The age of the empowered customer

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To succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, retailers must follow their customers and get close to them wherever they are. That’s the view of Arne Büsching, EY Executive Director, Digital Transformation.

Speaking at the recent CODE_n conference, Büsching said that today’s empowered consumers expect companies to engage with them whenever and wherever they want — or they will simply go elsewhere to make their purchase.

Engagement varies by sector

EY’s survey on consumer behavior reveals that engagement varies widely from sector to sector.* For example, some online retailers position reviews very close to their products because they know the majority of their customers have already carried out research on the retailer’s own platform. But in the automotive sector, there is no such shopping platform where the consumer can access reviews, so different tactics are required.

“To sell cars effectively, you have to understand that the typical customer spends six months researching: first looking at finance options and then considering car brands,” said Büsching. “When the customer goes into the dealership, they might know more than the salesman. For this reason, car manufacturers have to catch customers at the point where they are looking at finance options. Manufacturers must also introduce better consulting in the dealerships. Finally, they must introduce more opportunities to interact with the brand, for example via apps and social media.”

Reaching out to consumers

Büsching dislikes the concept of channels, and believes it is more helpful for companies to think about situations. “You have to ask where people are thinking about your products — on the train, while out with friends — and reach them there. This is what really matters.”

To achieve this, all functions within a company must work together, leveraging big data to give better customer experiences. If they fail to do this, they will lose out: competition is now not only between retailers, but between retailers and manufacturers who are quickly building the capability to sell directly to consumers. “Retailer and manufacturer are becoming virtually the same for the consumer,” said Büsching.

Learning from start-ups

To get their customer engagement right, companies should learn a lesson from startups, Büsching said. He cited the example of German start-up ShopWings, a service that sends a personal shopper round to different stores to buy your groceries; if an item is out of stock, they call you and offer you alternatives. “It is very quality- and customer-oriented. Manufacturers and retailers can learn from this — they have to keep the customer in mind and use the digital channel.”

EY and CODE_n at CeBIT 2015

CeBIT is the world’s largest annual trade show covering issues relevant to IT in business, described as the “worldwide hotspot for innovation.” An important element of the CeBIT agenda is the CODE_n conference program and contest for 50 of the most promising digital start-ups from across the globe. This is an opportunity for pioneering young digital entrepreneurs, established businesses, investors and leading thinkers to discuss and showcase their ideas on how new technologies will transform the way we live.

“Into the Internet of Things” was the theme for the 2015 CODE_n contest, which was supported by EY. While contest finalists presented ideas based on four subthemes (smart city, industry 4.0, future mobility and digital life), panel discussions and keynote speakers deep dived into the issues. Topics ranged from the cybersecure city, smart factories, the future of automotive and living the digital life.

* Consumers on Board: how to copilot the multichannel journey, EY, 2014,, accessed June 2015.

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