Retail Experience Democratization

Democratization of Retail: This Shift Just Got Real

With immediate access to information through technology and the growth of competitive options, shoppers are more empowered than ever. Retail is going through a democratizing shift, giving customers a say when it comes to retail experience.

They have two particular expectations: brand accessibility and unique, entertaining experiences.

Smart retailers are already embracing the democratization phenomenon and effectively transforming their brand perceptions by providing customers with unique, sensory experiences that reach beyond the typical display of merchandise. These retailers are giving customers the opportunity to immerse themselves in their products, while making deeper connections with their brands in both brick and mortar stores and digital channels.

Here are two great examples:

Experience the Great Outdoors – in Stores

Last year, the outdoor apparel company, The North Face, used virtual reality to transport shoppers into beautiful remote landscapes. It sent shoppers in its U.S. flagship stores on virtual expeditions of trekking and rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, California and Moab Park, Utah.

Democratization of Retail Experience

In its South Korean stores, customers experienced the thrill of dog sled racing in the South Pole while trying on the newest apparel.

From the comfort of its brick-and-mortar locations, The North Face gave shoppers. who would have never explored these epic activities otherwise, an adventure of a lifetime.

It also built up excitement and allowed outdoor enthusiasts the chance to wear and test its latest gear in virtual environments before actually heading into the great outdoors.

As a result, The North Face presented customers with a unique, entertaining and memorable in-store experience they couldn’t get anywhere else, setting the retailer apart from its competitors.

Most importantly, customers experienced these incredible journeys, whether they were outdoorsy or not. The North Face successfully made its outdoor brand accessible to everyone.

Smart retailers are already embracing the democratization phenomenon and effectively transforming their brand perceptions

Now You See It, Tomorrow They Won’t

Also in 2015, the iconic British fashion brand, Burberry gave its customers a chance to preview its new spring 2016 line a day before it hit the runway. It made the collection available to its followers on Snapchat, the video and photo messaging app that allows users to broadcast content for up to 24 hours.

Burberry later followed up with another Snapchat experience, revealing its new advertising campaign as it was being photographed in real time. Burberry provided shoppers with two innovative social experiences, making the luxury brand accessible.

By choosing Snapchat, Burberry created a youthful energy, leveraged a “don’t miss” sense of urgency, and responded to the need for immediate gratification. It additionally built excitement around shopping in its stores, where Snapchat users could try on the items they “saw first” in real life.

There has been a shift in retail power to today’s smart shopper. As technology evolves, so will shoppers’ expectations. It is important for retailers to pay attention and adapt to the constantly changing trends that keep customers interested and excited about brands.

Currently, customers care more about experiences they can talk about than they do about accumulating merchandise. Consistently providing customers with accessible, personalized, and unique experiences in all retail channels, physical stores as well as digital environments, is what sets retailers apart from their competitors, builds brand loyalty, and influences repeat purchases.

Where Millennials shop, 2016 trends

Where the Millennials Shop

The Millennial generation is empowered, savvy and digitally stimulated. Millennials are always connected and use their mobile devices to their shopping advantage, yet most Millennials still prefer to visit a physical store. According to a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield “75% of Millennial purchases are made at brick-and-mortar stores.”


For Millennials, shopping is an experience rather than a way to acquire things. They prefer to see, touch, and interact with the merchandise and the brand; something they can’t get online.

Although this is a huge opportunity for brick and mortar, it’s also a frustrating challenge. Since Millennials have easy and immediate access to a wealth of information, they are selective and demanding. Therefore, how a store makes Millennials feel is crucial to their customer satisfaction.

In order to entice, and more importantly, retain Millennials as customers, retailers must understand, embrace and respond to the four top behaviors of Millennial shoppers:

Millennials are connected 24/7.

They leave their phones on, even while they sleep. Millennials have constant access to a wealth of information about brands, products, trends, and sales. This puts pressure on retailers to keep up, adapt, and move ahead of their competition.

Millennial Shoppers, Mobile and Brick and Mortar
Millennials may be connected by mobile, but they look for individualization in the physical store.

They want a unique, memorable experience.

Millennials expect a compelling, personalized in-store experience every time. Retailers get one chance to get it right. If Millennials aren’t engaged when they enter the store, they walk out without purchasing and head straight through a competitor’s doors.

Millennials share everything.

How a piece of clothing looks, how much a product costs, a display that makes them laugh, or how they were treated by an employee – it all gets shared to their huge social networks. Whether it’s a good or bad experience, Millennials let their peers know. The message is clear, and it can influence others’ opinions and make or break a retailer’s reputation.

They want shopping to be seamless.

They want the products, information and prices in store to match what they found online, and they expect digital transactions to be easy. This means all retail channels should be unified, and stores must be able to scan coupons and accept payments on consumers’ smartphones without hassle or hesitation.

In summary, retailers need to evolve to please smart Millennial shoppers. By accepting change and adopting new technologies, retailers can consolidate merchandising information and open up communication between stores and corporate headquarters, allowing for consistency between all channels. Retailers can also look at each store’s attributes, customize their stores to Millennial shoppers’ preferences, and track execution and performance results to figure out what is or isn’t working. As a result, retailers can design an authentic, exciting, on-brand experience that keep Millennials interested, engaged and ultimately coming back.

Merchandising Execution White Paper

4 Challenges That Contribute to Inaccurate Merchandising Execution

In the rapidly changing retail industry, one thing remains the same, the brick-and-mortar store is still at the forefront of retail experience.

Stores are powerful, profitable and able to provide a personal, meaningful connection with customers. Retail professionals recognize the importance of merchandising execution and the role it plays in providing the shopper with a superior retail experience – yet at the store level, it is inaccurate, inconsistent and immeasurable.

Why does precise merchandising execution seem impossible for retailers?

1. The Manual Process

Retailers depend on a slow, manual process that requires employees to input vast amounts of information into Excel spreadsheets and add numerous pages of complicated directions into large wasteful binders. This process leads to costly human errors and confusing, outdated information that make retail execution a nightmare.

merchandising execution challenges
Binders, spreadsheets and scribbled notes are commonplace in today’s merchandising execution practices

2. Scattered Data

Retailers store data in multiple places. When the information needed to execute the proper retail experience exists across multiple systems, it causes time-consuming discrepancies that can’t be monitored. Store employees are left to deal with the inconsistencies, causing them to spend little to no face time with customers.

3. Departmental Silos

Different departments exist and operate in silos that prevent real-time, open communication and collaboration between stores and headquarters. This siloed approach puts the burden on the store manager and associates to rectify any discrepancies in the plan at the store. They, in turn, don’t get the chance to provide feedback or disclose issues, and headquarters remains unclear about what is working, and what isn’t.

4. A General Approach

Retailers do not take the unique attributes of each location into account when developing merchandising plans. Instead, they are clustering stores into large, general buckets by size or region. When a planogram fails to account for a store’s distinctive traits like space allocation, local culture or customer demographics, store employees are forced to make judgment calls. As a result, materials are wasted, stores are not executed as planned, and retail experience becomes difficult to measure.

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome by deploying a single digital application like Merchandising Cloud that plans, communicates, executes, and measures merchandising execution. As a result, retailers improve their ability to execute plans effectively and optimize individual store performance.

To learn more, download RBM Technologies’ white paper: Transforming Retail Experience with Merchandising Cloud.

why ecommerce needs a brick and mortar presence

Why e-commerce needs brick-and-mortar presences

Money, that’s why. E-commerce sites that have a brick-and-mortar presence can make more of it overall.

In a post last spring on their Knowledge blog, Peter Fader, a Wharton marketing professor and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative explained; “Any company that doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar presence, or at least have it in the planning stages, is making a big mistake,” he says. “It’s vitally important for retailers to be everywhere a customer wants them to be. The key to success for almost any retailer is to have a big base.”

brick and mortar as a competitive advantage

What’s more, many retail categories beg for customers to touch, feel and experience their product before they purchase it. Think of that super soft sweater you had to have after feeling it on the rack or being able to ride that mountain bike through a mini course in the store.

The brick-and-mortar experience is the most immersive and powerful customer touchpoint brands have. It is more than a place to acquire merchandise — it is a place that enriches customers lives. And the power of the retail experience means that it can have an outsized impact on consumer’s perception of your brand and your service.

The financial value of brick-and-mortar in an omni-channel world is underestimated. Brick-and-mortar is still where the vast majority of transactions happen, (to the tune of 90%) and store transactions are generally significantly more profitable than those performed online.

What does this all mean?

Customers are everywhere. They are online, they are in your store, they are online while they are in your store. They post, snap, tweet, ‘gram, like, swipe right. The key for retailers is to be present where their customers are. There is no perfect mix of the above, it is unique for each retailer and the onus is on them to figure out what is right for their brand.

7 steps to a superior customer experience

7 Steps to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience

Retail customer experience can be the number one driver of revenue and improved store performance for a brand, unfortunately current practices miss the mark and are extremely imprecise, unresponsive, reactionary, and difficult to execute. For many retailers, improving the customer experience can be more of a liability than a benefit.

One of the main drivers causing retailers to fall short on delivering a superior customer experience is that they take a macro-level view of their stores rather than focusing on improving the experience for each individual store.

Research from McKinsey & Company suggests that “improving a customer experience from merely average to something that wows the consumer can lead to a 30 to 50 percent increase in measures such as likelihood to renew or to buy another product.”

They go as far as to outline seven areas retailers should focus on to improve the customer experience, they are:

  1. Spend time with customers rather than just measure them.
  2. Design the total customer experience, not just the user interface.
  3. Completely rethink the customer experience, not just address the issues.
  4. Working around regulations? Rewrite the rules instead.
  5. Become an agile organization.
  6. Constantly iterate.
  7. Work collaboratively and spontaneously.

Retailers are working hard to improve the customer experience across all channels. Those that think about improving the overall experience at each individual store while employing technology that allows them to make it repeatable and affordable will be the winners.

Tommy Hilfiger Introduces Virtual Reality Headset - Customer Experience

Tommy Hilfiger Brings the Catwalk to the Store Thanks to VR

Retailers talk about going from runway to store and many have done so to great success.

Tommy Hilfiger has a new take on this approach by bringing the actual runway show to the brick-and-mortar store experience. Through the use of Samsung’s GearVR headset, customers can experience the retailer’s Fall 2015 lineup in a way they could never have before, in virtual reality.

Not only does this experience allow you to transport yourself to a fashion show in Italy without leaving the store, you can move around the show in ways you would never be able to do in the real world. For instance, you can get up from your “seat” and walk right down the center of the runway next to the model wearing the design you wanted to get a closer look at – something that would get you immediately thrown out of the show in real life.

Samsung GearVR Headset
Samsung GearVR Headset

One of the major problems with fashion shows is that designers typically present their lineup 6-8 months prior to the season, meaning there is a huge initial wave of excitement and interest followed by over half a year of waiting until the merchandise hits the store.

According to a recent article on Forbes:

“The smartest thing about this initiative however, is the fact it’s in-season. By that I mean that it’s taking a catwalk event that occurred more than eight months earlier, and making it relevant to today. The garments next to the setup are indeed the very same ones you can see in the 360 video, meaning they’re instantly shoppable.”

It is too early to say if this technology will takeoff and become widely adopted but in a way that is not the concern for Tommy Hilfiger. What they have done is create a unique customer experience, complete with a “wow!” factor that brings the customer a little bit closer to the brand.

Nike store, retail localization, visual merchandising

Nike Says “Roll Tide,” But Only In Tuscaloosa

Nike recently announced plans to grow from $30 billion today to $50 billion by the year 2020. While it is more than likely Nike will reach that goal given their very aggressive growth plans, one feature of this new directive is of particular interest – localizing store experiences.

Their store near the University of Alabama has “Roll, Tide, Roll” in large letters across the top of a large wall, a key focal point in the store and a motto by which all Alabama football fans live by. Another store in Los Angeles displays banners from every highschool within a radius of a few miles.

Nike store, retail localization, retail customer experience

The goal is to not only provide merchandise that fits the demographics and geography of each location, but to tap into the local nostalgia and culture to instill a sense in the shopper that this store was created just for them.

According to a recent Washington Post article:

“Retailers have been working for years to figure the best way to leverage one of their most important assets — their brick-and-mortar stores — in the digital era. Many stores have a cookie-cutter design and sell the same merchandise across the country. But a growing number of retailers are now experimenting with what’s known in the industry as localization, or giving the outpost some of the originality and charm of a homegrown shop. Chains hope it will help them ring up greater sales and attract new shoppers — particularly millennials.”

Cloud-based visual merchandising applications are making it easier than ever for retailers to create localized assortments for each location and Nike is certainly not the only one looking to technology to help them provide a superior customer experience. In fact, many retailers from consumer electronics and foot/athletic wear to telecommunications and big box retailers are looking to new technologies to help them better understand their customers for that ever-increasingly valuable share of wallet.


Target Invests A Billion Dollars To Improve Customer Experience

A billion dollars, that’s billion with a “B”.

That’s how much Target is investing in technology to improve their omni-channel experience and personalize the in-store shopping experience. While that is a large investment, Target is well positioned to take on the challenge, and risks, associated with it.

Target Checkout Lane Customer Experience

At the heart of this initiative is a drive to improve the customer experience. Taking a page from high end department stores, Target plans to offer concierge services for their health and beauty products and Digital Service Ambassadors to assist with using their slate of digital and mobile technologies.

The goal, provide shoppers with a deeper level of interaction with the store through personalized interactions at every step of the omni-channel purchase cycle.

What gives hope that Target will succeed is that they are not investing in technology for the sake of investing in technology. Rather, they view it as a means to better connect with each shopper to meet their unique needs and buying habits, no matter where they shop.

According to a recent article on Innovative Retail Technologies, Target CEO Brian Cornell says Target executives “absolutely believe that physical stores will be a huge driver of our future success.”

Only time will tell if Target’s investment will pay off in greater conversions, but keeping their eye to the customer experience ensures they are heading in the right direction.


Retail Winners Put Employees at the Center of Customer Experience

As retailers continue to evolve and cater to the ever-finicky tastes and attention spans of today’s shopper, many are looking beyond the technology employed to improve the customer experience and instead focus their attention on those who are using it – the store employee.

Retailers that empower and educate their employees are poised to offer a significantly different experience for the shopper than they can find anywhere else, both online and in-store.

This directive is seen as the key differentiator in a recent RSR benchmark report entitled Empowering the Store Employee. The report finds that 76% of respondents believe that trained and loyal in-store employees are key to their long-term strategy, ranking higher than any other factor.

Empowering the store employee: figure 1

But when it comes to arming those employees with the technology they need to foster an effective customer experience, from executing merchandising campaigns on time and on plan to locating items in inventory for the customer, the existing infrastructure is preventing them from moving forward.

RSR’s report finds that this is the top technological inhibitor to allow retailers to execute their customer experience vision.

Empowering Employees Figure 2

The report goes on to note that one way to overcome the technology gap while continuing to empower the store employee is to bite off smaller projects and execute them well, using the positive ROI and systems put in place to build to larger projects.

Retail Proximity Solutions

Proximity Solutions and the Future of Customer Experience

iBeacons, geo-fencing, micro-location.

You may have heard of some or even all of these technologies, but it’s an even greater chance you have come into contact with one of them and not even know it.

Proximity solutions enable retailers to identify customers within a small radius and tailor content and promotions to that customer, all in an effort to create a more personalized customer experience.

Proximity Solutions, iBeacons

According to a recent article in RIS News, upwards of 15% of retailers employ proximity solutions as part of their customer experience practice. While that number is sure to grow over the next few years, it is in our best interest to look ahead to a time where proximity solutions are ubiquitous and a common practice among all retailers – what do we do then?

Like many technologies that aggregate mass amounts of data, the trick is to then be able to mine that data to inform your next steps. This rings true for the future of proximity solutions.

According to RIS News:

“While the present applications of these solutions are geared toward immediate sales, the future is in data analytics. The qualitative data to be collected from millions of customer/store interactions and experiences on the ground could motivate major innovations in retailer design, promotions, marketing, and inventory.”

Retailers want to deliver a personalized customer experience to each consumer every time. But the focus of that effort is the immediate sale. Savvy retailers will begin to think beyond the immediate sale and look to utilizing data gathered from proximity solutions to map the customer experience throughout their entire relationship with the brand.

For more information on proximity solutions and background on beacon technology, check out this article on TechCrunch.