Where Many Goliaths Have Failed, A David Comes Forward
Thinking about it now, the David and Goliath metaphor may not work perfectly, but it does quickly focus this post. The enterprise world has spent untold billions of treasure on customer relationship management over the past two decades, and you have to ask to what avail? For the business to business organizations, one understands giving sales and channel partners a solution. But for retailers, the value of CRM has been difficult to ascertain. E-commerce might be slightly better because you have transaction record with an identity. But getting to really know your customers, to the point where you have something approaching a relationship, has been the proverbial mirage of retail, and CRM generally. We have the little keychain ID cards for the local grocery stores, but have not yet received a personalized alert that the groceries we tend to buy seasonally have gone on sale, or that this group of items is available at a discount. You would think that after three or four years they would know us better.
AisleBuyer is out to change all that. By offering consumers a easy to use tool to shop, research in store, review promotions, order and checkout and by offering retailers a rules based marketing platform integrated with their back office inventory and the other systems, AisleBuyer bridges the divide between the customer and the ‘store'; it’s real time CRM initiated by the customer for the customer’s benefit. (There’s a novel concept.)
Loaded onto thousands of servers the world over are massive CRM systems that try to make heads or tails of customer behavior after the fact, when the customer has long since checked out and driven home, maybe even moved to another city. But for all the data, the information is sparse. AisleBuyer not only lets you see real time what the individual shopper scans and buys, but what they scanned and did not buy. For example, if they scan a sweatshirt in medium but put it down, and inventory in large is unavailable in the store, AisleBuyer can alert you that other sizes are available and let you place the order right on your phone.
Shoppers can now research the products they are interested in while in the aisle and holding them, simply by using the AisleBuyer app and their smartphone’s camera/scanner. And when a retailer’s rules sense that you are interested in a clock radio, they can dial up a promo on the spot. When you make your selection, you add the item to your cart, literal and virtual, and move on. When you are done shopping, you checkout and pay online. No more put it in the cart, remove it from the cart and put it back in the cart. When you are done shopping, you checkout as you stroll to the door, where you show a store clerk your smartphone order.
Retailers, manufacturers and consumers all have their own good reasons to use a service like AisleBuyer: The ability to connect with your customer real time for the retailer; a data store for the manufacturer; and true convenience for the shopper.
The technology landscape is littered with the wreckage of large tech companies who tried a consumer offensive, as detailed in this NYT article, where consumer world is referred to bleakly as the “Afghanistan” of enterprise technology. So what makes AisleBuyer different. In a word it’s simplicity. The user interface of the smartphone app is simple and straightforward. All the complexity is hidden behind the scenes where AisleBuyer’s web APIs integrate volumes of data with retailer’s back office systems and the their own marketing platform.
While large tech companies would do well to tread lightly in the consumer space, large retailers have some quick decision making at hand. The adoption of smart phones is changing the way we communicate, compute and live; and the rate of adoption has accelerated so fast recently that many retailers were caught off guard – they did not budget in 2011 for mobile shopping. At this point they can try to build it themselves or they can use a service like AisleBuyer – in either an on-demand version, or on premise if the retailer insists.
AisleBuyer does more than just mobilize the store and give retailers a strategy to compete with e-commerce, it also arms store personnel with an app that gives them the ability to be real value add to the customer. The clerk app offers a veritable knowledge base of information on products. Imagine a harried clerk being able to stop and answer your question right in the aisle without using the obnoxious store wide loudspeaker phone. Your shoppers might actually ask a question that leads to a sale.
System complexity is often the result of trying to mirror human behaviour and its off the charts idiosyncrasies. But what if you don’t try mirror behavior but simply capture it as it happens. How does that change the enterprise CRM game? Instead of waiting for customers to line up and walk through our predefined corn maize, you let the customer behave and you simply respond as a fascinated, helpful third party.
We, or at least I, have long questioned whether our systems were off on a tangent, trying desperately to keep up with a marketplace that cares nothing for processes or transaction conformity. Sometime in this business, as in life, we don’t actually answer the question, so much as the questions become moot and we move along to, inevitably, new questions. If you accept the premise that AisleBuyer is an enterprise CRM system, and I do, then the next step is to ask is does it provide a new question about how CRM is going to operate in the future: Customer driven, customer focused, process and transaction lite? Where does that leave the massive CRM systems we have struggled under these many years?
The other question you can’t help but ask is how a service like AisleBuyer ramps up in the market. Large retailers might each bring it on-premise and then go through the typical heavy lifting of sourcing infrastructure, laying pipe, etc. Each install will be different because each retailer has a custom back end integration project; but the big boys have full wallets, or so I hear in the press. On the other end of the sprectrum small retail chains could swap out AisleBuyer for a majority of their POS terminals. And if AisleBuyer was already integrated with a SaaS back end, say NetSuite or Business By Design, all mutual customers could avail themselves of the magic without having separate integration projects. Just another huge benefit of the SaaS model.