I just read an article from Retail Customer Experience that talked about the need for retailers to move away from the traditional “4 P’s” of retailing (Product, Promotion, Place, and Price) and towards the new “4 C’s”: Connections, Choice, Convenience, Conversation.  It really brings home a fact most retailers know to be true – that retail has changed forever in the mind of the Consumer, and those retailers that are adapting to this new world will succeed, while those that try to cling to the 4 traditional P’s will most certainly experience their own demise.  

A recent trip to a new store that opened near where I lived proved this concept.  I live in a fairly small town, so anything new is pretty exciting.  A new shopping center was completed in town this spring and included some of my favorites: HomeGoods, Michael’s, Stein Mart, Ulta Beauty and some smaller retailers.  I finally made it in to Ulta this past week to pick up one of my favorite products that I usually buy online. Why did I go into the store instead of buying online?  A few reasons: (1) I hadn’t been in an Ulta in a while and wanted to see the new store first hand; (2) I am an instant gratifier and needed my product now; (3) there might be some other products in the store that might grab my attention (yes, I’m a sucker for a good brick-and-mortar experience.); and (4) there was no difference in the price I’d pay online vs. what Ulta charged in-store for the same product.
So I dragged my nine-year old son into the store (actually “bribed” would be a more appropriate term – the promise of future ice cream works like a charm), browsed a bit, found the product I wanted fairly quickly, due to excellent signage and lighting, then eventually made my way to the front counter to pay.  So, nothing spectacular at this point, but still a pretty decent experience. 
It’s what happened at this point that really turned the fairly normal experience into one that told me that Ulta was embracing the 4 C’s.  The sales associate greeted me pleasantly and asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for.  Then, somehow, within the timespan of about a minute (it seemed), he had not only rung up and tendered my purchase, but he had also fully educated me about Ulta’s loyalty program, the rewards structure, website features, Ulta’s beauty and salon services and their mobile app.   And I left the store with not just my purchases, but also my shiny new loyalty card, an offer to participate in their survey, some other promotional offers and more information.  Totally unexpected, but truly exceptional.
Connected? Got that down.  Choice?  Not only relative to products, but also relative to how, when and where I want to make my purchases – absolutely.  Convenience?  Ditto.  Conversation? Unquestionably – in fact, prior to this visit, I’d already been on the Ulta website reading customer reviews on a new product I’d been thinking about buying.  Plus, you bet I’ll be talking to my friends – both online and in person – about Ulta. 
I must give kudos to Ulta’s staff training.  Being a brand new store, you never know what to expect, but this sales associate was absolutely spot on with his knowledge of Ulta’s brand proposition, and did so with enthusiasm and efficiency.   Later that evening, I downloaded the Ulta mobile app and played around with it.  Not only was my transaction already reflected in my rewards balance, but there are also some great features on the app that I will most certainly use, like product scanning, price checking, “favorites” lists, the ability to read/write product reviews, and more.
I think Ulta is well on their way to embracing the 4 C’s.   I hope other retailers are taking note because your most important “C” is certainly paying attention. 
– Tricia