Customers Vote With Their Fingers...

Customers vote with their feet.

It's a very familiar mantra in retailing, and very powerful. If you don't do a great job for customers in-store, then you'll see it next day in the numbers. Such instant feedback is the reason I've spent most of my career in retail.

But when I heard the CEO of a major retail chain use it recently, it struck me as a rather twentieth century message for today's connected world.

Customers now also use their fingers to shop.

Of course, online shopping itself is still a minority sport. Although fast growing, it will only account for c12% of total US retail sales this year. But online is now very much a part of the general shopping experience, in three key ways:

First, many customers go online before going shopping: to find information, ideas or coupons, or to consult their network. If you don't do a good job here, or your competitors do a better one, they may not even reach your store.

Second, customers increasingly use their mobile device while shopping, for similar reasons. You need to use mobile here to help them with their shopping trip so that you have their attention, rather than your competitors.

Third, customers can easily share their experience of shopping with you with their networks online, which then influences potential customers before you've even communicated with them. You need to encourage loyal customers to share positive experiences, so that you build your reputation online.

None of this of course replaces the importance of delivering a great experience in-store. But that great experience also needs to be delivered wherever and whenever customers encounter the brand online. In today's connected world, it's the sum total of all these experiences that define the brand, which requires every element of the business to work together.

So perhaps a better mantra for today is that customers vote with their fingers, as well as their feet...

A version of this post was published in Supermarket News.