Frank is a seasoned leader in the IT industry with over 30 years of retail, partner, solutions and cloud transformation experience in sales and marketing. He currently serves as Commercial Device and Cloud Transformation Lead for Microsoft’s partner business with DELL Technologies in EMEA.
They met in 2007 and over the years they have developed joint POS projects such as Xbox 360 gaming islands and PC POS concepts and supported numerous product launches such as Windows 7, Windows 10, Surface or Office/Microsoft 365 commerce. In the process, they were able to gain joint experience in online and stationary business and develop further. Frank is a recognized expert with a broad partner network in retail and industry.
You have been in sales for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your career to today: What has changed most positively in retail, what needs to happen in the next years for retail to be able to thrive?
Through great developments in gaming and consoles coupled with streaming services and subscription models, gaming has made its way into living rooms. The gaming industry has steadily developed into a multi-billion-dollar market and could establish itself in 2020 even before the music and film industry. However, I see the “true fans” and the gaming platforms developed specifically for these target groups as a major factor in the positive development of the gaming industry. In doing so, it perfects the interplay on action, feedback and reward and thus achieves great customer loyalty and fanbase expansion.
Additionally, I see one of the most serious changes in recent years as the shift in buying behavior from the classic POS to a hybrid and electronic retail world. Today, retailers have to present goods online and offline with new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as ensure good reviews, which are becoming more and more important for the conclusion of a purchase. Retailers must be able to react quickly and agilely and delight customers with new, fresh concepts. Traditional retail must play to its strengths in consulting and online and implement customer loyalty concepts.
Let’s talk about brand ambassadors: In the past, retail salespeople were not the best experts, which is why many leading players were relying on brand ambassadors in the stores. Now, with Covid-19 and even afterwards, what is the future of brand ambassadors from your point of view?
Radio and television advertising was all the rage for a long time. It was a good approach for marketers to plan and place their messages precisely and use brand ambassadors there. But the ways to target different audiences have changed dramatically in recent years. Influencers and celebrities on social media channels such as YouTube, Instagram or Twitter influence the buying behavior of their followers, intentionally or unintentionally, as brand ambassadors.
Industrial and retail companies would do well to promote their brands via selected channels and generate demand even after the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be important to analyze which channels their preferred addressees use and to position themselves broadly, since customers have now found the channels and platforms, they prefer to contact a brand and obtain information about it. “Goodbye one-way communication – welcome digital brand ambassadors!”
Modern technology would allow to really have an omnichannel experience. For example, looking at products in AR at home, video calling a sales consultant, and to get the product delivered within a very short timeframe from a store next door. What are your thoughts on these options?
I see the new technologies as the ideal support for a changed and fresher target group approach that optimally addresses the needs of our common customers in an omni-channel world and that can be quickly adapted to changing conditions such as the remote situation changed by COVID-19. VR and AR enables customers to adapt their shopping behavior to their mood and life situation, and if they don’t want to or can’t go to a retail store at the moment, they can bring the simulation home via various devices such as tablets or smartphones or have additional product information or room planning shown at the virtual POS.
I see the new possibilities as a very useful addition to the customer journey that will help with purchasing decisions and certainly have a positive impact. VR and AR will also positively change product development, interactions, value chains and cost structures in industrial companies, as we are already seeing with lasting effect in the example of Microsoft HoloLens.
Will physical retail turn from best price into best experience? Will stores change to brand experience centers? And how would you foresee such a change / evolution of retail?
I think it’s hard to predict because the mixed display has already started. Price is still an important purchase decision, although the customer is certainly willing to honor the advice of fresh shopping experiences to some degree. Classic “brick and mortar stores” such as Media Saturn or Expert are already continuously improving their digital online and POS presence, and e-tailers such as Amazon or Notebooksbilliger are opening (pick-up) stores in city center locations and enriching them with digital merchandise concepts. This trend can also be seen in other industries such as fashion or consumer goods.
I think the change and consolidation has already started and is unstoppable. Retailers are moving to adapt at least part of their physical merchandise presence and enrich this with digital concepts, as the first impression during the shopping experience will continue to be decisive for the purchase decision. Therefore, I think that new merchandise presentations with app integration or POS experience islands will be developed. Merchandise groups will take hold through “basic POS” and extended online presentations paired with mixed reality digitization concepts. Stores that set themselves apart through new shopping experiences and mixed concepts and that make the goods tangible have a chance of long-term success.
How is social media and social selling affecting offline retail in your opinion?
I think very intensively, because social media channels have become an integral part of many people’s everyday lives. More than a third of the world’s population regularly checks Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – many even several times a day. Social media is taking on an increasingly important role in the everyday lives of many people due to the steadily growing number of users and the amount of time they spend using them. They have a strong influence on the process of opinion formation and on the consumption and purchasing behavior of target groups.
Millennials, for example, place more value on creativity and community than on exclusivity and status, which is why influencers on social media channels significantly influence the buying behavior of this target group by creatively embedding products or brands in their storytelling. If they recommend to buy online, the target group also buys online, while the buying behavior of baby boomers or Gen X & Y is still influenced by classic advertising such as flyers and TV, which various studies prove. Ultimately, customer loyalty is crucial for offline retail, which is why retailers have to play the full keyboard of customer targeting and expand target groups beyond the “classic” circle of appeal.
Do you think video salespeople would be a solution during or even after Covid-19? Or virtual chatbots, where consumers speak to a robot/animated character for example?
I believe that the concept of live video consulting (across all industries) will have lasting success, because it is convenient and easy for the customer, and if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to leave the house. Various consulting concepts such as the Media Markt LIVE consultant or the DOC Morris video consultant or live consultations in the healthcare sector – including the digital doctor – already prove this.
The quality of advice, the personal approach and interaction of the advisors with the customers will be decisive for success, which is why I do not (yet) believe in the success of chatbots, as AI is not yet ready to deliver a quality that is appealing in all areas. And existing solutions can be expanded.
Service and installs are more and more important. When buying a complex smart home setup, for example, consumers do not just need an install service to mount a TV to the wall but also a complete setup service until the products are connected, programmed, and 100% functional. Why does nobody offer these kinds of services? What is your take on this? Should retail stores or manufacturers offer that? Would consumers pay extra, or should that be part of an excellent service?
The correct answer, as always, is that it depends… on country, product value, customer behavior and whether the customer sees a benefit and a solution to the challenge they have to build their smart home(s). I think that what is actually missing so far is the integration of new technologies at the POS to simplify the complexity in the POS presentation so that retailers can present the smart home topic, which is not so easy to visualize, better than now. I could already see better approaches in online presentations and there are already services that offer the technical installation – there should already be empirical values here as to what customers are already willing to pay for the solution services. However, I have not yet been able to find any really interesting display solutions with AR/VR or app integration – an interesting task for MSM.digital!
I see that customers in Europe are willing to pay for good services if the benefit is right for them and they receive an excellent solution for their challenges with the service, but manufacturers and retailers need to respect cultural differences. Manufacturers and retailers have to find the right balance between product, solution and benefit value in the product presentation to find out what customers are willing to pay for the service. There must be a correlation between the cost of installation, the cost of the product and the solution. Otherwise, the customer will not see the value for which they should be willing to pay.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
That’s a good but tricky question … There are a few, such as the first modular product presentation for power tools in DIY retail for Bosch at Obi and Hagebaumarkt, but also the successful Microsoft POS and online brand launches of unusual products such as Windows, Xbox, Surface or Office, where one can highlight, for example, the introduction of electronic software download cards, which minimized the risk of theft for retailers and enabled more flexible POS designs.
Outstanding and sustainable projects were also the Xbox Gaming Islands or the Windows PC shop-in-shop systems that we were able to implement together at Media Saturn or various projects that we were able to present online like the PC Heroes at work that we implemented with partners like MSH, DELL, HP or Lenovo.
The most important thing about all projects was always that they were only possible with excellent partnerships, will and exceptional teams (who were always willing to run the extra mile for success and) who excelled in creativity and the courage to break new ground as well as think outside the box.
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