So, we had a few friends out to colorful Colorado for our first official Brand Summit this past June. There, we discussed how the Shopping Journey is changing and what is next. Well, Google loved it and invited us out to their NYC Headquarters to continue (and expand on) the conversation.

Naturally, we jumped at the idea! How could we not? But this time we wanted to give our guests even more insights into the power of retail and how to tap into, and capitalize on, the changes in the space.

It is time to focus on the user! It is time to make his and her experience frictionless. Actually, brands should have started to focus on the user years ago, but you can’t change the past, only learn from it.

So, here’s what all brands should be aware of, consumer behavior has changed. We live online and we want a frictionless experience. And as our CEO, Cindy Brown, so poignantly put it in her opening comments,

We are addicted to our screens and we vote with our clicks. Mobile is the new Flagship and Digital the store front.”

Driven by Experience

As consumer spending shifts toward experiences rather than goods, so too do loyalty programs. It is not enough to have a buy 10 get one free offer. Today’s rewards need to be experiential rewards. Things like discounts and cashback rewards aren’t really resonating and drive below-average customer satisfaction. While personalization and other experiential features make consumers happier. Thus, building brand loyalty.

And that loyalty is a big deal. It used to be that once a consumer found a brand that did what it said, they stuck with them and would continue to purchase that product for that specific need. But, that was then. Now, there is a wealth of products and services that, more or less, do the same thing. These consumers are shifting their loyalty from brands to experiences. Experiences that are relevant to their needs and that capitalize on the moment. Today’s consumers are informed and won’t blindly rely on what has worked in the past.

A Nielsen study showed that non-monetary perks, things that provide lifestyle benefits or offer exclusive access, are valued by consumers around the world. With the percentage of millennials who value higher-priority service, such as first-class seating or VIP customer service, more than double that of Baby Boomers.

And perhaps, most unsurprisingly, consumers are spending more money on “true” experiences. Things like eating out, going on holidays, personalized services, entertainment and healthcare with less spent on stuff.

Opportunity in Tech

The advancement in the tech world truly gives brands the opportunity to create a user-centric experience.

With the rise in voice commerce, things like Google Home and Alexa, reordering goods has never been so easy. This machine learning and AI allows brands to anticipate their customers’ needs as well as drive growth to their business.

I would be shortchanging you if I didn’t mention data. The leveraging of data has changed the way brands think about the shopping journey. No longer do marketers look at data as simply numbers. We marketers now know that these numbers are actionable insights! Powerful insights with multiple touch-points across a variety of interactions. Things such as search intent, time spent onsite, videos viewed and content consumed (to name a few).

These insights contain all the information needed to reach your target audience. To engage with them on an unparalleled level and build a meaningful relationship. And, you guessed it, that is an experience. Building and maintaining a relationship is an experience. Using AI to streamline people’s lives is an experience.

And behavioral economics isn’t some theory. According to Gallup research, brands that leverage behavioral observations outpace their peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.

So, everything builds upon clean data and leveraging the advancements in tech to suit your needs. Like, the answers to the questions you have about your audiences, it is all in your data. The AI experience can be enhanced through the proper use of your data. Technology, if you’re using it correctly, boosts your data and thus the way you can use it.

Be Always On

Now, I am not saying be everywhere. That is expensive and time-consuming. But, brands need to be where their consumers are. Brands have to know where and which channels their customers are most connected with. Remember, Media is the storefront.

Alright, we know the shopping journey has changed, we’ve talked about it in this post, and in this one and if you look around it is very visible! Really though, over the past five years, mobile has hit its stride as a shopping and purchasing channel.

Shoppers have increasingly turned to their smartphones, especially over the holiday season. Smartphones play a big part of the discovery phase. If you’re anything like me, buying gifts (especially for certain men in my life) can be challenging. My dad, seemingly, has everything and it is hard to purchase for a man twice my age (no offense dad). That’s where my smartphone is my biggest ally. All I need to do is search one of his interests and within seconds I have all the latest gadgets in the palm of my hand.

But, much like me, smartphone users are making valuable decisions on their phones due to research and next to real-time results. Decisions like, what to buy, where to purchase and how to purchase (instore or online). And consumers expectations are high. Digital and smartphones have catered to consumers in a way that we, the consumer, never experienced. And now, we wouldn’t change a thing. Well, except for a few things. Things like the message must be personalized, meaning the brand needs to know each consumer’s specific wants, if it isn’t personalized, we’re not interested. And, every step of the whole experience has to be frictionless.

Remove friction or die. Or if you prefer, friction equals death. But, no matter how you say it, you better be making all your experiences seamless or expect your customers to go elsewhere.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

Your customers have spoken, are you listening?