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Do It My Way

It’s a truth widely acknowledged that consumers are powerful and retailers had better take care of them. The trick is understanding what they need and when. The same consumer is likely to switch allegiance according to whichever real or virtual role they happen to be playing at the moment—Web-conferencing boss, time-starved parent, homeowning spouse, social media user, concerned citizen, the list goes on. Instead of catering to a single consumer type, companies are adapting brand messages and store designs to these fragmented behaviors.

To be in synch with people’s different personae, brands are assuming more fluid identities. Saks Fifth Avenue deconstructed its logo to show it’s no longer one-dimensional, but a dynamic brand with rational and emotional sides. It has a different face in different mediums, from shopping bags to the Internet.

The consumer will give a brand permission to play with its persona as long as it stays true to its core values and doesn’t trespass. Yes, social networking is hot, but before you drop the Mentos into the Diet Coke, be aware that commercial intrusions are not appreciated. YouTube is considered private, not corporate. Planted content has been quickly exposed and virally resented. And despite the growing population of avatars, American Apparel’s virtual store on Second Life did not succeed—in fact it was (virtually] vandalized.

Fluid marketing efforts in the right medium let the customer know a retailer cares about the relationship, and that it can keep up. Shoppers’ demand to “do it my way” is being answered in the physical store as companies test soft-zoning layouts that encourage customers to perceive the space as flexible according to need or occasion. Retailers are also becoming sensitive enough to connect products in a way that makes sense to the shopper.

IWant It Now

Need and occasion are behind the success of Tesco’s portfolio of store formats. Each is designed to appeal to a defined set of shopper circumstances: Extra hypermarkets, Tesco supermarkets, small, tailored Metro stores and the Express convenience store (coming to the United States as Fresh & Easy]. The U.K. grocer further innovates around customer needs using the data generated by its loyalty-card programs. Shoppers’ fragmented personalities and increased expectations are most apparent in the grocery category. People increasingly shop on an as-needed basis for shorter times. As a result, they focus on retail specifics, such as convenience, simplicity of assortment and environment, or service proposition. H-E-B, Wegmans, Ukrops and Bloom continually improve the experience with online shopping services, in-store food displays, ready-to-eat foods, cooking demonstrations and other forms of retail therapy.

Location-free shopping, or more accurately, fully integrated in-store and online operations, is today’s catch phrase. Freedom of access, responsive service, fairness and consistency of promise are highly valued by today’s mobile shopper. In the consumer’s mind, the store is no longer a box. Rather, it’s an experience reaching them in their own environments on their own terms.

© 2014