Required Reading: Strategies for Navigating the ‘Metail Economy’
No doubt by now you’ve noticed that consumer demands have changed significantly in the past few years. Consumers today have endless options, and companies must let their customers drive key decisions or face failure. That’s the sound advice that Joel Bines, global co-head of retail at consulting firm AlixPartners, offers is his newest book, The Metail Economy: 6 Strategies to Thrive in the Me-Centric Consumer Revolution. CRM editor Leonard Klie discussed these strategies in more detail with him.
CRM: You say consumers today have inverted the power dynamics of retail into “metail.” What does this mean?
Bines: Metail is the absolute democratization of consumerism. Consumers have access to much more information and communicate their thoughts and feelings about products and companies to one another easily and regularly. The ability to buy online changed consumer behavior, but the much more significant change took place through the power of information. Consumers use technology as research and connection tools before making purchase decisions. Consumers now control the narratives and make choices about what to buy based on information from sources that transcend and upend traditional marketing. And never again will companies control the narrative.
How should companies connect with me-centric consumers?
Companies must take stock of what they have, what differentiates them from competitors, and what customers value in them most. Have detailed conversations with individuals who walk into your store or buy online to discover how to enhance the experience, give them what they want and need, and deliver it in a way that makes the most sense for them and you. Businesses will need to rethink every practice, policy, procedure, and person from this metail lens.
You offer six models to cultivate and serve highly informed and empowered customers. Walk us through them.
My six Cs, the models for competing in a metail world, are cost, convenience, category expertise, curation, customization, and community. Running a profitable consumer-oriented business is about having a relationship with customers, and the six Cs are the building blocks for lasting connections.
Cost: Prior to metail, retailers could compete on cost because the information advantage—the power—rested with the company. Today, if you want to be cost-competitive, you must mean it.
Convenience: Convenience means making customers believe you will do whatever it takes to make their lives easier. If you’re planning a convenience strategy and find yourself thinking about it how it benefits you, stop. There are mutually beneficial conveniences, and you must find those, but it cannot be tilted in the company’s favor.
Category expertise: Category experts must know everything about their categories. And for that one-in-a-million question that stumps them, they must know who has the answer. Mastery of information is the key, as is the specialization of products and services that consumers won’t be able to get elsewhere.
Curation: You cannot fake curation, and technology can’t replace it. Customers see past the “If you bought this, you might like that” algorithms. Curators anticipate the future wants of their me’s.
Customization: Me’s don’t want to feel like part of the herd. Let them control some aspect of their relationship with you, through either products or experiences.
Community: This is less about what you sell than the big idea that surrounds it. Building and sustaining an authentic sense of community will go a long way toward holding the attention of me’s. You must constantly strive to find mechanisms that allow consumers to connect in ways that feel authentic.
Are there companies that have succeeded in the metail economy?
Target outperformed other retailers because its moves were intentional and played into its corporate strategy. Its success started with a complete shift in perspective to understand that the consumer is in charge. Target invested in physical stores, better consumer benefits, and in its associates to ensure that all facets of its customer service were spot on.
Sephora has tremendous category expertise, among other qualities. A shopper who walks in and asks an associate for help finding the right products will be guided through a range of products rather than pushed to a certain brand.
What is one theme you want readers to take away from this book?
Retail is alive and well. Consumers’ desire to consume remains very strong. However, companies must get comfortable with the idea that delivering on consumer expectations is more challenging. Once they accept this, they will realize that consumers ultimately will help them in their long-overdue reinvention.