Catering to the 21st Century shopper

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 128 views 

She’s savvy, demands value and expects convenience while shopping. If the store isn’t clean, and well-stocked with the product she wants, or if she can’t find a parking place because of loose shopping carts strewn about, chances are high that she or he will go somewhere else or shop online.

The 21st Century customer might well browse specialty stores offering advice and product tutorials and then scan the bar code and purchase that very product from an online retailer delivered right to her home.

These and other challenges facing brick and mortar retailers from specialty shops like Lewis & Clark Outfitters to Walmart were discussed Friday (May 11) at the Rogers Chamber of Commerce Focus on the Economy luncheon.

Carol Johnston, senior vice president at Walmart, said consumers are armed with powerful technology and using like never before in their daily shopping habits.

“We are a brick and mortar store but multi-channel sales including online purchases are here to to stay,” Johnston said.

Walmart estimates about 53% of its customers have smart phones, 32% have tablets and 75% have laptops at home. 

The company continues to try and reach the 21st Century consumer in its multi-channel platform, from supercenters, the smaller express stores — both in rural and urban areas — and e-commerce.

Johnston said the company is “playing with” an application that allows a customer to make a shopping list on their phone that will indicate to them each aisle in which a product is located. Once in the store, they can then scan the item into their phone and pay for it automatically with a credit card on file.

“It is out there now but we are still tweaking it some,” Johnston said.

The retail giant has also made big strides in the past couple of years to clean up stores, add back product, reintroduce fishing and fabric lines and expand its money centers in an effort to win back customers who strayed.

“We know the economy is still extremely challenging for our core customers. Many are living paycheck to paycheck from the 1st to the 15th of the month. We are continuing to invest in low prices and make sure products are available so she doesn’t compound her worries by using extra gas to run all over town looking for the bargains,” Johnston said.

Greg Spragg, owner of Lewis and Clark Outfitter, also shared his business concerns in this slowly recovering economy. He too, agreed today’s customers are choosy and very much in control of their own destinies. Spragg said small business owners must stay keenly focused on identifying their customer and then providing top-notch service.

“Brick and mortar is not going away because individual customer attention will win out. But small retailers must differentiate the way they deliver it,” he said.

Spragg added that increased competition from large sporting and outdoor retailers like Academy and soon Cabela’s are a concern at first glance. But reflecting on something he heard from Sam Walton year’s ago when he worked as a regional VP of operations for Sam’s Club helped reverse  that limited perspective.

“Mr. Sam would say the best performing Sam’s Clubs were located across the street from a Costco,” Spragg said.

He added that increased competition brings in more traffic to this region and opportunities for him to create new customer relationships.

Spragg expects the next three to five will provide good growth opportunities for Lewis and Clark. He said a new smaller footprint store will soon be opening on the University of Arkansas campus, just down from the Walmart Express.