Aldo Agostinelli

What is the future of retail? An interview with Giuseppe Stigliano

What is the future of retail? How is it? Is it true that physical retail points are doomed? I have addressed these issues and a few more with Giuseppe Stigliano, co-author with Philippe Kotler – the “father” of contemporary marketing – of the book entitled “Retail 4.0 – 10 rules for the digital era ”, a book that stamps out several myths.

Satisfying needs

I started our conversation with a direct question: if rules for saving retail through a digitalization process are so easy, why are they not applied?
<<Because we are humans, it is the same with smoking. I know it is harmful, but I cannot give up >>.

It is also my belief, only represented in a better and clearer way.

Needless to say, Giuseppe knows retail very well. And, thanks to its knowledge, he could explain that shops are not doomed, as it is often claimed: <<Otherwise, why should Amazon have purchased Whole Foods?>>, he argued. << The real issue, when it comes to the digital world, is that customers’ needs are neglected; products are manufactured first, and only then people start thinking about triggering a demand for them. Think about all those people who first create an app and then complain about the fact that it is not being used: maybe such app was useless, maybe we were in need for something different. In short, these issues are still pending >>.

The end of brand loyalty

So retail is not undergoing a crisis, it is the original model which is suffering. And Giuseppe summarized the key strategies to leave this stalemate situation as follows:

  • Service intended as a proof of a fully customer-oriented approach
  • Social interaction as a space of aggregation
  • Sustainability interpreted as an holistic concept: environmental sustainability, financial sustainability, social sustainability

 <<The market represents a permanent challenge, since brand loyalty is definitely over. After all, also religious faith and trust in politics are over, so why should the loyalty towards brands making shoes, bags or electrical appliances be different ?>>, explained Giuseppe. <<The right strategy is nourishing the rapport with both long-term customers and new ones every day. This is what Nike has been doing, for instance, by sending me tailor made diets designed on the basis of data collected about my lifestyle >>.

Real customers’ three categories

In addition to being a writer, professionally speaking, Giuseppe Stigliano is also the General Manager of J.Walter Thompson and he works with targeting a lot. He has split shops customers into three categories: locators, explorers, dreamers. Locators already know what they want, they are not after any experiences in the specific moment they enter a shop . Take me as an example, when I go into a supermarket and quickly buy what I need. Explorers are those who enter shops and browse around and need to be convinced to buy something. For them and for the dreamers, those who look at a Ferrari car into a showroom with dreamy eyes, the purchasing experience means everything.

<<These are the categories every retailer has to deal with, even bakers who – Giuseppe pointed out – should develop a self-service corner for those who already know exactly what they want >>.

With reference to high street shops, while I personally understand the New York Samsung store which is full of experiences to be offered to their users, maybe through an interactive helmet and fast payment systems, Giuseppe explained me that my dislike for supermarket check-out points  is not really common. <<There are still many retired people who consider their chat with the cashier as a way to spend their time and the main reason why to shop in a given place. Taking that experience away from them may be detrimental>>.

Courage pays back

Moreover, Giuseppe deeply believes in the fact that the concept of “location” intended as an absolute value is obsolete. Italians are very good at selling products but they are not too used to dealing with services. Thus we have amazing sales agents who travel the world, but we can neither put together offline and online retail services, nor understand marketplaces and e-commerce. <<Unfortunately, though, there is no alternative: you need to be courageous>>. “Be brave”, as you can read in his book. <<After all, those who will not be brave enough to change, will suffer from an adverse impact more than those who will have dared trying. I am positive about this”, he concluded.

At the end of our conversation, we managed to agree about a few points – but not everything – such as the fact that the future will bring about a relevant selection of brands, and those who will not be able to innovate will be out.

What do you think about Stigliano’s opinion about retail? Tweeti @agostinellialdo.

To find out more about the digital world, you may read my latest book entitled: “People Are Media” 

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Aldo Agostinelli