Live from NRF: Marketers Not in Sync with Customers’ Needs

New York–A recent survey by consulting firm Kurt Salmon showed that 70% of consumers felt they are not retailers’ top priority. At the same time, 47% of consumers will pay for products that are new, unique, and relevant to them.

Those statistics were part of introductory remarks by Phil Kowalczyk, managing director, consumer products division, North America for Kurt Salmon, of a session titled “What Consumers Want, What Retailers Deliver, and What Wall Street Rewards,” held at the National Retail Federation (NRF) “Big Show” here on Jan. 12. Session panelists emphasized the need for marketers to better satisfy customer needs–all while keeping their bottom lines attractive to Wall Street investors.

Just how marketers should do that is by “anticipating unarticulated consumer needs,” Kowalczyk said. He cited a recent initiative, Invention Quest, of $11.6 billion office supplies marketer Staples (whose president of North American Delivery, Joe Doody, was also on the panel), in which the company offered a $25,000 prize to customers who came up with a product idea that the company chose to market.

As Doody noted in his remarks, “the key is our easy brand promise that we make buying office supplies easy.” Beyond merely enabling the small-business customers the company targets to find anything they need at all channels, Staples has racked up more than $100 million in sales through in-store kiosks for customers to use if they can’t find what they need on the floor. Staples’s direct division promises to ship items ordered via the kiosks overnight–and at a 10% discount, Doody said.

While striving to serve customers better through its 1,500 stores, its Staples and Quill catalogs, and its Websites, Staples remains aware of Wall Street’s concern over saturated marketplaces. “Market saturation is a major issue, which is why retailers must continually segment their businesses,” said another panelist, Mark Friedman, first vice president of investment firm Merrill Lynch. He pointed to Williams-Sonoma’s success in expanding its Pottery Barn brand to Pottery Barn Kids.

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