The “Meet Cute” of Retail

September 21, 2021

After attending the retailX conference, Jamie Cornelius, Executive Creative Director, explores what it truly means to “meet your customers where they are.”

A “Meet Cute” is a staple in most Rom-Coms. It’s the moment where two people who are destined to be together meet for the first time. There’s usually something humorous or remarkable about that moment that triggers the start of that relationship. It reminds me of the power and importance of a “meet”.

Recently, I attended the retailX conference, where there was a consistent statement from each speaker, “We’re meeting our customers where they are”. It’s a phrase I’ve heard frequently over the past year and a half, yet what does it really mean? In retail especially, it’s usually a precursor to discuss improved ecommerce platforms or BOPIS/delivery options. I’d argue though that to truly meet your customer wherever they are is a radical statement. It implies that you:

  1. Really know your target customer and understand their values, interests, and behaviors.
  2. Seamlessly fit into their lives and act on that rich understanding. As a brand, you embody your customers’ beliefs, are evident in their daily lives, and/or motivate and provide them with real, relevant value. In short- you make every interaction count.

In today’s ever-changing landscape, it’s even more challenging for businesses to meet their customers where they are consistently and impactfully. To truly know your customer means you have already established a relationship with them, and can anticipate their needs and wants. Our lives are increasingly complex, and how companies interact in a meaningful way with us, is constantly evolving. The metaverse has opened new opportunities, or maybe even demands, for brands to stay relevant in both our digital and physical lives.

One of the panels from retailX discussed a company’s ability to tap into the growing trend of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). NFTs are unique digital assets ranging from art & music to real estate. Just like an original piece of artwork, the technology behind NFTs allows for original digital pieces to be “signed”, making them highly valuable. For instance, people will soon have the ability to outfit their avatars with limited edition brand releases, expressing their “digital” self just as they would in real life. NFTs may be a new tool, but they show how essential brands are to how we express ourselves.

Our ever-changing lives also require brands with physical stores to look outside their comfort zone and understand how and where else their customers are shopping, eating, or socializing. The Ulta Beauty at Target “shop-in-shop” launch is one example of a retailer seeking more accessibility by literally meeting customers where they are. But it’s more than that. Ulta and Target together create a unique shopping experience that cements the relationship with their mutual audience, meeting them where they are emotionally.  

Target

Customer journeys have become a complex choreography of online and instore, on-premise and off-premise, planned and unplanned trips. Many retailers are responding to where they feel they have gaps in their portfolio and services rather than delivering experiences that align with their brand. In a rush to implement easy, contactless ordering/pickups, many retailers fail to successfully “meet customers where they are” emotionally, fitting into their lives beyond merely acquiring merchandise. Drive thru and BOPIS have largely become a copy/paste exercise among the industry, making the experience quick and easily forgettable. Inevitably, we engage with retailers in multiple types of journeys and expect them to deliver on a unified and impactful customer experience when we are stressed as well as when we aren’t.

Hair care company Madison Reed is another example of a business that understood what their shoppers needed and produced an effective customer experience. At retailX, Andrew Lande-Shannon, Senior Director of Store Experience, discussed their launch of both an online and instore digital color bar to help customers find their perfect hair color. They enhanced the online experience with virtual consultants to guide customers through the selection process. Ultimately, they found that their customers were engaging with them both online and instore, which meant creating an impactful and integrated brand experience across platforms was key. Their products can also be found in Ulta and soon they will part of Ulta Beauty at Target, further reaching and meeting their customers.  

To truly, “meet your customer where they are” takes a holistic approach that is both rational and emotional. It requires businesses to consider not just where to take the brand, but how to convey it consistently and successfully. Just as our lives are not siloed, how a brand experience is implemented needs to deliver across every touchpoint and needs states. This requires the breaking down of siloes in organizations and seeking insights that can keep the store experience fresh and engaging. Retailers should be memorable, thoughtful, and strategic with their first meet cute, and then use every subsequent interaction to build upon that moment because every “meet” counts.