Part one of our five part series exploring trends that are shaping brick-and-mortar retail experience. You can read all of the trends in The Store Is Back eBook, courtesy of RBM Technologies.
Store employees are the most valuable assets to a brand. They are on the front lines of retail experience, interacting directly with the customer. They have the opportunity to connect with customers on a personal level, something customers can’t get online.
“Store associates work so much better when they know the why. Bringing them to the table, and communicating with them can go a long way.”
Jeff Fisher, Global Store Experience Director at Sunglass Hut
The store associate’s knowledge, availability and capacity to help the customer all contribute to an exceptional experience and lasting brand impression. However, store associates can only achieve this if they are empowered to fulfill the customer’s expectations. Store employees can never truly be brand advocates if their efforts are wasted on merchandising discrepancies, and aren’t trusted with the authority or the appropriate tools to support a customer’s needs.
Some leading retailers have already begun to equip store associates with the necessary information and digital technology to keep up with today’s savvy shoppers. iPads and other mobile devices are popping up in stores, giving associates access to important details and additional product supply.
When associates have the support to engage shoppers in stores, they will deliver a seamless, personalized experience. They will help the customer through their path to purchase, influence the customer’s brand perception, and ultimately, build customer loyalty.
Ok, your stores never actually went anywhere, but the role of the brick-and-mortar store was eclipsed by the allure of ecommerce and the potential of digital technologies in recent years, leading many to proclaim the store is dead.
But in this new omnichannel world stores play an increasingly critical role in the delivery of a superior retail experience. Stores are where shoppers immerse themselves in unique brand experiences, where they touch and feel products, and, the vast majority of the time (90% to be exact), where they make their final purchases.
A leading big box retailer recently calculated all the different supply chain variations related to a quality omnichannel retail practice and found 85% involved the store. Stores aren’t going anywhere.
Having said that, retailers have some work to do. To remain viable in today’s changing retail climate, brick-and-mortar retailers will need to think, act, and execute differently. They will need to become more agile, local, and precise when it comes to merchandising execution to ensure each store is positioned to capitalize on the trends driving customer behavior.
The store experience needs constant reinvention as new technology advances and customers’ expectations continue to shift at a rapid pace.
To gain some insight into what exactly those trends are, RBM sat down with thought leaders from across the retail industry to get their view. From those interviews, a set of common themes emerged. The results of which we used to inform our latest eBook entitled The Store Is Back.
From empowering employees to bridging the gap between mobile and brick-and-mortar, the ability to adapt within the changing retail market will ensure increased growth and improvement, and continuously put retailers ahead of the competition.
The store experience needs constant reinvention as new technology advances and customers’ expectations continue to shift at a rapid pace. While developing retail strategies, retailers must consider some, if not all, of these emerging trends to create a superior and memorable experience that connects customers to their brands.
A new generation of technology-driven, smart shoppers has taken over retail. These shoppers have easy access to product information, online options, and an increasing choice of competitors. They are selective and only decide to purchase when they get a unique, well-planned, engaging retail experience.
Unfortunately, very few retailers have the ability to keep up with the fast-evolving expectations of today’s customers. Many retailers are dealing with an antiquated retail model based on product breadth and price, and they cannot guarantee their retail experience is consistent, precise, engaging, on brand, on message, and localized for the empowered, demanding customer.
RBM Technologies recently published an ebook entitled 16 Tactics for Merchandising Execution in 2016 that outlines specific, actionable directives retailers can enact right now to engage customers, increase conversion rates, and keep them coming back.
Here are the fundamentals of merchandising execution, as outlined in the ebook, to deliver a superior retail experience:
Shoppers are unforgiving when retail experience isn’t unified across all channels. If merchandising execution is messy or inconsistent, if information doesn’t match what they found online, or if their shopping trip leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth, they won’t come back. Align your organization against a consistent plan – whether it is your merchandising teams, marketings teams or store operations.
Achieving a personalized experience by localizing product assortments strengthens the customer’s brand perception and the retailer’s position amongst the competition. The physical store has a big impact on the customer’s connection to a brand and service. Addressing local needs is critical in developing a more authentic experience and personal customer connection.
Stores are powerful, profitable and able to provide a meaningful connection with customers. Retailers recognize the importance of on plan merchandising execution, yet at the store level, precise retail execution seems difficult.
By using a single digital application that plans, communicates, executes, and measures retail experience, retailers can reduce complexity and improve their ability to execute their merchandising plan effectively and optimize individual store performance.
Often retail experience is imprecise, immeasurable, and expensive. Very few retailers have the ability to consistently ensure that every store is on brand, on message, and accurately executed. Poorly executed retail experience can lead to missed sales and unhappy customers.
However, retailers can execute with precision, measure easily, and as a result, improve individual store performance – eliminating waste in the process.
Many brands understand retail experience is the key driver to customer satisfaction, but they haven’t figured out how to assemble the framework to efficiently execute it. By following these four fundamentals, a retailer can ensure its retail experience is on brand, simplified, and consistent for the customer. Subsequently, it can open up new opportunities for growth and produce a competitive advantage.
A customer just made a purchase at your store. She conducted her research online, knew exactly what she wanted, and left with what she came for. This appears to be a perfectly successful transaction.
But, where is this relationship going?
1 in 3 customers look to retailers to educate them to varying degrees
Online shopping options are abundant, so a fast and convenient purchase is no longer enough to keep customers coming back. In order to gain customer loyalty in 2016, retailers need to think beyond the “right product, right price” approach. Sustaining a lasting customer-brand relationship now depends on a unique experience, engaging human interaction, and authentic, meaningful connection.
In response, we’re seeing more and more brands offering workshops and educational opportunities to entice customers and strengthen their brand appeal. According to Small Business Trends, “Nearly one-third (32 percent) of consumers are interested in going to classes or lessons at stores.”
For today’s customers who are constantly connected to digital devices, in-store classes give them a fun, participatory and personalized experience they can’t get online. Here are some retailers using classes to drive traffic to stores, create a welcoming environment, and strengthen shopping appeal.
DIY at Home Depot
Home Depot offers free Do It Yourself workshops, from building to gardening. They even offer kid-friendly tutorials and women’s-only “Do-It-Herself” workshops.
Practice Yoga at Lululemon
Lululemon, the popular yoga and lifestyle clothing retailer, hosts free weekly yoga classes in its stores. Classes are led by certified instructors from the local communities.
Get Outdoors with REI
The outdoor company REI offers both free and fee-based classes for all adventure experience levels, from outdoor photography skills to rock climbing, from backpacking to using a map & compass.
Have an Eye for Beauty at Sephora
Sephora customers can learn about the latest makeup trends, brow shaping techniques, skin fundamentals and more in its beauty and skin care classes. The classes are available nationwide and free to Sephora loyalty rewards members
Start Cooking with Williams-Sonoma
Williams-Sonoma, the premium cooking products retailer, holds complimentary hands-on cooking classes in its stores across the U.S. and Canada. Those who participate also enjoy discounts on store purchases.
Stay Connected at The Apple Store
Apple retail stores provide free hour-long workshops that teach everything from how to use a new device to creating presentations and movies. They even offer youth programs and camps.
By turning their retail spaces into learning platforms, brands not only demonstrate a need for their products, but they also enrich their customers’ everyday lives, create meaningful connections, and drive future visits and repeat purchases.
Retail environments are now much more than places to buy things. Customers care more about experiences than they do about acquiring merchandise. Brands should recognize that the customer’s loyalty depends on the full retail journey. The customer’s desire to return to the store is much greater when the experience is continually fresh, stimulating, interactive, authentic and meaningful.
Technology has brought shoppers together. They are now sharing product details, photos, reviews, sales, coupons, and tips with each other. It all gets exchanged through social media, blogs, and sites. Thanks to this wide digital community, customers now walk into stores with expectations and brand preconceptions. The power of retail has shifted to the customer.
88% of people consult online reviews before shopping at a business, and 90% say that their purchase decisions are influenced by reviews
Fortunately, retailers can embrace and leverage the customer’s voice to enhance brand awareness, understand shopper behaviors, build meaningful connections, increase traffic to stores, and gain loyalty.
What’s a picture worth?
A shopper in the dressing room is snapping pictures of some outfits she’s trying on, and instantly sharing these photos across her social networks. She’s not only getting feedback about which outfits look best on her, but she’s also exposing potential customers to an authentic account of the brand and its products. Everyone can now see what these outfits look like on a real person rather than on a rack or a carefully-selected professional model.
Urging customers to share photos of their retail experience creates the opportunity to tap into a considerably wide customer audience, as well as add value to the brand. When a customer shares personal images and videos of them interacting with a brand, they offer a unique, personal and compelling perspective that could increase store traffic and influence future purchases.
You talk. We listen.
According to a 2014 survey conducted by Brightlocal.com, 88% of people consult online reviews before shopping at a business, and 90% say that their purchase decisions are influenced by reviews. Customer reviews, therefore, can be a good way to entice shoppers and build trust.
Reviews also hold important customer data. Through reviews, retailers can gain insight into retail experience, right down to individual store issues. They also help retailers better understand customer thoughts, behaviors and patterns, allowing retailers to improve and evolve.
What’s more, encouraging and responding to customer reviews (good and bad) shows customers that a retailer values shoppers’ opinions and cares about the customer experience.
When all is said and done…
With the rapid growth of technology and the democratization of retail, customers now have high expectations. Retailers recognize this and are constantly attempting to grab shoppers’ attention and win customer loyalty.
Today’s shoppers are inundated with marketing messages, so one way to create a genuine connection is through customer-generated content like photos and reviews. Empowered shoppers will continue to contribute and shape brand perception without regard to retailers, so why not embrace this love for social sharing? Retailers that protest customer exchange and reject the democratization phenomenon will consequently fall behind, while those that leverage customer contributions will essentially strengthen the customer relationship and add credibility to the brand.
Is mobile the future of retail? Yes, but It’s also the norm right now. People seem glued to their smartphones 24/7. And everyone from the local credit union to the leading fashion brand is attempting to utilize mobile technology to communicate to its audience.
Mobile may have made it easy for brands to directly and personally speak with customers, however, its popularity has inundated shoppers with content and advertising. This means it’s becoming even more difficult for retailers stand out.
Some retail brands have found exciting ways to move beyond the noise. These retailers are currently using mobile technology to develop unique experiences, create digital and online brand consistency, make meaningful customer connections, and drive traffic to their brick-and-mortar stores. So who are they and how are they doing it?
Macy’s Sends a Signal
Macy’s has been leveraging beacon technology since 2013. Testing it in its New York and San Francisco markets, before rolling it out to its full line of stores the following year. When an opted-in customer walks into a Macy’s store, they receive product recommendations and discounts tailored just for them, straight to their phone.
Macy’s upped its beacon technology ante during the 2015 holiday season with the Macy’s Black Friday Walk In and Win game. Customers who downloaded the Macy’s app were eligible to win instant prizes as they shopped in store on Black Friday and throughout the weekend.
Beacon technology is one way Macy’s has been in the forefront of mobile strategy. Macy’s continues to bridge the gap between its channels, entice shoppers into its stores, and provide its customers with an enticing, unique and personalized experience.
Best Buy Scans for Opportunity
Customers already use their mobile devices to research product information and prices throughout their shopping journeys, so Best Buy made it even easier with scan technology on its app.
While browsing a Best Buy store, customers can use their phones to scan products to learn more information and create shopping wish lists. Couples can even create and keep track of a wedding registry. They can scan the products they want, like a GoPro, a faster laptop, or a new washer and dryer – it all gets added to the gift list.
Best Buy recognized a popular shopping behavior and quickly adopted it. With its mobile app, Best Buy makes the customer’s path to purchase easier, the shopping experience more fun and engaging, and its retail channels unified.
Starbucks Orders Out
Starbucks has always been a leader in innovation, turning coffee into an experience.
Today, the customer experience is even more important than ever. Digital technology has empowered customers, giving them unlimited access to information anytime, anywhere. This power has led to higher standards and expectations. Who wants to waste time waiting in line for an Iced Caramel Macchiato? The Starbucks app enables customers to order and pay for their favorite drink or food ahead of time, so it’s fresh and ready to go as soon as they step through the doors.
Starbucks embraced the democratization of retail and responded to the new, pickier always-connected customer’s expectations. Through its app, Starbucks gives customers exactly what they want immediately, makes digital transactions easy, and in turn, provides an even better customer experience.
Mobile has already changed the retail playing field by providing shoppers with instant access to information and shopping options. It is crucial that retailers embrace shoppers’ reliance on mobile technology, and develop a seamless brand experience between digital and brick-and-mortar channels.
Mobile’s role will only continue to grow and become even more competitive. While this is a huge challenge, especially for retailers going up against competitors who seem to be ahead of the game, it is also an extraordinary opportunity. In this constantly changing industry, there is always room to improve strategy and optimize retail experience. By embracing new technology as it launches, retailers can find innovative ways to create unique experiences, form meaningful connections and gain repeat purchases.
Starbucks is more than just a place to grab a latte before heading to the office, each individual Starbucks location has become a hub for people to gather, meet, congregate and relax.
Sephora makes high-end beauty products accessible. The products are available for customers to test, and its store employees are more than willing to demonstrate those products. Stores even host beauty classes and special events. Sephora has become a destination where people can get together, be creative, learn new looks, find new trends, and share unique experiences. Sephora has changed the beauty retail space into a fresh, interactive and educational environment.
Stores are no longer places that simply sell things, they are now social centers within the communities they inhabit.
In 2013, Club Monaco transformed its lower 5th avenue New York City store into an arts and education center. By expanding its offerings beyond chic and stylish fashion to books, flowers, and locally sourced coffee, it created a welcoming sensory experience that connects with the community and makes shoppers want to stay awhile.
These are just a few examples of how brick and mortar is changing. Stores are no longer places that simply sell things, they are now social centers within the communities they inhabit. With cities expanding, online retail options increasing, and more neighborhoods developing, people are driving less and looking to nearby stores for multiple purposes.
The rise of urbanization is forcing retailers to rethink the cookie cutter approach to merchandising. Large retail stores are getting stiff competition from small local shops, so they need to shift their focus. Big retailers must think small. Stores are now places to meet friends, gain local experiences, and find specialized inventory that caters to and reflects the community. People living within the community want retailers to contribute with authenticity and take on a sense of the local culture that surrounds them.
There are a few initial and necessary steps retailers must take in order to successfully achieve localization, deliver an accurate and superior customer experience, and ultimately make its stores community hubs. We will explore these steps in part 2 of this series.
People are driven by emotions. So, is it any wonder shoppers buy based on how they feel?
Think about the powerful emotional connections Apple and Nike have made. These brands go beyond selling the newest, most innovative products within their markets.
What drives people to wait in line for days for the new iPhone? Why do they pay a premium price for the latest pair of athletic shoes? These brands create memorable experiences, enrich their customers’ everyday lives, and in turn, continue to build loyal followings. Customers sense the creative passion of the late Steve Jobs, and they feel empowered every time they head to the gym.
More brands are recognizing the need for this emotional connection. Intel’s newest video campaign shifts the focus away from its actual products, and instead, emphasizes the “amazing human experiences” its products make possible. Helping X-Games athletes go bigger and higher, blending gorgeous visual design with dance, or working with NASA to power the Space Shuttle, Intel’s experiences leave people feeling inspired and in awe.
A retailer must take into account the unique characteristics of each of its stores
For a retailer with multiple stores, it’s not necessarily about producing a larger-than-life campaign that speaks to customers’ feelings. The personal connection must reach customers at the individual brick-and-mortar store level. If a customer’s in-store experience is bad, that exciting brand campaign becomes worthless.
Store employee knowledge, easy store navigation, merchandise availability, checkout wait time, and a personal understanding of the customer base are some of the top factors that contribute to how shoppers feel about their shopping and brand experience. Therefore, to pursue and strengthen the connection with customers, it is critical that retailers focus on store optimization.
A retailer must take into account the unique characteristics of each of its stores, from aisle spacing to the surrounding local culture. Understanding and catering to individual store attributes will help a retailer deliver the most relevant, personalized and authentic experience possible. It will also simplify the process for store employees. Knowing the specific details of each store means accurate production quantities and sizes, allowing store teams to set up with efficiency and ease. Store employees then have more time on the floor to interact with customers. Lastly, it means compliance. When stores are set up accurately, performance is easy to track and measure. Retailers can react in real time when something isn’t working. Responding to customers’ needs quickly leads to higher customer satisfaction and repeat purchases.
Now is the time for retailers to evaluate their connection with their customers. How do customers feel about their store experience? Are they engaged? Are they satisfied? If the answer is yes, they will gladly return. Otherwise, their next shopping trip may be through a competitor’s doors.
After walking around a store, the last thing customers want to do is spend an extended amount of time waiting in line to check out. Once the perusing is done, people want to pay for their goods and be out of the door quickly. According to a study commissioned by Digimarc Corporation, 88 percent of U.S. adults want checkout experiences to be faster, and 50 percent named slow checkout speeds and long lines as their top complaints.
When customers face backed up lines and long wait times, they can grow frustrated with the business and could potentially leave without making the purchase. This is significant because it can result in losing a sale in that instance, and it could prevent the customer from returning. Even when consumers shop online they can bail on items in their shopping cart before actually making the purchase.
If you deal with consumers in-store, you should be researching strategies that can help decrease wait times and can simplify the process overall.
Retailers can focus on providing simple and quick checkout options that can reduce wait times at brick and mortar locations and can make paying for goods online easier. When a consumer makes an effort to purchase from your business, you want to do whatever it takes to close the sale. The following tips can help you streamline the checkout process at your business:
1. Utilize Innovative Point of Sale Options
The most important part of processing a transaction is the actual point of sale device. Choosing a point of sale option that is easy for customers to use and can process a transaction quickly can help you and your staff get customers in and out of checkout lines. Additionally, you want to make sure it is something your cashiers can use efficiently, even when the store is hectic.
Retailers also could be more creative with point of sale options throughout a store. They could use mobile swiping devices to divide long lines into smaller groups. This means, instead of checking out customers at only one stationary point of sale, mobile swiping devices would allow retailers to process mobile payments throughout the store with shorter lines.
Retailers like Victoria’s Secret already are utilizing mobile swiping devices to decrease checkout time for customers. Now, if more than five or six people or waiting to check out at a register, another employee can divert one or two of those people to a different area of the store, process their order and even print a receipt.
This can help alleviate long lines, but it also creates a more personal and intimate sale atmosphere. According to the same Digimarc Corporation-sponsored study, 61 percent of people surveyed said clerks focus most on scanning items and less on finding out if they’re satisfied. This is another way to alleviate that issue and make customers feel more appreciated.
2. Accept New Forms of Payments
When choosing a point of sale device, you want to be sure it can accept credit cards as well as new forms of payment. Payment technology is constantly changing, and you should use that to your advantage. Accepting new forms of payment like NFC or mobile pay can help you appeal to more consumers, and it also can save time at the register.
NFC, or near-field communication, allows two devices placed within a few centimeters of each other to exchange data. In order for this to work, both devices must be equipped with an NFC chip. If customers want to use NFC payment options, you should be able to accept them. This process is quick, secure and simple. Big box retailers throughout the country already are accepting these forms of payment, which can help to grow their following.
If your business has an online store, you should be sure to accept multiple forms of payment there as well. Customers want more options than traditional credit card purchases now, especially with data hacks appearing in the news more frequently. Customers want to use options like Google Wallet and PayPal to make purchases. The more options your business can offer, the more likely you will be to appeal to shoppers.
88 percent of U.S. adults want checkout experiences to be faster, and 50 percent named slow checkout speeds and long lines as their top complaints.
3. Create a Simplified Online Checkout Process
If your retail business handles sales online, you want to be sure you do everything you can to get customers through the checkout process without leaving items in their “shopping cart.” You don’t want to lose a sale because your website was outdated or because the process took too long. You should simplify your online checkout process to help customers complete the purchase quickly.
One common issue with online order forms is placing the information on various pages. With each click, customers have more time to debate the purchase and more time to back out. Additionally, if the form requires clicking on multiple pages to enter their information, this means more possibility for errors. All around, multiple-page order forms can be a hassle.
People also want to know upfront the costs associated with their order. Let customers know the shipping, handling and fees that will be added to the order immediately. Then, they will feel as though they know what they are expected to pay and could be more likely to proceed with the order. If a retailer tries to slip in other costs at the end of the purchase, the shopper could be quick to abandon the account.
Creating an easy online ordering process also means allowing a guest checkout. Businesses often requires customers to register for a new account when placing an order. This could deter customers, especially because if they place an order there will be more forms to complete almost immediately after registering. Providing a guest checkout lets people choose the items they want, place the order and finish the process relatively quickly.
Many of these tips seem like no brainers, but implementing them could prove to be challenging. If you deal with consumers in-store, you should be researching strategies that can help decrease wait times and can simplify the process overall. For online retailers, you should make sure your website page order forms are de-cluttered and easy-to-read. No matter how you deal with customers, your retail business should be actively looking for ways to streamline the checkout process and keep up-to-date with the latest technology.
With more shopping options and a constant flow of information, the power of retail is now in customers’ hands. Shopping is no longer about buying things. People can acquire merchandise anywhere, anytime. Instead, shoppers are looking for unique experiences they can share with their friends.
The recent blog post, Democratization of Retail: This Shift Just Got Real, examines how retailers are exploring new, exciting ways to engage customers. From virtual rock climbing adventures to can’t-miss Snapchat fashion shows, these disruptive experiences are attracting customers through retailers’ brick-and-mortar doors. And it is just the beginning.
If retailers don’t want to lose sales to their competitors, they must embrace the new expectations of shoppers. But how can retailers think about reinventing the shopping experience, if they can’t track or measure their current execution? When a retailer is dealing with execution errors, brand inconsistencies, and non-compliance issues in stores, it’s impossible to focus on creating fresh experiences for its customers.
In 2016, retailers’ top focus should be optimizing store execution and performance.
With one application, Merchandising Cloud, retailers can reduce errors, open communication between store teams and corporate, and deliver a localized experience throughout all stores.
Merchandising Cloud maintains an accurate digital model of every store, including unique attributes like locality, layout, and fixtures. It enables execution of merchandising plans for all locations and ensures that each store receives accurate production quantities. Employees know where each campaign element goes and that it will correctly fit.
It also provides a single digital platform that everyone uses to connect. Two-way, real-time communication ensures that headquarters can provide accurate instructions to stores, and store teams can easily report back on compliance or difficulties.
Execution, compliance, and overall store sales performance can be executed and measured with new levels of precision. The data collected can then be used to help retailers in creating future campaigns.
In 2016, retailers’ top focus should be optimizing store execution and performance. By adopting new technology, like Merchandising Cloud, retailers can easily fix execution problems and measure the results. Once retailers ensure that every store is on brand, on message, localized, and measurable they can unfold opportunities for future growth and take on a competitive advantage. They can focus on creating a superior and memorable retail experience that inspires customers, connects them to the brand, drives them to purchase, and gives them something to talk about with other potential customers.