Three retail game changers you can use now

In-store and online, new media tools provide opportunities to improve the retail experience, says Leslie Kossoff.

In the past couple of months, three game changers occurred in the retail space. In no particular order:

- It was announced that Ron Johnson, Apple senior vice-president of retail is taking over as chief executive at US retailer JC Penney.

- Google launched its new social networking service, Google+.

- Mobile payments provider Square landed a US$100m investment.

So, what do any of these have to do with you? Everything. Starting now.

New face of retail

Within a day of the announcement that Johnson was moving to Penney, the latter company's share value increased by more than 17 per cent - representing an increased $1bn valuation for the venerable retailer.

And venerable is the word. JC Penney is a lowto mid-market department store chain that has had a place in the American shop- ping psyche for more than 100 years. If you think Sears, you think Penney - experiencing just as many problems during the past few years redefining itself in this new marketplace.

And that is where the significance to garden retailers comes in. Because the reason the valuation jumped was that the analysts saw that retail, overall, was going to get a makeover.

That is what Johnson first achieved as vice president of merchandising at Target stores, turning that company's tide years earlier. He brought the same approach to Apple and, most recently, to the newly imagined and redesigned Disney Stores. Moving to JC Penney, he was now going to be on view in a venue that would change the face of retail forever.

Why such a big difference? Most notably, a company that had been in place with a perception by cust- omers that hadn't changed in years, now had the potential to look, be and do more than anyone had ever imagined. You see where I am going with this?

The Google+ game changer

Say "social media" and someone is going to say "Facebook". And that is only right - at least until now. Because Google launched and is growing its new social media platform, Google+ - and the differences for businesses are legion.

Earlier this year, co-founder and now chief executive Larry Page made it clear that every Google employee was to focus on social. Every single aspect of anything that Google produced from this point forward - as well as from its existing products and services - had to contribute to Google's social strategy.

That is why, when you look at the bones of Google+, what you see is the next phase for how businesses will directly convert their social media activities into measurable, monetised outcomes.

It is all in the circles, because those subgroups will give you the capability to mass customise to your social network by individualising down to the last detail on every piece of news that you send out to your customers.

House plants to house plant buyers, mowers to lawn owners and grills to garden and patio dwellers. Courses, services, coupons, even what is on offer at your cafe can be sent to exactly the population who wants to know. That is conversion at its best.

Square payment platform

We have bricks and mortar and the ether. We have all the ways that you create a complete shopping experience for your customers whether they are at home or walking your aisles.

But when they are through your doors and they want to get out easily and hands-free, it is all in their smartphone - because that is where Square lives. And it is feeding you customer and market trend data every second of the day.

If you are not familiar with it, Square is one of the new entrants into the mobile payment platform space and is geared specifically to small and medium-sized businesses.

What it does, through its payment platform, is to create a connection between you and your customers.

Think the iTunes Store - with payment as easy for your customer as pushing a button on their smart phone as they walk into your centre. The result is a quicker-than-quick checkout with no cash, cheques or credit cards involved, and an email receipt arriving with all the detail they need.

You have their payment, they have you noted in their smartphone "wallet" and you have customer-specific and trend data to target your offerings - and growth - better than ever.

Now put Google+ back into the picture, through which you have sent customers follow-on news and offers that are exactly in keeping with their interests. Then, whether they are in the mood to shop your centre at 3am in the ether or when they physically walk through the door, you have provided them with a Retail 2.0 experience as you watch - carefully - the changes that Johnson and JC Penney are bringing to the retail space.

Garden centres have a real challenge in establishing the future you want and need - and that will app- eal to the demographic that is coming next.

With these game changers, you have the inside track on success.

Use them.

RETAIL TAPPING TRENDS

- Apple senior vice-president to revamp US retailer JC Penney.

- Google+ to challenge Facebook in social networking.

- Mobile payments provider Square to expand.


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