4 Unspoken Themes Retailers Need to Consider from CRMC

Last week was the annual CRMC 2018 conference in Chicago and we had a few members of our team attend.

If you’re not familiar with CRMC, it’s one of the most valuable conferences for retail marketers in the loyalty & CRM space.

I was lucky enough to attend and pulled together a list of a few of the bigger themes of the show. Most of these themes were present throughout the event, but not necessarily spoken out loud.


1. The Most Important CRMC 2018 Theme: The Retail Apocalypse Isn’t Real

Retail is changing, but it’s not dying.

This one is a bit of a cheat, since Brent Cooke from PetSmart and Pini Yakuel from Optimove mentioned this explicitly in their presentation. I included it, though, because there was an excitement in the room about the future of retail.

And honestly, excitement about the new tools and tactics needed to compete in today’s crowded marketplace.

We’ve been saying this for a while, but it was refreshing to hear, especially in a room full of retailers.


2. Loyalty is More Important Than Ever Before – And Needs to Be Rethought

This was an undertone of the many presentations during the event.

CRMC 2018 started with a keynote from David Eagleman. If you’re not familiar with David, he is a neuroscientist and the writer and presenter of the television series, “The Brain with David Eagleman”.

His big takeaway was that we need to shake ourselves off the path of least resistance.

People remember novelty.

This is why all the loyalty presentations focused on creating programs that are different than straight-up traditional points programs.


3. Creating Real Connections with Customers is How You Differentiate

Retail has shifted to a model where supply is essentially unlimited. This puts all the control in the hands of consumers. This also makes the marketplace noisier.

Brian Beitler, the former CMO at Lane Bryant, said it best when he compared marketing to Times Square. We’re just throwing up messages wherever people are and hoping they’ll stop long enough to see them.

While Brian discussed Lane Bryant’s successful “I’m No Angel” campaign, this theme was part of a lot of presentations.

This was core to Ruth Crowley’s presentation as well. Ruth is the VP of Customer Experience Design at Lowe’s. Crowley summarized it best when she said: “Emotions drive behavior.”

It costs 5x-10x more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. You should make customer experience your differentiator.


4. We Must Invest in AI Without Losing Our Humanity

You didn’t think I’d make it through this post without talking about AI and Data Science, did you?

At this point, it’s not possible to be customer focused without being data focused.

Anders Sorman-Nilsson, who is a futurist, spoke on the second day of the conference. He challenged everyone to think about how we can create a seamless experience with AI.

It’s possible to create an experience that is more empathetic with AI.

Jon Kubo, the Head Digital Officer at Tillys, spoke about how the company uses augmented reality (AR) in store to drive store traffic. AR is probably the epitome of seamlessly blending AI with the real world.

The most compelling discussion on this topic came from Shawn Sweeney, the VP of Digital Experiences at Starbucks.

On stage he talked about how Starbucks moved from writing drink orders on cups to printing them. You could see him visually struggling with this.

He said that one time, when an employee asked a customer for his name, the customer replied, “Voldemort”. The employee then wrote on the cup, “He Who Shall Not Be Named”. I am still chuckling thinking about it and therein lies the point. A computer couldn’t add that human element to the experience.

With technology, the process is more efficient and creates a better customer experience, but it loses some of the humanity. It loses some of the serendipity.

This will be a challenge for all retailers going forward.


The Future of Retail is Still Being Written

The retail industry has seen massive change and when our customers change, we need to change with them.

We’re not talking about buzzwords here. The underlying theme to all of this is emotion. As retail continues to change, we need to focus on deeper emotional connections with our customers.

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