June 4-6, 2025 • Broward County Convention Center • Fort Lauderdale, FL

The Evolution of Retail

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Today – Everything Starts with the Customer

By Cindy Hanauer

It seems like yesterday when the process of “shopping” began with piling into a vehicle or dragging out the Sears catalogue. The customer acquisition point was simple – either an ad was placed in the local newspaper, or a sign was strategically placed in the store. For lack of better information, the retailer decided what the customer wanted to see and when they wanted to see it. The customer was on the receiving end of the offer instead of initiating it. 

Without doubt, today’s retailing starts with the customer. Retail has become a ubiquitous blend of channeling the right offers to the right consumers, finding the perfect touchpoints to entice them and probing through a dense fog that still separates the physical from the online buying experience. 

So, what does the customers’ decision tree look like today, and is the connection point between buyer and seller at the root of the tree or somewhere in between? The old customer touchpoints solely through newspaper ads and signage have become obsolete. Today, the customers’ proxy to make buying decisions comes equipped with a keypad and fits in the palm of the hand. By the time the customer walks into the store, they most likely already know about the products themselves. They’re looking for storytelling, experience, inspiration, and confirmation.   

So, are we experiencing a retail apocalypse as we read in most media outlets? No, I don’t believe we are.  But the evolution of retail from what it was, to what it is today will require us to change our thinking.  Those who ignore the changing evolution will feel the receding waves of what once was recurring sales growth and stellar profits. 

So how can we think differently in this retail transformation and create breakthrough strategies for the future? Here are five ideas to help:

  1. Customer opinions carry more weight now than ever before. In the past, a quick grumble at the check-lane was the endpoint of a dissatisfied customer. Today, there are hundreds of online forums where customers can complain, and complain, and then complain even more if they don’t get a response. In the past, the recipient of that complaint was a sole cashier at the check-in line and a few friends. Today, every complaint can easily reach thousands of customers within seconds. 

Tip: Put a program in place to review customer complaints, searching for key words that may be used in a complaint. Try to respond within an hour including a personalized message to the sender. If a mistake was indeed made, simply acknowledge it, apologize, and give a timeline to correct the issue. Optimally, it works best if the actual resolution and subsequent dialogue is taken offline and dealt with one-on-one.  

  1. Get to know your customers through their devices. Did you know that there are numerous platforms on the market that help monitor your social media pages and aggregate those comments into efficient indexing? Without an aggregation platform, it’s easy for important feedback to fall through the cracks. By utilizing a social media “listening tool”, you can formulate one answer for common questions or complaints, and easily make sure that each comment receives a response. A “listening tool” will also allow you to see what issues seem to be pervasive so those can be addressed first.       

Tip: Knowing how your customers feel about your business is essential. Find the best tool for your business by searching online for a social media “listening” or “reputation management” tool.

  1. Allow your customers to be your sales staff. Did you know that over 93 million selfies are taken each day? 55 percent of social media selfies come from millennials, but Gen X follows with 24 percent and baby boomers with 9 percent. This means that our target audience wants to “get personal” with their daily activities and there’s no better way to encourage that than to create “photo opportunities” within the store. Imagine how much free advertising there could be when your walk-in traffic also serves as your outreach on social media!   

Tip: Use signage with “visual prompters” such as suspended picture frames and cell phones built within your best store displays to encourage those selfies! Don’t forget to add clear branding within the display so that your company name is clearly visible in those Instagram images!

You can’t buy better advertising than this!

  1. Use mobile technology to drive foot traffic. Today’s customers rely on their hand-held devices first to decide where their physical shopping journey will lead them.  How easy is it for your customers to find your business online? This is where SEO (search engine optimization) comes in. Search engines have two major functions: crawling through thousands of websites, and then determining which of those sites are most relevant to the “searcher” when certain words are typed into a search field. But it’s not as simple as the right keywords. Over the years, savvy engineers have devised ways to improve a customer’s search results in both relevance and popularity by adding hundreds of algorithms to determine what websites come up onto your customer’s search results. SEO is critically important today at beginning the decision tree and in ultimately driving customer foot-traffic into the store.   

Tip: There are hundred of free blogs and websites that share critical information on SEO. Don’t worry, most of them start with basics and then expand from there. Also, check out your local community college for a short course on this important topic. Remember….the customer’s decision tree has changed, and we need to change with it to maintain relevance in today’s new market!

  1.  Add convenient delivery and pickup. In addition to walk-in shopping, customers now expect automation and convenient options with ordering, pick-up and delivery, as well. We already know that most shopping decisions begin with a mobile device. If a customer cannot walk into the store, are there also delivery and pickup options readily available in the same place? Today’s customers want product options, and they also want service options. 

Tip: Businesses promoting delivery, transportation and drop-shipping have exploded and many savvy retailers are picking up on that trend. Customers are willing to pay for the extra convenience of delivery, and offering these options at the customer’s fingertips will greatly multiply the chances of closing the deal!

Indeed, in the mind of today’s consumer, the birth of a sale begins with them. In effect, the birth of a sale actually begins in the palm of the customer’s hand. By understanding the springboard of customer acquisition, the decision journey and the personalized touch points, your floral business will keep pace (and likely outpace) your largest competitors.

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