RETAIL IS NOT DEAD, IT'S EVOLVING
Everyday, another article is written about how Brick & Mortar is doomed and that the only hope of survival is technology. I love technology; the newest and latest gadgets, software and conveniences. But technology, no matter how great, is a tool and not a solution.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
As we look at retail today, one might learn from what took place decades ago. In the early 1900s we had the newest invention--the silent movie--threatening to replace theater. In the 1930s, the success of radio was the threat to movie houses who by then had sound. Then in the 1950s, television was the threat to radio and movies. Yet, today, we still have theatre, radio, television and movies. What’s changed isn't their existence, but the experience.
Sound and visual quality today is at its best. Why? Because it evolved over time through new technology and consumer demand. And not all at once. Color television was invented decades before the consumer wanted it. The same was true with stereo sound and 3D TV.
So why the history lesson? Because we can learn from our mistakes and successes. In the 50s, movie houses gave customers free dishes to get them to come to the movies rather than sitting home on a Saturday night watching television. Through the evolution of “hit radio” stations and the enormous competition, radio station managers learned to create exciting promotions, one more exciting than the last to lure listeners to their station. The point is, each time there was a change to the business model and the companies felt threatened, creative people used their heads and pursued the next step of their evolution.
In many ways, that is what retail is going through today. At a time where there is too much choice, too much “sameness” and too much noise attempting to attract customers, retailers need to step back, take a breath and look at the whole picture.
THE BENEFIT OF TECHNOLOGY
The internet is not the enemy, but another step in our shopping evolution. E-commerce companies must find new and innovative ways to compete with their competition. Free shipping alone won’t keep them in the customer’s minds because it's becoming common.
Retailers need to invest in omnichannel technology, but not all at once. First, no retailer could afford it, but more importantly, today’s technology will be very different from tomorrow’s technology. For now, focus on the basics, like making sure you have a great website and store app. Moreover, do not use one against the other as some retailers do. For example, customers should not be penalized for receiving an offer useable only online when the customer prefers shopping in store or the other way around. Make sure the customer can pick up the item in the store if ordered online. Assist the customer at the store with the help of a well-trained, courteous associate to order something online when needed, and have it shipped to their home.
The good news is many retailers are doing just that, and it’s working. That too is becoming part of today’s retail evolution. And that’s not all. How many articles have been written about all the excessive mall space we have and how many malls will have to close? There is some truth to that, but mall developers are also looking at their next step: mall evolution. Just recently, a new “Mega Mall,” one that will be 6.2 million square feet, was preliminarily approved to be built in Florida. New concepts? Yes. Technology? Of course. But what was the greatest contribution? Creativity. This mall will include hotels, office buildings, restaurants and amusement parks. And the design looks like something out of Star Trek. (http://bit.ly/2kvpVPX)
So, what’s next? Retailers, with the help of today's technology, must find creative ways of attracting the customer to their website, mobile app or store. Most importantly, through technology and creativity, make the online and in store browsing and shopping experience fun, engaging, and enjoyable. Technology offers a lot of opportunities, but it will be the retailer’s creativity along with that technology that provides today’s customer with the new evolving shopping experience.
We are long past offering customers free dishes, but there are always new ideas, programs and promotions. As with all evolution, some retailers won't survive and new ones will emerge. A phrase that came from Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory: “Survival of the fittest.” Be different, be daring, be creative and not only will you survive, you'll have fun in today's world of retail evolution and achieve great success!
GIVE THEM A REASON TO SHOP
It’s a Saturday morning and a shopper decided earlier in the week that she wanted to purchase some new clothes. She perused the internet for some ideas, but went to the mall to enjoy the opportunity of browsing and trying on clothes before making her purchases.
When she arrived at the mall, she began her journey looking through the myriad of stores, most of which she was familiar with. Then it kind of hit her. What’s different? It seemed that all of the specialty fashion apparel stores had a problem or sales event, so the prices were all comparable, depending on the purchase. The clothes were all so similar; she couldn’t differentiate between one brand or another. The shopper found herself in a dilemma, confused and somewhat overwhelmed. Within an hour, she decided to leave because she couldn’t make up her mind and decided to put the shopping off for another time, realizing that she didn’t need to buy anything new immediately.
Does this sound familiar? We can look at the all of the reasons why so many retail stores are doing less business today, such as less store traffic, greater competition and a rise in internet sales. But one fact seems to be ignored: “Too many retailers do not give shoppers a reason to shop them.”
When I say give them a reason, I am not referring to the sale or promotion and I’m not talking about the latest and greatest technology. What I am stating is that many retailers, especially specialty fashion, are suffering from “sameness.” These retailers offer nothing to the shopper to make themselves stand out. Product and price are important, as is convenience. But the retailer needs to ask itself one simple question, “Why should a shopper shop you?” When answering the question, the retailer should avoid using cliché’s like we have the best price, the biggest selection or the best service. We all know the shopper has heard this so much that they simply tune it out because every retailer has said it for years.
To truly stand out as a retailer, be daring and challenge yourself to rediscover your business and find out what makes your business unique from your competitors. Build a campaign around it, promote it and keep the momentum going. Soon the shopper will look to you first because she or he will understand why they should shop you.
THE ADVANTAGES OF BRICK & MORTAR
It’s still early in the new year and already we are seeing article after article talking about which retailers are going out of business, which are closing stores and how the internet has changed everything. There is no doubt that store traffic overall has declined, buying habits have changed and “yes” more people are using the internet.
But if stores were a thing of the past, why are so many of the e-commerce companies such as Amazon, Blue Nile and Bonobos opening Brick and Mortar locations? The answer…because many people still like to shop.
The internet offers tremendous convenience and, like everyone else, I find myself clicking away when I’m in a hurry or just not in the mood to go to the store. It’s certainly easy to find what I want, select it, pay for it and then wait for it to arrive. But there is something missing from this method of shopping: the tangible experience of actually visiting the store. I enjoy interacting with store personnel, being able to ask questions, seeing my potential purchases for myself and trying them when applicable, which is especially important when buying clothes. I want to know how they fit, feel and look before I make a commitment to buy.
I, like many shoppers, am guilty of impulse buying when I see something that strikes me as a “have to have”-- that I didn’t even know I needed. And, for the retailer, this opens a wide opportunity that only brick and mortar can provide, when presented correctly. The truth is, too many retailers do not recognize and seize this opportunity and that is a problem.
Customers typically do not respond well when approached by the “pushy” sales person. And, on the contrary, they don’t like rude associates who are too busy to and/or are incapable of answering their questions. Customers also don’t care for the store person who, when asked if the store has an item, simply says, “You’ll have to go online” as he or she just walks away. Duh…they have the customer in the store and then wonder why customers walk out and shop online.
But when the store atmosphere is right, the promotional offers are there, the sales associates are engaging and make the customer feel appreciated and special, shopping in-store is still a wonderful experience, only one that Brick and Mortar can provide.