Thanks to the retail capabilities made possible by advances in computing, networking, and storage, shopping is more convenient for consumers, who can now browse, select, pay, and take possession, all without entering a store. Retailers have new ways of engaging with their customers, too. But this is only a small aspect of what has changed. Far more significantly, new technologies have put an end to the information asymmetry between retailers and consumers, including—most disruptively—inside the store. In short, customers have been empowered at many retailers' expense.
The catalyst: mobile devices. With or without them, consumers can conduct online price comparisons. But with them, consumers can do this anywhere, at any time. That fact takes customer empowerment into a new dimension.
Retailers have long understood human beings' need for a sense of control and found ways to give their customers a degree of it. One way was by offering self-service, which ended the shopper's dependence on a salesperson. Another is the “no obligation” trial (though the marketer assumes, of course, that most customers will be satisfied with the trial purchase or at least not sufficiently motivated to return it).1
In both of these examples, the degree of control that customers have is limited, because the retailer defines its boundaries. But the control offered by the recently emerging innovative technologies is of a different order. This ...