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Designing the Future Today

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Customers are constantly rewiring their shopping behavior in response to new technologies, challenging economic realities, and shifting cultural norms. The way they now engage with retailers is very different than how it was just a few years ago — and how it will be just a few years into the future. What can companies do today to satisfy the yet-to-be-determined needs of tomorrow's consumers?

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  • My take
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Ask customers what they want.
Traditional market research tools such as customer surveys and focus groups can help companies decide what process and technology innovations to invest in.
Tell customers what they want.
When it comes to disruptive innovations, customers often don't know what they want because they have no idea what's possible. A company needs to do its own research and create its own vision for the future — and then make it happen.
Focus on breakthrough technologies.
Many customer-related innovations are driven by technology. For example, smartphones and social media have completely transformed how people shop. What other impacts will these technologies have, and what will the next breakthrough technology be?
Focus on the customer experience.
Although many disruptions are enabled by technology, ultimately it's the customer experience that matters most. Consumers were comparing prices and asking friends for advice long before the rise of smartphones and social media. Those technologies just made the process easier and faster.
Be willing to place big bets.
Disruption is a high stakes game that often requires big bets on new products, processes and technologies.
Start small.
In an uncertain and fast-paced business environment, agility and nimbleness are key. Pilot programs and scalable solutions make it possible to test the water without a big commitment of time, money and resources. Technologies such as mobile and cloud make this "test and learn" approach more appealing than ever.

My take

us_JCopulsky_135x155_061913.jpg US_Christine_Cutten_135x155.jpg
Jonathan Copulsky, Principal, Strategy & Operations, Deloitte Consulting LLP Christine Cutten, Principal, Strategy & Operations, Deloitte Consulting LLP

In order to shape and sense consumers' rapidly evolving modes of engagement, companies should harness new tools and approaches while at the same time adapting older tools and approaches to fit the new realities of the marketplace.

For example, traditional market research tools such as focus groups and customer surveys should present new innovations in terms that consumers can relate to – with a focus on real-world benefits — instead of highlighting new technologies and use cases that might be difficult to understand or imagine. Meanwhile, companies should adopt new tools and approaches that help them sense emerging trends and shape their own vision of the future — things like social media scanning and affiliations with universities and other sources of cutting-edge research.

To get ahead of the pack – or at least avoid falling behind — companies should continuously monitor technology trends looking for the next disruptive breakthrough. However, it's important not to become fixated on technology alone. Disruptive innovations often arise from a number of smaller breakthroughs all converging at the time – e.g., today's convergence of smartphones, social networks, online shopping, and ubiquitous connectivity — and in most cases the real underlying driver is the desire to create a better customer experience (often accomplished by enabling customers to do things they already do but on a much larger scale and in a way that is infinitely more convenient).

When developing new solutions and strategies, it's generally best to apply a "test and learn" approach. Technologies such as cloud and mobile make it easier than ever to pilot new ideas on a small scale before committing substantial time, money and effort. Of course, there are still some situations where a "big bang" is the only feasible approach. For example, if credit card companies decide to move forward aggressively with smart chips, they may have no choice but to upgrade their entire global infrastructure of card readers.

In an uncertain and rapidly shifting marketplace, agility and nimbleness are key. Separating out the truly high-impact signals from the noise of countless low-impact innovations is a never-ending challenge — and the path to the future will inevitably be filled with wrong turns and blind alleys. To be effective in this challenging environment, a business should be able to change direction quickly in response to major shifts in the marketplace – engaging consumers in new ways they have never even imagined.

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Library: Deloitte Debates
Services: Consulting
Overview: Strategy & Operations


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