Another store closing, another giant falls. We’ve seen the headlines this year and traditional brick-and-mortar retail has taken a hit, at least for many key players. But retailers shouldn’t panic; it’s not the death of retail, but a retail renaissance.
For the longest time, retail was done a certain way. Retailers put out mass-audience advertising, some would see ads, then they would flock to brick-and-mortar stores. The only innovation that really happened was limited to product placement and pricing changes. Retailers controlled what shoppers had access to by merchandising their shelves. But today’s shopper has options– millions, to be exact. We have the rise of e-commerce, especially Amazon and Alibaba, to thank for that. Brick-and-mortar shoppers aren’t just looking for a way to obtain product, they have that online already. Now they’re looking for a valuable experience.
Plus, social media has created a culture that now thrives on transparency and authenticity. When before, the more ambiguous sales and product messages with big promises may have drawn in crowds, today’s customers have a different expectation. According to Forbes, “…brands no longer have an option other than representing themselves honestly and transparently. Authenticity is crucial to continued loyalty from fickle audiences.”
A Cycle Disrupted
All of these changes, from both a technological and behavioral standpoint, have left many retailers feeling some stinging disruption. Though even with the landscape changing, there are still plenty of good signs that brick-and-mortar isn’t going to disappear. Here are just a couple:
- First, Amazon purchased Whole Foods this year… And they are allegedly toying with the idea of opening retail stores for high-ticket Home items as well. Why would they do this? Because they know people still shop in stores, and they can make it a profitable channel. Besides Amazon, previous e-commerce-only retailers have been branching into brick-and-mortar. Think Warby Parker, for example.
- Data tells us people still like to shop in stores; and yes, even the young people! E-commerce is growing rapidly, but a majority of retail transactions still happen in a physical space. An article by CNBC tells us that 71% of millennials are visiting multiple stores in search of bargains. They also state that there is a common misconception that the millennials are the ones always shopping online, as opposed to the baby boomer generation. Check out this infograph from firstinsight.com for more stats.
What’s a Retailer To Do?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Stop the Product Obsession
Your store is there to sell, sell, sell! Push more product!
Okay, so this is the old way of thinking. Here’s the new way; your store is there to enrich the customer’s experience. Let’s look at a brand that’s booming: Sephora. Sephora doesn’s consider itself a mere distributor of product. Sephora stores exist as leaders and benchmarks in all things beauty. They host workshops, offer how-tos, and staff every store with knowledgeable “makeup gurus” who can find you that perfect shade of lipstick, or flawless foundation shade.
Or how about Apple stores—have you ever walked by the mall and seen one of those stores empty? Of course, the foundation is a solid product and brand equity, but they also focus on the experience their store provides. You walk into Apple, you can try every product right then and there. Everyone on staff knows their stuff and can answer questions. And the whole environment has a modern “tech-y” look and feel.
According to Ron Johnson, the creator of the Apple stores, “…if a store can help shoppers find outfits that make them feel better about themselves, for instance, or introduce them to a new device that can change the way they communicate, the store is adding value beyond simply providing merchandise.”
2. Market for Today’s Customer
Generic ads and those well-known “sales bonanza” tactics just aren’t going to cut it. A few modern marketing questions to ask:
- Do you have a strong web presence? What about an e-commerce site where customers can research your selection, or buy online and pick-up in store?
- Are you active on social media? How do you communicate with potential shoppers?
- What digital channels do you use to reach customers? Do you know your customer journey?
- How does your in-store experience integrate with your online experience?
- What does your store say about your brand? Are you communicating consistently?
Marketing has to be ingrained into every aspect of your brand; from events, to the in-store experience, to how you’re represented online.
3. Roll with the Punches
This last one is really mostly about accepting change, even when it’s kind of painful. We know the retail renaissance is ruthless; some stores will thrive, others will lock up shop. It’s really about adapting to new ways of thinking, shopping, selling, and promoting. Make the time and investment to adapt now, and it’ll save you later.
Physical and digital worlds of retail can be friends; we see smart brands creating this harmony and it does resonate with customers. It’s just a matter of abandoning an outdated approach, dedicating the resources, and having the gusto to make it happen for your local business. The world wasn’t the same after the last renaissance; retail won’t be either.