Our focus in the piece was on retailer’s collection and use of data to sell more. The article, though, also dealt with various consumer tools that seem applicable to the food business, including produce and other perishables:
Last year, Wet Seal introduced a Web feature called Outfitter, which allows users to put together their own outfits online.
The virtual outfits are posted, and users can browse through them, comment and exchange recommendations. So far, more than 300,000 user-generated outfits have been designed, generating millions of page views.
“We can get a read on where our customer is headed faster than ever before,” Mr. Thomas said. The user designs, he said, helped the company see early signs of a recent trend toward more informal outfits — dressy tops, but casual bottoms, usually jeans.
A food retailer or producer could offer a similar feature letting consumers put together their own recipes and even complete meals, say a Thanksgiving dinner or a bar-b-que for twenty people. The same sneak preview of trends — use of vegetarian entrees or specialty cheese, the rise of an ethic cuisine or an increase in the use of small plate or tapas type menus, for example, could easily be deduced from such a social media tool just as Wet Seal looks for style trends.
It certainly seems logical that technology will change the way people shop. Wet Seal has a nifty iPhone app:
In October, Wet Seal created its own iPhone application, called iRunway. With it, a customer in a store can tap in an item’s ticket number — bar code recognition comes later this year — and see how it has been used in outfits that other customers have created online.
The user-generated product selections and recommendations, combined with mobile phone access, build a community of customers that should increase sales, Mr. Thomas predicts. “We’re at the very initial stages, but that will be the wave of the future in fashion retailing,” he said.
This won’t be limited to fashion retailing. Already some of the traceability systems include bar codes or numbers that consumers can enter or scan to get traceability information. We suspect many more consumers are interested in nutritional information, recipes, care-and-handling information, companion items, etc., than care about the row number the product was grown in.
We are not sure if consumers will point to the item or to a retail price sign. But it strikes us as inevitable that consumers will point their PDAs at something — or type in a number — and have all the information in the world about that item at their finger tips. In fact this seems a likely place for a promotion as well. If a consumer starts to show a little interest in a product, won’t a coupon or other promotion be likely as a tool to push that prospect into trying the item?
The prospect of consumers using technology to get information on things they are interested in is intriguing and likely to make consumers less loyal to brands, commodities or varieties. When information is hard to get, consumers are likely to stick to their habits but if they can instantly learn, at the point of display, how to use a new item, what other consumers are saying about the item, what experts say about the item, etc. — the risk of trying something new goes down substantially.
This will help marketers of specialty items and ease the introduction of new items and varieties of exciting items. It also will encourage branding, both local and global, as consumer reputation will be easier to establish. Think of the “branding” on E-bay where vendors fight to get positive references. It is a kind of bottom-up approach to branding as opposed to the top-down approach of using broadcast advertising to build a brand.
Brand-building is an important issue, and Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, covers the topic on its cover this month and will continue to dive deeper into other aspects of branding in future issues. In addition the Research Perspectives/Comments & Analysis feature in the same issue focuses on branding as it starts a new iteration in which the Research Perspective segment will be provided by a variety of organizations.
This month, Steve Lutz, Executive Vice President of The Perishables Group, presents his argument in a piece titled, “Brand Performance And Produce,” and the Pundit provides a response in a piece titled, “Branding Incorporates Many Traits.” You can read the whole exchange here.