The retail landscape is rapidly changing. Our world is one of hyper-adoption and hyper-abandonment. Digitization of shopping led by Amazon, and fast-moving shifts in consumer buying behaviors placed retail on the front lines of disruption. Immersion, speed, convenience and automation upended traditional practices of the slow to react brick-and-mortar merchants. Retail stores are now an option, not a necessity.
In 2017, store closure announcements increased more than 200% from the prior year. Industry experts and media outlets described the events surrounding the industry’s falling stock prices, large public layoffs, consolidation, and bankruptcy filings as the ‘retail apocalypse’. With another 3,600 closures already announced in early 2018, retailers accept they must evolve. But how?
Retailers must obsess about the consumer experience and their relationship with shoppers in an entirely new way. Consumers today are more empowered than ever. They are loyal to their own needs over everything else. They seek meaningful experiences, shop on mobile platforms, expect efficiency, rely on peer recommendations, and conduct research before making purchase decisions. This is retail 2.0.
The customer is loyal to their need … they are promiscuous, and retailers need a business model for the promiscuous customer, now.
– Chris J. Snook, Author, Digital Sense
Retailers committed to delivering a comprehensive and seamless omnichannel experience to consumers, will win in the new economy.
Brick-and-Mortar stores hold an advantage in today’s digital economy. Online shopping, aka Amazon, delivers convenience, yet consumers still desire social and experiential touch points. This can be can be achieved in a physical store. Retail brands must move beyond being just about the products, and become immersive living experiences. Winning strategies will place greater attention on consumer immersion in stores, with specific focus on education and entertainment.
We expect to see brick-and-mortar stores dedicating greater space to the consumer experience, leveraging the physical real estate as an asset to attract, educate and entertain consumers.
– Deirdre Kennedy, Senior Analyst with gap intelligence
For example, Best Buy now partners with brands like Apple, Dyson, Google and Samsung to establish dedicated sections within stores for consumers to test products and capture product knowledge through brand-specific demos from trained personnel.
More interactive displays and space designated for consumer experience is on the way, and will take new forms. Simply put, consumers want to see, touch, feel, and enjoy their experience.
– Scott Peterson, Senior Analyst with gap intelligence
Nike replaced rows of shoes with basketball courts with digital video screens, enclosed soccer trial areas, treadmills in front of a jumbotron that simulates outdoor runs, a customization shoe bar where shoppers can fully personalize a pair of Nike Air Force 1s, touchscreens embedded into walls everywhere you look, and dedicated coaches on-hand to put customers through their paces as they test out new sneakers – a store driven to bring new meaning the words 'experience-driven' retail.
As retailers commit to greater space dedicated to consumer experience, less space becomes available for products. Stores must ensure a flawless and frictionless consumer experience journey, beginning with in-store test and experience, to order, then ship.
From showroom style storefronts offering immersive experiences, to online retailers establishing physical brand footprints, the smooth alignment into an omni-channel experience will better equip retailers to motivate paths to purchase from in-store to online.
Omni-channel was the buzz-word of 2017. Simply put, omni-channel is a multi-channel approach to sales that seeks to provide the customer a seamless shopping experience, whether shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, or in physical brick-and-mortar stores — and it's critical to retailers' success. Three out of four consumers today shop online to find the best price. They actively search products on mobile devices while shopping within brick-and-mortar stores to compare products online and find the lowest prices. Free shipping and next day delivery options close the gap on wait times and enable consumers to opt for the best price. This shift in the retail landscape provides an opportunity for merchants to improve the overall shopping experience from an omni-channel approach.
Friction is the enemy.
– Gary Vaynerchuk, Chairman of VaynerX, 4X NYT Best Selling Author
Execution of effective consumer experience is about eliminating friction in the shopping experience. It’s not just product quality. Consumers expect more. The look and feel of an online site or store layout, messaging, checkout experience, shipping options and customer service, all affect the quality of a consumer’s experience. From aligning benefits to consumers who buy in-store and online, simplifying returns and clunky checkout processes, to cross-platform fulfillment solutions — consumers want synergy in their shopping experience, whether it’s in-store, online, or both.
Right now, for example, several mobile payment platforms exist and consumers are not certain what merchant accepts their specific payment application, so the consumer ends up bringing his/her purse or wallet anyway.
– Deirdre Kennedy, Senior Analyst with gap intelligence
In 2017, leading retailers introduced new efforts toward bridging the experience between what’s happening online and in the store as the evolution toward greater fulfillment with less friction continues:
- Target launched Target Restock, a program available to Target REDcard holders to enable online purchases from local stores with next-day delivery.
- Walmart introduced in-home delivery service, same day delivery, and expansion of in-store pickup delivery kiosks to enable customers to retrieve online orders from the self-service kiosk located in the entryway of select Walmart stores.
- Best Buy created a ‘local store’ feature in its app for consumers to identify which products are available in store.
- Lowe’s announced the new 'Lowe Vision In-Store Navigation' app with AR technology. Working in conjunction with Google's Tango AR technology, it provides indoor mapping, allowing customers to search and quickly find items in-store.
Approximately one-third of Best Buy’s online sales are picked up by consumers in store. Many consumers do not trust an expensive item to be shipped through home-delivery channels and left on the front porch or outside an apartment door. The retailer dedicates in-store pickup areas at every location and parking for in-store pickup customers, with items ready for pickup within 30 minutes. And once customers are in the store, game on.
Moving ahead, the retailers that continue to streamline the e-commerce and omni-channel customer experience will succeed.
Sync with Consumer Culture
Consumers in the new economy seek meaning in their experience. They care about authenticity, and issues related to sustainability, corporate social responsibility and community initiatives. Generation Y and Z shoppers value educational insights and experiences. They reward these experiences with their loyalty, and promote (socially and digitally) collaborative partnerships among brands that are creative and offer great deals on products that consumers want.
Today’s consumers demand flawless omni-channel integration with brands that know them and cater to their changing preferences as a consumer in the new economy. Consumers will be most loyal to retailers who demonstrate a unified message and values alignment from brand image, to product, to the influencers and advocates they associate with.