Shoppers, retail ‘experiences’ are changing you – whether you want it or not

Amazon Echo is just one AI device that assists shoppers.
Amazon Echo is just one AI device that assists shoppers. TNS file, 2015

We’re in a world where Walmart is dropping “Stores” from its name in a push to compete head-on with the “Everything Store,” Amazon.

Stores are reinventing themselves, bombarding you with tech to grab your order and even popping popcorn and brewing coffee to keep you on the premises longer once you show up.

Brand expert Deb Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing, a brand strategy consultancy out of Austin, Texas, offered her perspectives recently in an interview with The News Tribune.

Q. Which retailers are stepping up their game to give customers a reason to shop in-store or at least buy and pick up in-store?

A. It’s not just high-end retailers —Target and Walmart are doing it. Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot have all leaned in on click and collect.

Q. What will be the impact on voice-activated speakers (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.) as a way to purchasing this season, and what will be the impact of this technology on buying behavior and how people engage with brands?

A. Amazon took its Dot to a really low price, so getting people in at entry level is one sales strategy. But there’s also the behavioral aspect of using this.

Amazon, as always infiltrates, our hearts and minds. ... Based on the way people behave when shopping online and doing internet searches, you get pages of results and can scroll really quickly.

But voice activation takes shopping out of this deep-dive rabbit hole behavior. When you do a search using Amazon Echo you’ll get Amazon’s own product recommendations.

Another example: When you use voice activation, you don’t have as much patience with the scroll when you’re speaking. So the idea is, I can ask Siri (Apple’s voice-activated assistant) for gas stations and after two are listed I’ll go, “That’s enough.”

So it’s shortening the deep dive for consumers.

Q. Why is it people can still spend hours in Target after just going in for one thing? It seems to never grow old for shoppers to talk about this on social media. There are even Facebook memes about this.

A. Think about the retail experience of a Target, the smells and sights.

It’s popcorn and coffee and bright color. It’s a young-looking environment with wide-open aisles, colorful engaging displays. Right in the front door they capture your attention with the joy of consumerism.

People go for the experience, relationship and feeling about a product. Target partners with high-end designers that I maybe wouldn’t have access to. So a shopper goes back again and again.

Whereas with a store such as Sears, it’s like, “Well, I need a new washer and dryer.”

Q. How can stores survive amid all the tech, and Amazon?

A. I’m a Nordstrom person. I have a personal shopper and she knows the brands I like. When they get interesting products I get to shop early. ... There’s all these special things going on.

Amazon can never do that for me. Amazon can say, “You left this in your cart,” but they can’t say, “You loved how this looked with that skirt ... .”

Q. You once wrote that physical stores can accelerate irrational loyalty. Can you explain that?

A. The idea is that you, as a consumer, are so bonded to a brand that you’d feel you were cheating by patronizing something else.

People identify with Target or Walmart as a “person.” For example, a Coke person, an Android person, an Apple person. That’s irrational loyalty.

If you believe the brands you use say something about you, then the retail shops you go to say something about you, too.