We all have heard of the demise of retail, seen great flagships shuttered like Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, and the demise of iconic brands like Toys R Us. Much has been written about this apocalyptic state of retail as we know it but if we were to take a more optimistic outlook, isn’t there an opportunity in this scorching of traditional retail for something new to rise from these proverbial ashes?
There are many hypotheses on what the strategy of what will become of traditional retail. One such is to no longer think of brick and mortar retail in traditional terms as we have known it to be. Retail in the future is going to foundationally redefine itself, not redecorate, not re-merchandise, or reimagine itself as something that it isn’t. What it needs is to become something new and something we call amazing retail.
What is amazing retail? We live in a hyperconnected world with our friends, our devices, our news and information, and our brands. This is only going to continue to grow with AI and AG. Amazing retail will leverage this across people, places, and products associated with retail today. These three elements are not necessarily unique or even new but how we imagine them in the future will be vital. Which brings us to the next question, just how does all of this need to evolve?
- The people in retail need new roles, new tools, and new reasons for being. Retail will need “a people innovation”. Today’s customers are very well educated and when they interact with a brand’s frontline representatives they often know more about the brand as well as all aspects of the products/services, policies, and promotions than the “experts” that are representing the brand.
- In amazing retail these brand representatives will need to be more than “employees or sales associates”, they will need to be ambassadors, entertainers, or even spiritual guides throughout the retail experience. They will need to be given new training focused around storytelling, empathy, with an emphasis on engagement.
- They will need tools. Technology has been so focused on the customer and not on the service providers. The ability to leverage technology to empower these key individuals to activate an experience with more knowledge, authority, and most importantly the capability to know, believe, and effectively portray the brand story and experience is critical. While always an individual, they will need to be an essential character of the brand they represent.
- Finally, the processes around how and why they engage with customers’ needs to be innovated and crafted. Think about the rituals they will need, the levers they need to access and a clear understanding of the desired outcome. A process around building relationships will supplant the immediacy of the one-time transaction. In the future, the reason for being will need to be forefront as well as a clear definition of the role/character they are to play. We will need to reevaluate how we measure the successes of our people and their contributions.
- In the past brick & mortar retail provided total access to the goods and services, we needed or desired. Today the internet has stricken much of what traditional retail had supplied. Therefore, in the future, these destinations need to be “more than a store”. Simply adding a café, or hosting sessions isn’t necessarily enough. The experiences must be relevant and meaningful for your relationship to the products/services and the brand.
- We still contend that “Shopping” is a unique and social behavior. It fosters social interaction, promotes discovery, and is still a place to see, touch, and smell firsthand. This behavioral and sensorial aspect needs to be capitalized on. Brands need to craft an experience that understands, deliver and delight on the immediate needs of the customers.
- Retail formats and strategies need to change and be interconnected into a physical network combined with the digital platform. The consistency of experience needs to remain. However, the formats need to be flexible and integrated more into the fabric of the community. Temporal retail, seasonal retail, and localized retail are just a few of the types of formats that are evolving.
- Inside brands will need to bring their story to life, make the products/services real and relevant as well as create reasons to return. Amazing retail will be more than an extension of the digital platform but rather, an enhancement and extension of the brand. People gravitate to things that trigger emotional responses and retail needs to be the stage for this. Programming will replace merchandising and retail locations will need to become brand destinations.
- Product/services are rarely discussed in the context of the future of retail but if we think about amazing retail, the product is an essential ingredient. Consumers, more today than ever, associate their own identity with the products/services they buy or prefer to associate with. This will not be the case in the future. Product/service offering will give way to a suite, curation, or ecosystems of products. These collections will be reflective of the brand experience and story that is being told. They will act as the tools/props of the experience. There is a quote attributed to Joe Boxer that says: “Retail is like an amusement park and the product is the souvenir”. This quote effectively reflects the interconnected relationship between amazing retail experience and product as brands reimagine their experience in the future.
Customers make their purchases sometimes based on need and sometimes based on desire but who they purchase from is based on the unique identity of the brand. You may prefer Apple, drive a BMW, love the NY Giants but there are infinite combinations of brand blends that allow each of us to define and exert our own identity. Brands need to be cognizant of this. What is important in amazing retail is that your story is strong, your experience clear, and your relationship with your varied audience is meaningful. With that said, the elements of amazing retail in the future will need people innovation, an immersive place, and product curations. We contend that while delivering on all three is important, it would seem to be daunting at first. Leading with one of these elements and then having it supported by the others is a means to create differentiated and relevant experiences. Taking a step back and thinking of the customer who isn’t just engaged with your brand alone shows just how true this is.