If you walk into a traditional retail store, there\u2019s inevitably a salesperson standing near a display, folding or rearranging something, who asks some variation of the magic question: \u201cWhat can I help you find today?\u201d Their goal isn\u2019t necessarily to straighten the display, or even to be polite, but rather to establish a relationship with that customer, discover their pain points and help them solve whatever they happen to be\u2014finding the perfect graduation dress, the correct size battery for their power tools or a foolproof way to remove garden pests.\nThat \u201cin store\u201d customer experience has translated into online retail through technology in the form of online chats, retargeting, related items merchandising and IVR systems and other technology that makes communications simpler and more meaningful. Technologies like IoT, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics have emerged to help retailers gather and distill massive amounts of customer data and use it to make more informed decisions about their customers\u2019 unmet needs\u2014why they buy what they buy.\nSound familiar? You may have seen similar activities from other companies you do business with; that inherent need to \u201cknow the customer\u201d has now spilled over from the retail world into just about every consumer-facing industry you can imagine: airlines, hotels, utilities, even online experiences like Kickstarter, and so on. There is a feeding frenzy among companies who are trying to develop direct relationships with their customers. And as a result, every consumer-facing company is now\u2014or should be\u2014looking at their customers through a retail-focused lens. In other words, \u201ceveryone\u2019s a retailer\u201d.\nWhat is a retailer?\nre\u00b7tail\u00b7er\n\/r\u0113t\u0101ler\/\nNoun\nA person or business that sells goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption rather than for resale.\nThe formal definition doesn\u2019t necessarily seem to fit the types of companies mentioned above. Or does it? Maybe an alternate definition is in order:\nA business that through its direct relationship with the customer uncovers their pain points and provides a solution in the form of a product or service.\nLet\u2019s take a deeper look at some industries, and using this new definition, see how they are acting like retailers:\nUtilities\nA utility website used to be the place to go to pay your bill and see your electricity usage. It has since evolved to one that\u2014through items it sells and recommendations it makes\u2014can create a more efficient home, thus giving the utility a much more substantial relationship with its customers. By simply using the data they are already collecting about usage, utilities can make recommendations or direct sales on areas such as:\n\nService recommendations if heat or air conditioning stop working\nEnergy efficiency programs if electricity bills rise\nSeasonal recommendations\nLED bulb energy efficiency rebate programs and sales\nIoT and Smart Home products and services\n\nThey\u2019ve found their customers\u2019 pain point\u2014rising electricity costs\u2014and are providing products and solutions. That makes them a retailer.\nAirlines\nAirlines clearly already sell consumers a service: transportation from one city to another via an airplane. But whether you are on the airline\u2019s website or speaking with a customer service agent, the same additional question is always asked: Can we help you with a hotel or car rental for your trip?\nThey just turned themselves into a retailer, albeit a crude one. They must have a certain level of success at retailing hotel and car rental services or they wouldn\u2019t continue. However, many customers that travel likely have a favorite hotel brand or car rental company where they have more control in where they stay and what they drive. It is interesting to think about what insights airlines could cull from their customers about their pain points and needs.\nIf they were truly a retailer, they would leverage their website and app analytics, as there is a significant amount of data from consumers\u2019 online behavior that could provide them with better, more personalized questions. By digging for the pain points that are more applicable to specific needs and not just the easy win, the airline could be building a stronger relationship with much deeper customer insights. For example, rather than passively asking if they need a rental car, could they actively push a list of restaurant recommendations and connect them with an online concierge to make those reservations?\nHotel chains\nHotels are becoming increasingly adept at the \u201cknow your customer and their pain points\u201d game. Through their apps, customers can check in for keyless entry, click through for driving directions to the hotel, and in some cases even hail an Uber. When you layer these types of products and services onto your primary service, that\u2019s acting like a retailer. And whereas the airline is hawking rental cars and hotel rooms, the hotel is solving a real pain point\u2014easily hailing an Uber or cab and getting me directly to my room.\nCan your company be a retailer? Should it? Some reasons you may want to consider it:\n\nProvides tremendous insights about your customers\nMaterially improves your customer experience and loyalty\nMitigates risk\nImproves customer engagement\nHelps companies scale to completely new audiences\n\nWith the need for direct access to the consumer becoming increasingly prevalent, the one market that most exemplifies and enables face-to-face relationships is retail. Feeling and seeing the expression of the experience live is a critical component to pulling the right customer insights and turning those customer insights into money.