Retailers must ask ‘what would Oprah do?’

When thinking about investment in new technologies, retailers must think like Oprah Winfrey and remember that the relationship with customers must come first, according to a retail trend expert.

Speaking at the Retail Business Technology Expo yesterday, Insider Trends’ head of trends Cate Trotter told the audience that the Oprah has built her brand on developing a relationship with viewers, and in turn, customers.

“Don’t worry about spending money on things like large, expensive touch screens on the shop floor – they’re a novelty that will be used for about 15 seconds,” she commented. “Shoppers are there to pick up product and talk to staff – it’s all about making a connection.”

Trotter suggested that technology is the “magical connector” between brand and customer, but it should be in the background, citing the decidedly low-tech stores she witnessed on a recent trip to New York, taking in new retailers Glossier and Outdoor Voices.

“Smart brands are moving away from top-down, broadcast-style relationships with customers, and flipping things over to start listening more to what people want,” she stated. “The democratisation of retail means anyone can start up an e-commerce brand, and it’s this accessibility that’s changing what established companies are doing.”

In this environment, traditional manufacturers like Nix or Asics are opening stores and effectively also becoming retailers, while retailers like Adidas are utilising things like 3D printing in store to become manufacturers, at least on a small scale. Even media companies like Marie Claire are battling falling growth by opening up bricks and mortar outposts to increase brand awareness and sell products.

“Any brand can be anything,” said Trotter. “The one thing separating winners from losers is the relationship – understanding your demographic, building an engaged following and then giving them memorable experiences.”

She concluded by saying that this approach is not exclusive to small brands, with big companies able to leverage economies of scale, citing Under Armour’s $750 million investment in fitness tracker apps which gave it a better idea of customer behaviour, or Alibaba gathering data across multiple platforms to predict what people want to buy in the future.

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