A change of pace in customer expectation has brought unprecedented challenges for retailers in recent years and shows no signs of slacking off. In a multi-channel world of smart technologies, fast and furious pace of life and high levels of competition, retailers and brands are all thinking outside the box and fashioning fresh tactics. You need to be smarter than ever to maintain relevance, not just by stepping outside the box, but by pulling apart the walls to reshape it completely.
Despite the doom-mongering, stores are succeeding; according to econsultancy, 84 per cent of retail sales still take place in store and of the 16 per cent of online transactions, 66 per cent are made following a store visit.
Retailers are rising to the challenge of the demand to shop anytime, anywhere, reaching inflated expectations of service levels. We’re seeing a fast-adapting face of retail with disruption rife and many are disrupting traditional models; Tesla eschewed sales-led ‘big box’ dealerships for brand-building experiences in shopping centres, and Sneakerboy opened stock-free experience stores in Melbourne with online ordering. Even online retailers are disrupting new ecommerce models with bricks and mortar stores that combine the best of physical and digital retail to cater for evolving customer demands.
Many retailers are forging stronger connections with customers by curating experiences – going beyond displaying and selling products, to become community hubs and places of entertainment, exploration and discovery.
Others are focusing on ‘real-time retail’. Taking a leaf from the book of digital and reflecting non-linear paths to purchase, they’re creating dynamic experiences that respond to individual customer demands through flexible formats, instant access to service and information, and collection of data and connectivity. Electronic communication enables immediate attention in an environment that responds to factors such as time of day, day of week, weather and customer feedback. Smart technology is being used to create more innovative stores and increase engagement between brand and consumer; they can identify individual customers’ expectations to streamline paths to purchase, personalise experiences and rewards, and reduce the effort involved in accessing discounts.
Far from diminishing the role of the physical store to acquire and guide a sustained relationship between customers and brands, we see technology accentuating opportunities to connect with brands and facilitate purchase.
These are exciting times for retailers. With opportunities to win and to retain more customers beckoning for those that create smart stores omni-channel experiences, the physical store will remain of central importance in the delivery of brand promises.
Missouri Creative is a London based retail and brand design agency.