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Consumers are dictating the terms of engagement

Cass hosts Management Today briefing

Consumers have more power than ever before and are now dictating the terms of engagement with retailers.

That was the starting proposition of a Management Today breakfast event on Tuesday, sponsored by Accenture, and hosted by Cass Business School.

So what should retailers do?

According to Les Bayne, a Partner at Accenture, boards and senior management teams need to embrace the technology and process solutions available.

Cash strapped punters are using technology to search for ever better deals, and those firms which don't adapt may find themselves in trouble. "In a multiplatform world, firms need to be tightly integrated. If prices in the store don't match its price online, then customers aren't going to be happy", said Visa Europe's Managing Director for Growth and Emerging Markets, Mark Antipof.

Customers shunning high street goods for cheaper alternatives online is a problem many retailers are citing as reasons for their downfall. So how do you encourage customers to spend? Alan Giles, Chairman of lifestyle retailer Fat Face and former CEO of HMV, agreed that retailers need to be wary about charging more in-store: "Smart phones are giving consumers the most informed shopping experience they've ever had. They offer complete price transparency".

Dan Wagner, the internet entrepreneur who founded M.A.I.D in 1984 which he sold for £330m to Thomson Reuters almost 20 years later, warned it's not always the price of goods that's putting people off: "Many won't go to their local store because of the price of parking, or the inconvenience of yellow lines', he said. 'So there are some wider problems that need to change". 

The greater choice for customers has led to a change in retailers' behaviour. "Customers are becoming less loyal, so retailers have to work harder to keep them", said Les.

However, research shows "If a customer has a complaint handled well, research shows they're likely to go back", according to Vince Mitchell, Professor of Marketing at Cass. And retailers are realising they need to tread carefully around customers. "Smart phones are becoming the remote control to people's lives. If a customer isn't happy, they'll quickly let others know through social networks".

Social media can also be incredibly useful for companies, the panel agreed. As a listening tool it is unbeatable, giving businesses previously unknown access to customer feedback.

Ultimately, according to Alan, it's all about having a good product.  "Great products will always trump value for money", he said. "If it's a really seductive product, then people will pay for it".

The event panel comprised:
Alan Giles, Chairman, FatFace.
Dan Wagner, Chief Executive, Brightstation Ventures
Mark Antipof, Managing Director Growth & Emerging Markets, Visa Europe
Vince Mitchell, Professor of Marketing, Cass Business School
Les Bayne, Partner, Accenture UK & Ireland
Andrew Saunders, Deputy Editor, Management Today

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