The ubiquitous and once revered icon of retailing – the physical store – has had more obituaries written for it than what it could have possibly bargained for. Naysayers predicted the end of the physical store and store closings became more common than Bolt’s quest for gold. Fortunately, the store has survived and will thrive in the coming years – for which, stores need to radically transform themselves to remain relevant.
So, what has changed? Well, retailing, as a business, has undergone a massive transformation of sorts in the past decade. And the most important factor driving this change has been the rise of the digital economy and the connected, empowered consumer. The balance of power has decidedly shifted towards the consumer who has all the information she needs – at her fingertips thus rending only-supply-chain driven plans down the middle. Earlier, an enterprise would decide when and how to engage with consumers; today, a consumer determines when and how to engage with enterprises. From a single channel of engagement to multiple, simultaneous channels of info exchange.
What is the impact? To start with, the new consumer is a powerhouse of information having access to tons of data. Innovations and fresh thoughts transcend geographical boundaries in milli-seconds. She has more friends and relatives online now than ever before – folks who can influence her decision making. And she is no longer shopping for products – rather, she is shopping for experiences. Understandably, this has challenged status quo and retailers are being forced to revisit their strategies and transform themselves to address the needs of the new consumer. The first step in this transformational journey is to adopt Design Thinking as a means to understand consumers better and thus meet expectations with higher fidelity. The second step in this DX journey is to identify the technology levers that will enable an enterprise to maintain a constant engagement with a consumer throughout the journey. And the physical store is an important pit-stop in this quest.
The physical store is the true innovation hub of a responsive retailer. At the store, a consumer expects to have the finest experience, be able to evaluate products and have an engagement with the brand and the retailer. She expects the retailer to know her, her needs and her aspirations. It is a tough ask but a few retailers are blazing a trail with some innovative interventions that maintain the engagement continuum. Let’s take a look at a few of these (this is by no means exhaustive).
WiFi@Store – While a few retailers are evaluating if this concept is RoI worthy, quite a few have bitten the bullet and Wi-Fi enabled their stores. This gives a consumer walking in, the first dose of their digital fix. Nordstrom was one of the early movers in this space and gradually others like Macy’s, Sam’s Club, J.C. Penney, Target, Best Buy, Whole Foods & Saks Fifth Avenue followed suit. While this increases the risk of “showrooming”, you at least get the footfalls in. The most important thing is forming the strategy on how you plan to engage with her once she has opted into your Wi-Fi network. Macy’s has done this brilliantly through “Macy’s On-Call”. Read more at “https://consumerist.com/2016/07/20/macys-new-app-answers-questions-you-used-to-ask-store-employees/”