Five disruptive tips that will revolutionise retail for marketers

From ecommerce to beacons, retailers are faced with a myriad of channels following the collision of virtual and physical media. Here are The Drum’s five SXSW takeaways every retail marketer should be mindful of to ensure they differentiate around the customer and not the technology in the omnichannel fallout.

Retailers need to learn the art of the curator

More and more retailers are going to have to learn the art of the curator in order to liberate physical retail in response to fast-changing shopping habits. “Over the next 10 years there’s going to be more change in retail than in the last 50,” David Roth, chief executive of WPP’s shopper marketing arm The Store, told delegates at the “10 innovations that will revolutionise retail” SxSW panel.

Of the ten listed, on-demand merchandise and smart vending were the most pertinent to curating the in-store experience. The idea of local stores stocking items and services that cater to the needs of their best customers is pushing convenience retailer 7-11 to streamline its own in-store experience. Most 7-11 customers spend two and half minutes actually inside the store per visit, giving it a short window to boost loyalty around a typically low-interest activity.

To evolve stores in line with customers’ ever-changing habits, 7-11 is using shopper data to inform the types of products it stocks on a local level as well as services such as “Key Me”, which lets customers create a key at any time of the day.

“When you have two and a half minutes, the convenience store is not going to change unless you recognise that it’s before the store and after that experience that you have the most opportunity to shape the way people interact with us,” said Laura Gordon, vice president of marketing and brand communications at convenience chain 7-1 1 said earlier in the week (13 March).

“We’re not just thinking about the new occasions, we’re also thinking about how we can make what you want from us locally and more relevant.”

Bricks and mortar stores aren’t dead. They just need to give people what they want. A consumer has to feel special in order to become a loyal customer.

Shop anywhere, serve anywhere

Will the future of retail include holostores and drones? WPP’s David Roth thought so during a panel which listed holostores and augmented reality as the number one innovations for retail marketers. With competition from online retailers forcing bricks and mortar stores to cut back dramatically on physical space, brands could use the technology to let customers conjure up products at home.

Roth also raised the prospect of a future where household goods are delivered to homes and collection points by drones. From monitoring stock levels to delivering goods, drones could be used to ease the transportation of goods while simultaneously making the shopping experience a lot easier.

3D projections will play a bigger role in the shopping experience, predicted Roth, allowing shoppers to ask questions about products in an experience that blends information and features of both the online and offline channels.

Vibrant data

A cloud of data swirls around every person. Taking that data and making sense of it is the future of retail. Roth raised the issue during the panel, which listed “vibrant data” as one of the top innovations set to rock the retail space.

Tech tagging of clothes will soon mean a person can buy an outfit they’ve just seen someone in or that a football fan wearing a team jersey could be notified if someone else is wearing the same shirt close by. The flow of data from mediums such as NFC and wearables will give retail marketers an unprecedented view of people that will need to be carefully synched up to marketing strategies to avoid information overload.

Adidas has to overcome this obstacle before it can fully launch its plan to create over one billion consumer touchpoints by building NFC into its products. Plans are very much in the embryonic stages with the business expanding its data team to ensure it has the capability to handle the vast amounts of data it wants.

Speaking on SXSW panel earlier in the week, Jon Warner, innovation specialist at Adidas, said it didn’t want to collect data for the “sake of it” and needed the additional insights to work out who is buying its products in-stores.

For retailers chasing bigger spending customers and elusive loyalty, the challenge isn’t gather shopper data but analysing it.

Sentimental stores

The physical retail space will be redefined in the near future to become more experiential and communal. The arrival of the so-called “sentimental store” is driven by AI and the fact that the technology is widely accessible now, allowing retailers to curate the in-store experience around their customers in real-time. Smart vending, intelligent shelves and on-demand merchandise are all innovations that WPP’s David Roth predicted would usher in this personalised in-store experience.

Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff suggested a future where the changing room remembers everything a person has tried so that they can find it again easily. The “fitting room” is an untapped sales opportunity, claimed Emily Culp, senior vice president of ecommerce, marketing and retail at Rebecca Minkoff. Speaking at SXSW, Culp went on to reveal that the business was exploring ways to understand the rate and reason behind “fitting room abandonment”. In an omnichannel world, retailers can become too focused on the macro at the expense of sharpening the personalised approach, she added.

“You never want to use technology for the sake of technology. We want to create more intuitive experiences.”

David Newman, director of retailer Target’s innovation lab, said it was working to shift its retail strategy to real-time so that it markets to shoppers across channels. The business wants supporters, not just customers, and is matching customer data with Pinterest data to unearth trends so that its stores accordingly.

"The notion that online has more data is a myth," claimed Ebay’s head of retail innovation Healey Cypher. “The store actually has way better data,” he added. "The online retailer is spreading to the physical space in a bid to offer customers a more convenient experience and become more than just a marketplace.

“Every single piece of technology is just a touchpoint on the path to purchase. Stores aren’t going away but they are changing,” added Cypher.

Reimagining the store as a fulfilment centre and a place of connected experiences

The problem with retail is that it hasn’t changed in time with customers. Ebay. Target, Levi's and Rebecca Minkoff all lamented the discord between their shopping experiences and shoppers at SXSW but revealed separate plans to manage the in-store session as they would an online session. For Levi’s, creating communities will be imperative to the value given to bricks and mortar outlets by people who want an experience that works across all retail locations.

Marc Rosen, vice president of ecommerce at Levi's, said it’s about fit, style and distribution. “Show customers where [products] are and make it easy to get. By focusing future retail efforts on celebrating its community, the clothing chain believes customers will naturally celebrate its brand.

It is a thought not lost on footwear brand Toms, which is reimaging its coffee stores as community spaces for provoking around innovation.

The way people pay for goods and services is changing, creating the most liberating time for retail marketers if they can embrace technology. Anyone can have customers, the key for retailers now is harnessing the technology to create an experience they want to keep coming back to.

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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