From the Publisher: Getting the message

Consumers are wired and that means they know everything in an instant. Can retailers take advantage of this trend?

By Seth Mendelson

Facebook and text messaging have taken over my town and they are having a direct impact on where my neighbors—and even my family—shop.

Last month, a neighbor posted a note on Facebook announcing that our local ShopRite was having a sale on lobsters. Within minutes, it was the talk of the town, causing a number of people to rush to the store to pick up a couple of crustaceans before the store ran out. Word-of-mouth advertising has always been a major force in helping to determine the success of a retail store and its products. A positive review on the street can drum up enough buzz that a store can be overrun by shoppers looking for the latest and greatest products. Conversely, a negative review, for all the standard reasons, can be deadly.

Now, it seems that word-of-mouth advertising has seamlessly entered into the 21st century and it is having a dramatic effect on consumer shopping behaviors. The fact is that while Facebook may have been initially created for college kids and 20-somethings, older people, mainly those between the ages of 35 and 60, have quickly taken a liking to this form of social media.

What this all means is that retailers are going to have to work a little harder to win consumer loyalties. With Facebook and other new technologies, it is that much easier to spread the word about everything and that includes what is happening at the local supermarket. Using their smart phones, consumers are even able to instantly send messages to their friends and family about an activity at the local store. Spilt milk in aisle four? Often we know about the mess before the store can clean it up. Crowded parking lots? We know already.

So what do retailers need to do? The answer, of course, is go on the offensive. There is technology in the marketplace that allows retailers and suppliers to inform consumers about the good things happening in the store. Shoppers can immediately be made aware when a hot item hits store shelves or when a sale is beginning. They can also be told about changes in store hours and, according to one tech-savvy person I spoke with, they can be instantly informed about the length of the checkout lines.

But the industry has to be aware that these innovations exist and how they can help them more effectively communicate to the consumer. More importantly, retailers need to be open to these new technologies and how, over time, will make them more sales and profits.

Seth Mendelson can be reached at 646-274-3507, or at smendelson@groceryheadquarters.com.

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