being able to suggest a new pair of boots based on the skirt she bought last week.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
In September 2020, we surveyed 2,000 consumers to understand the effects of COVID-19 on shopping behaviors — and what this means for retailers longer-term. Trends that retailers will need to address to create fantastic customer experiences and loyalty include:
- More personalized experiences. The standard transactional shopping process will be elevated to more of an experience — personal, safe, and one-on-one. While the pandemic drove social distancing, it also elevated the need for and importance of personalized experiences for consumers. 47% of consumers said the human-touch aspect represents an integral element of their retail shopping experience — one they increasingly crave, regardless of whether they shop online or in-person.
- New shopping methods. 36% of consumers surveyed checked out new shopping modes for brick and mortar, including remote personal shopping appointments and scan-and-go apps. Indications point to these behaviors enduring so retailers should consider incorporating these newer shopping methods.
- Appointment-based shopping. Many consumers expressed that the introduction of shopping by appointment proved a revelation during the pandemic, as they were hyper-wary of crowds or encountering in-store queues that could compromise their ability to maintain social distancing. They want retailers to continue to create more of these concierge-style services, so they can schedule and conduct a planned in-store consultation that is personalized around their individual needs.
- Service-focused. Retailers will need to ensure their physical and virtual offerings incorporate more individual service opportunities for consumers, as the lines between the online and in-store experience become increasingly blurred.
- Customer control. Retailers will need to put control into the hands of consumers as they have varying degrees of fear and comfort with regards to being in-store and around other people. Ways to do that include allowing them to book an appointment time as mentioned above or virtually queue in the comfort and safety of their home or car while they’re awaiting entrance.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!