As a retailer, in those last few weeks of the year, it’s hard to think about anything except the rush of customers, getting all your stock out on the floor and making sure that all of the planning comes together with great execution. I would explain to friends that for me, this was the World Series of Retail. As a futurist, I’m always interested in thinking about what is to come. There’s no better time than the end of the year to look ahead and consider where the industry is going.
2012 was a year during which pessimists complained that the physical store was becoming no more than a showroom for competitors that were based online. I could agree with that were it not for the one thing that distinguishes the store in a way that the online retailer would be hard pressed to equal: the customer experience. There’s nothing more powerful than friendly, knowledgeable staff and an environment that entertains the senses.
Rachel Shechtman (@rachelshechtman) is the founder of Story , a Manhattan boutique that updates its theme and the products carried every four to eight weeks. She was recognized this year by Fast Company as one of its Top 100 Creative People in Business. Rachel says, “When we think of the next generation of retail design, we think about storytelling. My rule: 70% of an experience should be what consumers know and 30% should be surprise and delight.” Rachel was also a part of a 2013 Predictions Hangout hosted by PSFK.com. There she said, “Online brands will be looking to build offline retail experiences that emphasize customer experience as a marketing outreach tool rather than looking at a physical space simply as dollars per square foot.”
The answer, it would appear, is that traditional retailers need to do what they can do well, create an engaging and compelling customer experience. They also need to embrace the opportunities of cross channel shopping, because today’s shopper doesn’t decide to buy something and just walk in to pick it off the shelf.
Awareness and research are just as likely to happen online as they are in a physical store – and for Millennials, the chances are even greater. That makes shopping experience more of a journey that can take place over a period of time.
Consumers shopping how, where and when they want
IDC Research has looked ahead and made its predictions for 2013 concentrating on the value of, and requirements for, an effective cross-channel (or omnichannel as they call it) environment. In their view, the customer has determined how we need to go to market. That determination has been made by the technology they use and the options it has created for them. Today’s consumer wants to shop how they want, where they want, when they want.
Here are IDC Retail Insights’ Top 10 Predictions:
Omnichannel retail maturity will move from foundation to convergence, and from precision to immersion.
Retailers’ omnichannel objectives will require platform and architecture investments.
Retailers will pivot merchandising and marketing on customer analytics to drive revenue and profit with relevance and reciprocity being the watchwords.
Retailers will invest in customer analytics, merchandising, and marketing technologies to curate commerce and contextualize communications.
The time is right to break down marketing silos.
Marketing processes and infrastructures will align with the omnichannel business.
Retailers will remove barriers and instead encourage the “stop start shopper.”
We will see the convergence of web-based customer experience touch points to unify the customer journey.
Retailers will optimize omnichannel customer service and cost by enabling trustworthy, efficient and effective supply chains.
Retailers will invest in technologies that enable visibility, visualization and virtualization.
Retailers meeting customers where they are
This doesn’t mean at all that the physical store is on its way out. It just needs to evolve. John Lewis, the UK retailer, has embraced this idea with its scannable shopping windows. Its location in Brighton England features a storefront at which customers can use their mobile devices to take “window shopping” to a whole new level.
In Australia, Woolworths brings the shopping experience to you. Going one step beyond the idea of delivering to your home, or operating a “dark store” where you can drive through to do a pick-up, they have come up with a “meet you on the way home” idea. Customers can place their orders online and arrange to meet a truck on their way home at a designated location, such as their kids’ daycare). That way they can pick up the groceries and their children at the same time.
This is an exciting time in retail. The forces at work are causing us to change and look for new ways to compete with one another and engage the customer. Many of these new ideas are already here and proving their value. It’s very much an example of my favorite quote from the Canadian author William Gibson: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”