January 2012

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I’m listening and watching with fascination to Keith Scovell‘s Shopper Power videos. In these Keith describes progress being made in a VRM direction by retailers and their upstream suppliers, detailing efforts made by Starbucks, Hallmark, CVS, Tesco/Homeplus, Frito-Lay, Reese’s and other companies — all recognizing that customers’ range of control over interactions in retail environments is increasing dramatically, and will increase a great deal more.

I haven’t watched all of Keith’s videos yet, but I’m taking notes as I do, and I recommend that others do the same, if they’re interested in how increasingly empowered and independent customers relate to vendors — especially at the retail level in the brick & mortar world. And how clueful vendors are working on better ways of interacting with those customers.

It’s interesting that Keith is coming from the CPG — Consumer Packaged Goods — industry, and not CRM, which is most commonly posed as the counterpart to VRM. Yet I think that CPG, and retailing in general, is the more direct counterpart of VRM. Talking about where the rubber meets the road here. Keith talks about market signals, which go in both directions. One purpose of VRM is to provide better means for signaling, as well as for engaging over the longer term.

Four things are important to point out as developers on both sides get acquainted:

  1. Customers will become more independent. That is, they will have their own ways of expressing demand, loyalty, brand preferences and terms of engagement. Many of today’s solutions on the vendors’ side — loyalty cards, for example — are both coercive and inconvenient, as customers are required to carry around many of these things, all with their own proprietary and silo’d systems. New tools and systems will emerge on the customer’s side to provide both independence and better means of engagement. And those tools and systems will be personal, not just social.
  2. VRM tools will not only provide or support that independence, but common means for engaging many vendors the same way. For example, they will provide ways for a customer to change his or her address one time for many vendors rather than many times for many vendors.
  3. The new market ecosystem will be symbiotic one between demand and supply. Not a coercive or competitive one. That means the best customers and the best vendors will be caring about each other and watching out for each others’ best interests. This will actually reduce need on the vendors’ side for discounts, coupons and other gimmicks, which often clutter and confuse an otherwise smooth relationship with customers, and which have other hard costs as well.
  4. New user interface elements will be required.

For that last two reasons I’ve flanked the text above between two r-buttons. Keith visits QR codes and other handy signaling devices already being used in the retail environment. But it’s still early, so we still lack are user interface (UI) elements that represent actions and states within relationships between buyers and sellers. As work in the VRM development community goes on the demand side moves toward work Keith and others are doing on the supply side, the two magnets will place a new force field over the marketplace: one that brings mutual interests into alignment, even as competition and other familiar market interactions continue as they always have.