Bringing Retail Into the 21st Century
Let's get one thing straight: E-commerce will not kill the physical retail store. Hold on, I hear you object, the digital world has utterly disrupted our shopping habits. We rarely enter a store without having researched the big-ticket items we want to buy. Much of our holiday shopping is done with the click of a mouse.
When we do venture into a store, we rarely do so without clutching a smartphone or a tablet -- whether it is to compare prices or to ask our friends on a social network for instant feedback on those new shoes or shirts.
While that's all true, I'm convinced that stores are here to stay, for five simple reasons: touch, see, hear, smell and taste. Shopping is about experiences. It's about having fun, about using our five senses -- and that can happen only in a store.
However, I also believe that in order to survive, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have to do more than simply put up a Web store and have a Twitter handle. They have to evolve and make digital an integral part of the in-store experience.
The Omnichannel Customer Is Real
Our on-demand world has changed customers' expectations. They demand a flexible, interactive, convenient and information-rich service -- not just on a website or Facebook page, but in-store as well.
Smartphone usage in the shopping experience could impact up to US$752 billion in sales by 2016, according to Deloitte Consulting. This is a huge opportunity for retailers, and if they don't get it right, it could be their Achilles' heel.
Retailers have to court these omnichannel customers, because they are not mythical beasts. For example, customers who visit both their stores and their website spend four times as much as people who only go to one or the other, the British department store chain John Lewis reported.
The solution, though, is not the divergence from the real world to online, but the integration of both. Let's not forget that by 2016, online sales still will account for just 7-9 percent of retail sales, according to Forrester.
So my advice to retailers is to focus on three strategic imperatives:
- Improve the shopping experience;
- Engage with customers; and
- Streamline in-store operations.
Take the desire of customers to touch, see and experience products and services, and fulfill it with a digitally enhanced shopping experience.
Transport Your Customers
Let's start with arguably the oldest tool stores have to entice their customers: the poster. We all know the poster is dead. It takes weeks to update and replace; it shows people in summer clothing when it's cold outside and promotes rain gear when the sun shines. It's static -- and certainly not fit to engage Millennials.
The digital poster is far more in vogue today. Digital signage has come a long way in recent months, with new screens that do away with the clutter of cables and media players, integrating everything on a chipset built into the large-format display. Digital posters are updated within minutes. They are reliable and cost-effective to run -- and most importantly, they really change how a shop interacts with its customers.
Be creative. Why not transport your customers to their holiday destination with huge life-like images on the screen? Excite them with real-time weather reports from nearby ski resorts or the beach. Or perhaps use bespoke video walls and devices to effectively convey your brand image into the store -- taking the energy of the online experience into the static retail environment to create an immersive customer experience.
This is not just about giving customers the wow factor -- it's about providing them with convenience and an experience that will turn them into loyal shoppers.
Little wonder that 55-65 percent of all companies plan to increase their digital signage budget this year, according to IDC, because they believe it will drive sales and profitability.
It's not just about selling -- it's also about empowering your sales force. Make your customers happy by giving your staff direct on-the-spot access to every kind of information a shopper might want. Make your staff more efficient by giving them a real-time view of the stock room, to avoid pointless trips and disappointed customers who waited for ages only to receive an apologetic smile instead of the product they want.
A digital strategy can help modern retailers provide a much more experiential, emotional, connected, interactive and information-rich shopping experience. Because digital allows them to engage shoppers effectively, retailers can increase their lifetime share of their target customers' wallets.
At the same time, they will be able to adapt in real time to today's fast-changing retail environment.
This is only the beginning, though, as the future of retail will continue to be defined by the customers themselves. The businesses that succeed in this evolving environment will be the ones that bring together the right devices, solutions and services to provide experiences far beyond consumers' wildest dreams.