Digital is increasingly becoming the common battleground for retailers. Bricks and mortar stores play their part, but it’s only when they employ efficient digital strategies that they can truly compete.
So, aside from having taken the necessary steps to join the digital retail race, what more can physical stores do to ensure they can survive and thrive in an unforgiving retail environment?
Bridge the Gap
Using technology to manage customers across various channels, enabling them to switch seamlessly between online and offline mediums, is one method being used to address this.
Think about a customer who purchases a Prada bag online. The profile they generate by making that purchase can be tracked in the future to help understand their shopping habits.
But what about the customer who walks into a Prada store and makes an off-the-shelf purchase? How can you decipher whether they are an existing customer that also shops online? How can you further engage with them, personalise their experience and make tailored recommendations to them during this visit and in the future?
Beauty retailer Sephora is one company that’s leading the charge in bridging this gap. By employing beacon technology, its app can recognise when a user is in one of its stores, enabling it to offer an extra personalised experience with the likes of an in-store map, daily promotions, and access to the customer’s online wishlist. It makes for a much more cohesive online-to-in-store experience.
While many retailers have already employed this technology, it’s not without its challenges. Given that it relies on Bluetooth technology, it means the user must have their Bluetooth activated, with location sharing enabled – not something every consumer will be comfortable with. Nonetheless, this kind of technology that makes the switch from online to offline appear seamless is a step in the right direction.
Prioritising inspiration and experience over speed and convenience is another strategy being employed by stores in helping them connect with younger customers and compete with the ‘Amazons’ of this world.
In this regard, traditional stores can learn a lot from digital natives – those retailers that started online, but which opened physical outlets. Eyewear retailer Warby Parker is one brand embracing all things ‘experiential’ at its stores. For example, its recently launched VirtualTry-On service uses face-mapping technology by Apple to recommend frames that will best suit a customer’s face.
The company’s novelty factor doesn’t end there. The fit-out of its new store in Vancouver is designed to resemble a library. As co-founder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa told the Vancouver Sun: “We’ve always thought that shopping for eyewear should feel a little like browsing at a library – leisurely, filled with pleasant surprises, and better with friends alongside.”
Warby Parker’s strong move into physical and experiential retail is clearly working, as the company is fast approaching the opening of its 100th store. It’s making informed decisions too – by using data from its existing online customer base, it can determine the best locations to set up shop.
The market of one concept, whereby consumers are made feel as though the brand is marketing specifically to them, is one that helps build brand affinity – either online or in-store. It’s about getting to know your customer and offering them a deeply personalised service. This approach enables a physical retailer to engage with shoppers on an emotional level, something that online retailers often struggle to compete with.
Take Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo as an example. It uses state-of-the-art technology to help shoppers decide what to buy based on their response to a range of short videos. After being fitted with a neuro-headset and shown a series of video stimuli, customers have their neurological responses analysed in real-time by a custom-built algorithm that helps identify their current mood and make product recommendations.
The above methods are just some of the innovative ways being adopted by physical retailers to help them better understand their customers and provide them with a more informed and enhanced customer experience – one that is seamless, frictionless, purposeful and powerful.
The traditional retailer is by no means dead. But many of the unimaginative brands that fail to redefine the store experience – in ways that the likes of Sephora, Warby Parker and Uniqlo are – will be left behind and, ultimately, forced to shut shop.
Brian Hannon is Chief Commercial Officer for Voxpro – powered by TELUS International. Brian is responsible for growing Voxpro’s business around the world and developing the services, solutions and teams that address the challenges faced by its partners. Brian has extensive experience in growing in evolving markets working in healthcare, finance and with global tech start-ups. He holds a dual MBA from London Business School and Columbia University, NYC, where he specialised in Global Business and Entrepreneurship.
The above article first appeared on Retail TouchPoints in April 2019