What most people see as a challenge, I see as an opportunity. The experts are saying that the retail industry is currently facing a crisis, but is it? Yes it is true, brick and mortar stores are struggling to keep up with the Amazons and Zappos of the world, but it isn't time to fret, but time to reinvent. It's no wonder that the Chinese symbol for crisis is also opportunity. Everyday reports come out that send faulty reverberations through the state of the retail world, but these sometimes false statements are just noise. Retail isn't going anywhere, but like a good actor, musician, or even agency, it must reinvent itself --- time and time again.
Reinvention isn't about abandoning your purpose, but the complete opposite. It is taking a step back, re-examining your core values and your unique value proposition. Why is it you sell the products you do? What makes your retail experience different? Why do your customers keep coming back, and if they aren't, why not?
It used to be that the customer had to go into your store to buy what they needed. Now with just a click, there are an infinite number of products available to them. More choices means a harder time retailers have to be seen and to convert.
The customer journey no longer looks like this:
Instead, it looks like this:
Just joking, it is really like this:
But looking at the subway map, each stop represents a new touch point, or opportunity to interact, engage, educate, and convert the customer. As we can see from the fish, opportunities to engage are everywhere and retailers must be aware of this "new way to retail."
The new way to retail is about building trust and engaging in two-way communication with the customer. It is about utilizing technology to the brands advantage and pulling rather than pushing.
Lets look at 5 trends happening in 2014 and beyond in the retail space.
Bring the focus back on customer service
I am an avid shopper at Nordstrom's. And it's not because it always has the best deals. It's because the company takes the time to know and understand my needs. It makes the shopping experience enjoyable and work feverishly to ensure that the dignity of the brand is always upheld.
We must also look at reinventing the convenience. In order to meet the needs of the consumer, retailers should be forced to look at consumption from both a macro and micro level. This ensures that customer service is met at all shopper touchpoints and the retailer is leading the consumer, not the other way around.
Don't forget to look at the customer experience
Let's look at Neiman Marcus and the amazing job they have done with customer experience. The store has been able to successfully leverage mobile into its physical locations seamlessly to create an amazing experience. Through its dedicated mobile app, the consumer is able to check into the store (lets not forget the SoLoMo trend from 2012; social + location + mobile) that alerts the NM personal shopper of his or her arrival. At that moment, a history of purchases comes through that allows the NM personal shopper to effectively assist the customer -- thusly bridging the gap between customer service and customer experience.
The future holds so many new ways to reach consumers, but it is the retailers that are successfully able to make the experience truly memorable that are going to win. How can you integrate a story with technology while still being competitive and ensuring that loyalty runs high? This is the task that retailers are going to be faced with in 2014 and beyond.
Invest in technology
Technology is advancing at a level never before seen in human history. Those who can adapt will win. This is especially true in retail. Having a quality product of course should also be a main focus, but now it is about how we can utilize tools of the digital age to connect with our customers.
We all carry the most powerful retail tool in our pocket -- a mobile phone. Soon we will be able to do everything on our phones to take us through the customer journey -- from the dreaming stage to the brand advocate stage. Exciting isn't it? But for retailers there is a part of the equation missing. Old school mentality says, "as long as they are converting and actually making a purchase," the process is working. But new school mentality should be, "I want them in our store to receive the benefits of offline shopping mixed with the customer service and retail experience that only an in-store visit can offer."
The shift from e-commerce to everywhere-commerce, is quickly taking shape. It is not enough to just have a digital footprint, but it is expected that this digital footprint is up-to-date, relevant, and rewards the customer for their loyalty. When you reward them, they reward you.
Invest in quality and dynamic content
Technology and content go hand-in-hand, like peas and carrots, cereal and milk, and Twitter and hashtags, but to have one without the other is contradictive. Retailers are turning towards technology and digital signage to convey messages and relevant content including promotions and incentives, social content, and third-party offers. This content needs to be top of mind for the consumer as well as play in the mobile and soon to be RFID and AR world.
We all know that content is king, but relevant content that is customizable has become what the modern consumer craves. They no longer want the traditional 30-second spot or the static print ad. Consumers want touching stories that can be seamlessly integrated and shared through their social networks -- on their own terms.
It has many meanings (RoboCop anyone?), but for this purpose it means "research online, buy offline." This is what retailers must remember. With great content and technology flourishing, the modern consumer is tempted and often searches for the best deal. But with searching for the best deal, brand loyalty often suffers. It is time to take back the customer by investing in them. Give them the tools they need to learn and pick the product they want, but incentivize them with promotions and an unforgettable retail experience. Leave them wanting to post on their social networks and become the greatest marketing asset a store can have: the brand loyalist.
In regards to the "new way to retail," this is just the tip of the iceberg. To sum it all up, in an ever-increasing online world, it comes down to reaching the consumer where they live.
Steven Picanza is the marketing development manager at Experiences for Mankind.
On Twitter? Follow Steven at @Picanza and iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Woman scanning QR code in shopping mall" image via Shutterstock.