The 5th annual RetailNext Executive Forum, “Back to the Stores,” was held May 6-8 in Monterey, and the assembled retailers and industry thought leaders worked collectively and collaboratively on creating the art of the possible for making actionable decisions to better understand in-store shopping behavior, optimize the in-store shopping experience and engage with shoppers in more personalized manners. At the end of three full days, attendees left armed with not only insights into a reinvented retail environment, but with distinct action plans for moving forward.
Convergence of complementary channels
Industry pundits have long decried the inevitable death of brick-and-mortar retail, but as Mark Twain once famously quipped, reports of that death “have been greatly exaggerated.” Online retail has grown exponentially over the past 15 years, but it’s important to note that over 90 percent of retail sales occurs in the physical store environment.
Moreover, half of the recent growth of online retail has come from … traditional brick-and-mortar retailers increasing their presence in online channels. But, offline or online isn’t really the point. As Alexei Agratchev, RetailNext’s co-founder and CEO, talked about in his opening address at the Forum, it’s the convergence of physical and digital channels into one shopping experience that is the foundation of today’s new retail reality.
Each channel has its inherent advantages and strengths, and it’s important for a retailer to marry all of its divergent channels to produce a singular, seamless and enjoyable shopping experience. Paramount to that is to create a compelling future to woo shoppers “back to the stores.”
Experience as a differentiator
Move over “omnichannel” and make room for the newest buzzword set to sweep through the industry, “customer experience.” It’s been no secret that a differentiated in-store experience is critical for success in attracting and retaining shoppers – every retailer knows it, and each strives to create and sustain it.
Much more difficult is addressing the simple question of, “How?”
Through panel discussions and exercises moderated by Bridget Johns and Shelley E. Kohan, Forum attendees concentrated on identifying friction points in customers’ shopping journeys through stores and other channels. Once identified, corrective action strategies can be formulated and deployed.
Retail analytics clearly play an important role in identifying choke points in shopping and buying processes, and it’s important for retailers to have data acquisition, analyses and reporting systems that integrate across all channels. The omnichannel is no longer a collection of distinctly different channels. Rather, when it works to shoppers’ delight, it’s a single, seamless shopping journey.
Solving for shopping journey frictions points is as varied as there are number of retailers, retail segments, or even store locations within a brand. Critical to consider is the brand’s mission, its strategic differentiation and, as Kohan emphasized, answering the question, “What do you want to achieve?”
Technology solutions, but not for technology’s sake
Over the past several years, there has been rapid expansion of the technology solutions available for retailers, both hardware and software. On the hardware side, there are continual advancements in stereo cameras and their performance capabilities, as well as introductions of beacons, Wi-Fi, RFID, GPS and a myriad of other technologies.
On the software side, platforms like RetailNext offer almost limitless expansion through inbound and outbound APIs, and are designed to incorporate data feeds from a growing number of sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT) age.
While technology solutions abound for analytics and shopper engagement, care should be taken to ensure that every technology deployment is done with the shopper and her best interests front and center. Johns, head of customer success at RetailNext, cautioned repeatedly throughout the Forum, saying, “Every technology introduction has to be done with the shopper and her best interests firmly front and center. When you start any equation with the customer, you’re most likely to have a formula for success. What’s best for the shopper is always best for the business.”
The future isn’t as far away as we thought
George Shaw, head of research and development at RetailNext, closed the Thursday session with a look at the exponential growth of data being created, recorded, analyzed and presented. It’s not just retail and shopper data, it’s data from almost everything – the Internet of Things exploding upon businesses, consumers and governments.
Interesting, Shaw shared a statistic showing more data has been recorded over the past two years than all previous years of human history combined. That’s a lot of data, and it grows with every passing second.
While data grows, it’s important to note that it doesn’t require “reinventing the wheel.” Shaw ran through several examples of posing questions a retailer might need answering, developing data acquisition processes, and then sweeping it into previously proven and validated mathematical models. The same mathematical formulas used by epidemiologists to study the spread of disease can be applied to uncovering shopper patterns in navigating a store or mall.
Putting into practice
The final day of the Forum was dedicated to the Advanced Analytics workshop, where retail teams gathered and took deeper dives into understanding all of a company’s shopper touchpoints and opportunities to glean shopper insights – all with a design to develop better shopper experiences.
Let’s start serious work at today’s Retail Cases’s Studies with @RetailNext at the #RNEF2015 here in lovely Monterey pic.twitter.com/8Fym8uRqEB
— Jacobo (@jrey00) May 8, 2015
Today’s competitive retail landscape requires a comprehensive strategy for in-store analytics – every store, every day, in some way. The workshop outlined the many retailer questions that can be readily answered with current solutions, along with industry best practices and use cases.
Related to the brick-and-mortar opportunities, the workshop took a “tour of the store,” and looked to optimize the following:
- Outside the store
- Through the door
- In the store (the experience)
- In the store (the shopper)
For the first time, the RetailNext Executive Forum integrated a Solutions Showcase, allowing attendees to better understand how the centralized RetailNext platform connects with partner applications and delivers added value to retailers, malls, and manufacturers. Key strategic partners Celect, Myagi, Pikato, Retailigence, StepsAway, Theatro and Unacast attended, and each contributed to developing an an interactive environment highlighting how powerful data analytics and insights can power innovative new solutions for retailers.
Bigger and Better
The annual RetailNext Executive Forum grows bigger and better every year, and the company is already working on developing the interactive program for 2016. If you and your company would like to help build out the Forum for next year, either with recommended and request topics or speaking opportunities, please contact event organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the #retail and #backtothestores conversations on Twitter @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.