Following the customer's lead to personalized sales

NEW YORK—"Consumers today have high expectations and their ability to consume is 24/7," is how Eric Singleton, CIO for Chico's (NYSE:CHS) described the shopper of 2015. Singleton sat on a panel with Sahal Laher, CIO and executive VP of Brooks Brothers, and Gayatri Patel, director of global infrastructure at eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), to discuss loyalty marketing during a Big !deas session at yesterday's Big Show.

With the growing amount of information for shoppers to consume, and the number of platforms from which to consume it, technologists and retailers have a responsibility to address every conceivable platform that has relevance, Singleton added. In other words, consumers are at the wheel.

Laher agreed that with the amount of retail channels available in 2015, the lines from one to another are blurring. Gone are the days of running a catalogue, a physical store and an e-commerce platform. Now retailers have to create a seamless customer experience across all of these platforms. One retailer making an effort to adapt and modify with the changing needs of today's shopper is Macy's. Just last week the department store chain announced it would cut jobs and close stores as it focuses more on its omnichannel retail approach, which includes Macy's popular click-and-collect and ship-from-store store services.

"The customer today is much more in control and can control what they want and when," said Patel. She stressed that today's consumer is quick to do research, to share information with friends and the retailer needs to stay at that pace in order to keep customers interested.

The panelists also discussed the increased social experience that centers around shopping. According to a recent Harris Poll, social commerce sales in the United States are expected to reach $14 billion this year. Shoppers are increasingly checking with their social circles to get feedback before they make choices. Therefore, retailers need to be where these dialogues are happening, in order to nab customers.

"The relevance of social media on retail is growing really rapidly," said Laher. It goes beyond reviews of products, and includes consumers taking photos in-store and tweeting them out for feedback from friends. "We're working with an outside partner to leverage that feedback mechanism before we even have products in the store," he added.

The panelists did warn that as personalization and clienteling grow in the retail space, brands will need to be careful not to cross the fine line between anticipating what a shopper wants and creepy behavior.

"If the consumer has genuine control, the creepiness factor goes away," said Singleton. Retailers need to be conscious of boundaries and let the consumer be the driver in order to secure her trust. Patel agreed, saying that if consumers set the comfort line, retailers should stop 20 percent short of that mark just to guarantee they don't lose the customer's trust.

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