There was once a fear that online retail would make in-person retail obsolete. But brick-and-mortar stores are projected to still account for 85% of retail sales in 2025.
And with the move toward multichannel commerce, the in-person experience is becoming an extension of all the other touch points customers have with your brand. There’s no competing with online — it’s now about how you can incorporate it into your business.
But future-proofing your retail business goes beyond thinking through a multichannel sales lens. Constantly changing technology, increasing competition, and changes in consumer behavior create both challenges and opportunities for brick-and-mortar retailers. Ultimately, the forward-thinking retailers that put customers first are the ones that find the most success.
Not sure how to move forward with future-proofing your biz with all the aforementioned changes? Don’t worry — we’ll walk you through the top considerations you’ll need to focus on and some key ways you can find success in 2018 and beyond.
Every forward-thinking discussion about retail will include some element of technology. As advancements are made every day, new tools emerge that retailers can use to market smarter, enhance the in-store experience, and run business operations more smoothly and advanced. In fact, 70% of retailers are ready to adopt the IoT (Internet of Things) technology.
Since technology plays such a key role in the success of modern-day retailers, let’s dive into some key areas where merchants can focus their energy and investment.
“One driving force behind changes in retail is the mini computer in your pocket or purse — the smartphone,” says Christiana Rattazzi, head of marketing at Euclid. “Now, you can be online and offline at all times with a single device.” Nearly half of consumers who conduct research on their smartphones do it while shopping in-store.
Offer discounts to mobile users who are in your physical vicinity, and implement location technology such as in-store beacons to get to know your foot traffic — and target it in the future.
In-store mobile payments are another consideration for retailers today, especially given the fact that half of consumers are open to it. Not only does this allow for a new payment method, but it’s also a new data collection option.
In-store staff members are also benefitting from mobile technology, and retailers can capitalize on it. “[Brands like] Apple, Lowe’s, Nordstrom, and Bonobos have proven that putting a mobile device in their in-store associates’ hands along with a few killer apps will drive sales, improve service, and build customer relationships,” Bill Zujewski, EVP of marketing at Tulip. “Others are following fast.”
FURTHER READING: For more tips on making your physical store more mobile friendly, read up on these 7 tactics.
An Abundance of Data
With technology also comes data — lots of it. Moving forward, retailers are not only going to have to figure out how to capture and organize data, but also how to use it. Interpreting numbers to identify trends, and acting quickly enough to capitalize on it, is going to be the biggest opportunities for forward-thinking retailers.
“Stores have started to do a better job at gathering data about traffic patterns in the store, but that’s about it in terms of store analytics,” says Zujewski. “Now data can be captured, recorded, and analyzed based on customer and associate interactions.”
And the power of Big Data is what retailers do to act on it.
Putting data together from various channels will also pose a challenge to retailers. “As the buying journey becomes increasingly blurred between online and offline, retail brands need to rethink the metrics of their store beyond in-store conversion and same-store sales,” says Rattazzi. “They will have to understand how customers are visiting, regardless of purchase, and tie those touch points to an online journey.”
Ready to take the next step with your data? Try one of these 10 tools to integrate Big Data into your store.
As more data is more abundant, so are potential privacy and security breaches. Privacy is a big deal to today’s consumer — about two-thirds would no longer purchase from a brand after their private information is compromised in a data breach.
Compromised data can be devastating for retailers. Forever 21 has recently made headlines, and Target faced major backlash when its customers were at risk in 2013 during the holiday shopping season. As you gather more data and have more tools that “talk” to each other, you’ll also want to beef up on security.
Here are a few quick tips to keep your customers comfortable and their data safe:
- Only ask the necessary information. The more data you request from your customers, the more likely they are to be mistrusting. As you grow your customer relationship over time, you can gradually collect more data. Additionally, the more data you collect, the more data you have to steal. Of data that can be stolen, consumers are most concerned about their social security number and passwords or PINs — steer clear of these unless you need them. Financial and payment information, such as credit card and bank account numbers, take the No. 3 spot, so ensure your customers that you will protect that information.
- Be upfront about the data you have and how you plan to use it. If you’re conducting surveys for marketing purposes, tell them. If you need a second payment option in case the first one is declined or doesn’t go through, say that. And in case there is a data breach, let your customers know. Sending a “sincere and personal apology” and offering free identity theft and credit fraud prevention services are the two actions you can take that will most likely convince customers to give your brand a second shot.
- Store your customer data with a provider that has privacy and security measures in place. Instead, use a third-party cloud provider, such as Agile CRM, HubSpot, and these other free customer-relationship management (CRM) tools.
- Keep your passwords private. Only share passwords with individuals who have to have it. When possible, set up user accounts with different permissions. This can restrict access to some data, as well as help you see who did have a hand in any data breaches.
Technology empowers the in-store shopper, but there’s more to crafting the entire brand experience for your customers. These in-store experiences are becoming increasingly important for multichannel retailers especially.
“Unique store experiences give shoppers a compelling reason to visit a location and engage with the brand,” says Rattazzi. “Ultimately, the brands that will survive the retail shakeout will be those who master both online and offline — and the seamless transition between the two.”
Initially, this means that you must design your store for experiences — not just for displaying products. Incorporate your brand identity into your physical space to bring the experience to life
This is because consumers are increasingly buying into a brand versus just purchasing a product. So, help your customers buy into a specific lifestyle your product facilitates through immersive branded experiences, pop-up shops, event sales, content marketing, or other targeted efforts.
Almost three-quarters of consumers want to have personalized shopping experiences. This means retailers must look at the data, digest and interpret it, and provide experiences that are guided by data-driven insights.
“The fashion and luxury stores have come the furthest in terms of elevating the in-store experience,” says Zujewski. “Associates often use mobile devices to access their client black books to give clients a VIP treatment based on knowing more about their preferences, past purchases, and wishlist.”
“Associates are better trained and have become style guides, not just sales associates,” Zujewski says.
All of this results in a more intimate and personalized experience that makes customers feel good and keeps them coming back.
Need some more personalization ideas? Here are 4 ways retailers can create more individualizing shopping experiences.
Hosting in-store events is a great way to increase foot traffic and build buzz around your store. It could be an event series through which you look to build intimate relationships with a few customers. Or maybe it’s an event open to the entire community, such as a pet adoption fair or a free fitness class.
Many fitness apparel retailers, such as prAna and lululemon, host in-store yoga classes. They’ve designed their spaces to have displays on wheels, making it easy to clear the space to accommodate classes. This also makes it easy to prep the store to open to the public. The floors are smooth, hard floors that are both display- and yoga mat-friendly.
Customer service is part of the entire brand experience, both online and offline. Nordstrom’s brand identity hinges upon customer service, and these seven brands have also found a competitive edge by providing top-notch service.
Providing authentic, one-on-one customer service in-store is essential, and it’s only increasing in importance. This means that your space must be designed to make it easy for customers to find the service they need, and your sales associates must be trained to provide the customer service synonymous with your brand.
New Consumer Behavior
Consumer behavior is ever-changing, and it’s up to retailers to anticipate and accommodate these shifts. Whereas 10 years ago, the online shopping experience was much more basic, 75% of millennials will visit a store to see a product with the intention to buy it online later (also called showrooming).
However, it is possible to turn showrooming habits into sales with buy-later tools like Shopify POS' email carts.
The entire buyer journey has changed, too. What was once a bit of research and price comparison, followed by an online or in-store purchase, has now branched out into a number of channels. There are also new environments for shopping, given the rise of pop-up shops, social media commerce, and other sales channels.
Many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are finding competition from the online space, too. The rate of ecommerce sales growth is expected to decline from today’s 11% to 7% by the year 2021. More and more online retailers are entering the “real-life” arena. Amazon has acquired Whole Foods as well as opened several pop-up shops during the holiday season, Kylie Cosmetics went from online store to pop-up success, and Warby Parker now has several stores across the United States and Canada.
With that, brick-and-mortar stores have to create complementary online experiences to maintain a competitive edge.
Examples for Inspiration
- Target: Target opened its first next-gen store outside of Houston. Online orders are delivered to parked customers, sales associates are equipped with technology to take payments anywhere in-store, and the entrance is decorated with inspirational vignettes.
- Benefit Cosmetics: “I really admire what Benefit Cosmetics has done, turning their stores into cosmetics havens and brow bars,” says Rattazzi. “They have talented and knowledgeable staff that can get your brows in tip-top shape, giving you a monthly excuse to visit.”
- Nordstrom: Not only has Nordstrom delivered on its commitment to customer service, it’s also created a unique pop-up experience with Nordstrom Local. The concept? No merchandise available for purchase, just curated suggestions hand-picked by the staff of personal stylists.
- American Eagle: The clothing retailer’s Manhattan location has installed a non-alcoholic bar, DRINK, at their store. The fun beverages are meant to satiate teen customers’ thirst for both a drink and a fun shopping experience.
- Rebecca Minkoff: One of the most notable examples, Rebecca Minkoff has seamlessly incorporated technology to craft their customer experience. Beacons, interactivity, sensors, and cameras capture tons of in-store data. They use that data to consistently improve the in-store experience, which is already unique in its own right: Customers can order drinks from their phones and enjoy a personalized shopping experience based on their previous purchases and style choices.
- West Elm: The furniture retailer has set its sights on an unexpected industry with their announcement of opening West Elm hotels. “They’re rethinking how shoppers discover West Elm products,” says Rattazzi.
Moving Forward With Your Future-Focused Retail Strategy
Now that you know some of the opportunities 2018 will bring, you can move forward with tweaking your strategy to accommodate some of these challenges.
How are you future-proofing your retail business? Which forward-thinking retailers do you think are the most innovative?