Throughout his carrier, Michel Bonetti was active in sectors like finance & banking, construction, telecom, M2M/IoT, drones, automotive, AgTech, photonics, and sensors, keeping the business development as a constant point of interest.
As product manager within the telecom operator Orange in Switzerland he innovated, creating the first hardware bundles with subsidy, still a standard today. Later he could work for strong and innovative brands in many European countries and the USA, like Palm, HP and finally Parrot, where he was a pioneer of the consumer drone business in Germany and Central Europe. Finally, he created his own company in Munich, focusing, with his partners, on three activities: International Business Development, M&A and start-up acceleration and investment.
You have been in channel marketing 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?
Retail, like other segments, went through massive changes in the last years and those changes have been accelerated by the online presence of giants in the field like Amazon. It has given to retail the impulse it needed to develop not only an online presence, but to evolve towards a more targeted product selection and a better quality of services.
On top of that the on-site sensing technology allowing to monitor the customers in the stores, understanding their behavior and the increasing virtual reality capabilities, have still not been fully explored. This is possibly the next phase in retail. Intelligent POS, gathering the relevant data for the brands and the stores, to increase the value of the spaces and the investments into smart presentation solutions, adding dynamics and efficiency to the channel marketing effort.
Let’s talk about brand ambassadors: In the past, retail salespeople often haven’t been the best experts, that is why many leading players have been relying on brand ambassadors in the stores. Now, with – and even after – Covid 19, what is the future of brand ambassadors from your point of view?
The brand ambassadors will surely make a comeback in the stores after the Covid phase. This return may have a twist, in the sense that many of them may add an online brand ambassador hat, with a channel and a social media presence, focusing on the product details, under contract with brands to promote the products in an omni-channel approach. Their online presence can definitely become their next move.
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?
Again, this approach may be excellent for certain products, and particularly for higher value products, where the need to touch, interact and try them out will remain. The virtual experience definitely helps to browse the products in 3D and to make a choice or a pre-choice. But the customers, to a certain extent, and for more higher-value products, may still want to have a direct interaction before acquiring them.
There is not just one solution, we will have a mix of approaches depending on the value of the products and the brands’ policies, using the full extent of the possibilities.
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?
They will definitely have to do that, at least for a part of their physical presence. The experience and the first impression will remain key to sell the products and acquire new customers or keep faithful customers. The stores may move towards experience centers with online sales, where the products are fun to test and interact and can be ordered in one click through an app or an interactive solution in the store. This has already started in certain countries like in the Czech Republic.
How is social media and social selling affecting offline retail in your opinion?
A lot for the younger generation is spending at least 40% of their daytime online, browsing, looking at videos or gaming. They do register repeated messages quicker and share information they like immediately. The younger generation, in turn, influences their parents as well and push for consumption by mimesis. Social media serves the shorter attention-span we see developing and has a serious influence on the purchasing reflex, shortening the path between interest and buying.
Do you think, video salespeople would be a solution during or even after Covid 19, or virtual chatbots, where consumers speak to for example a robot/animated character?
I do not believe in virtual chatbots for the moment, the technology is not yet ready and the tasks the chatbots are executing are basic to say the least. They are a meager added value to the sales or customer support process today.
By experience, the re-selling of already known products to known customers can be done online, as the effort to convince is minimal and it is more an order-taking than selling. Acquiring new customers and developing sales of consumer products may be possible online to a certain extent, but it is definitely too impersonal and limited. The art of convincing people is a mix of talk, gestures, facial expressions, and the impression one makes on the other and this still works better when people meet face-to-face. We are, despite what we want to believe, social animals and need that interaction. The promotional process of it, however, can be done very efficiently online.
Service and installs are more and more important. For example, when buying a complex smart home setup, 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 offer that or the manufacturers? Would consumers pay extra for that or should that be part of an excellent service?
It depends on the market you are in and the value of the product. In many countries, this service is offered by the manufacturer or his representative on the market (va distributor) for higher-value systems. There has to be a correlation between cost of installation and the cost of the product, otherwise the customer will not see the value in it for himself. The ideal for a manufacturer is to apply as many standards as possible so that the devices know each-other and interact automatically on start, with a minimum of “clicks”. For complex solutions where cables or specific programming is in play, such an installation service is key for the customer experience and the image of the brand.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
That is a tricky question… there are many of them, like the success of launching the very first mobile-SIM card bundles on the Swiss market, which has become a standard format, or launching the first drone POS-based thematic campaign in the European retails and online. All were interesting and very satisfying projects, developed and successfully implemented thanks to passionate teams and partners, who are responsible for the biggest part of the fun in the projects really.
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