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Transparency: The Final Frontier

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With all due respect to Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, space is not the final frontier. At least not in the retail industry.

The final frontier for retailers? Transparency — around customer interactions, inventory and promotions.

Technology first separated us: The storm of technological, cultural and global changes we’ve been riding since the start of the Space Age hasn’t slowed down. In the evolution from close-knit rural communities to the rise of the urban ideal, technology kept us apart. But today it’s technology that allows us to be closer than ever. Like many other things, technology is driving the move to transparency.

Young adults are more personally transparent than the generation before them, discussing politics, religion and other formerly taboo topics openly through often public social media channels. By the same token, those young adults expect retailers to be transparent: “Give me your best price on the products I need and want now. If you don’t — or if you don’t at least handle me with respect and satisfy me quickly — I’ll spend my dollars with your competitor.”

Building authentic relationships
Technology like high-performance retail analytics and visual analytics can save a retailer wondering what to do with all the personal information consumers share so eagerly. Retail analytics can help retailers master the level of transparency needed to delight young consumers who could become valuable lifetime customers. It doesn’t take a Vulcan mind meld to accomplish this level of transparency, either. The strategic use of retail analytics can help build authentic relationships with customers.

Already, companies like Amazon, ANN Inc., Belk, Charming Shoppes, J.Crew and Sobeys use retail analytics to keep merchandise and promotional offers relevant. Amazon, for example, amasses enormous stores of information about its shoppers to tempt then with the right offer at the right time. (How do they know to offer me a discount on a pair of pants that coordinates with the jacket I just placed in my online shopping cart? Because their retail analytics tell them so.)

Change is required to equip sales associates with access to needed data that allows them to be more transparent with customers. Change is messy, and transparency represents a big shift in the power structure for some. But retail brands with strong identities that can invest in the unparalleled convergence of cheap computing combined with high-powered retail analytics will go where no retailer has gone before.

Creating share-worthy news
The jury is still out on whether retailers can recreate the relationships enjoyed by earlier generations. The retail community is woven into the fabric of the farthest reaches of the universe, but social media, product reviews and other communication channels opened up by technology help deliver the illusion that help and support are at our fingertips. With the right technology in place, retailers can take a more active part in strengthening the retailer-consumer bond.

Social media, price-checking apps and public online rating forums are just a few of the many ways customers learn more about what retailers are doing right — and where they’re lagging behind. Retail analytics can help companies be more flexible and creative in delivering exemplary service and good products at fair prices, and that’s news social-media savvy customers will want to share.

No question about it: Becoming transparent with your associates, suppliers and customers will help you live long and prosper.