Generally speaking, retail traffic is down, but sales are relatively flat. Shoppers are taking about the same number of shopping trips, but the number of stores visited on each journey has been reduced rather dramatically (according to RetailNext’s two most recent Composite Index Reports, traffic was down almost 8% for July and August).
Shoppers are researching products and alternatives online, and they’re targeting fewer and fewer “retailers of choice” when time comes to go to the brick-and-mortar store. It presents an opportunity for retailers to make a difference through in-store shopper experience, and it’s leading to an emerging retail trend of “store theatrics.”
The retail space is crowded, and the ubiquitous nature of the Internet expands the breadth of the industry with each passing day – shoppers are overwhelmed with the amount of choice they have throughout their purchase journeys. Cutting through the noise and garnering a share of shoppers’ attention is important, and once it’s captured, retailers have to pounce to keep it.
Storefronts and window displays are expensive pieces of real estate, and they present opportunities for retailers to attract shoppers. The most effective go beyond merely attracting and actually engage shoppers, making a connection.
Personalization is the next big frontier in physical retail, and it is a business model the online retail sector has so effectively executed upon. Beacons and Wi-Fi deployments are the critical technologies that empower personalization efforts, but neither will work on their own unless the retailer directly addresses shoppers’ most pressing question: “What’s in it for me?”
High-tech window displays have been around for years, including ones with QR codes and other ways for shoppers to interact and engage. This Holiday season, look for several major retailers to go the next step, personalizing messages and making value-based connections with their shoppers.
Question to retailers: How are you making an emotional connection with your shopper?
Engage and interact
In-store technologies are being deployed at an aggressive pace, and they’re not just for data analytics and store management, but rather they’re a key enabler of shopper interaction and engagement.
In 2012, C&A, a Brazilian fashion retailer pioneered the use of bringing Facebook data into the store environment, introducing electronic hangers that illuminated a scoreboard of recorded “likes” each garment racked up on the store’s Facebook page. Now, stores are deploying technology in-store that reverses the directional flow of data.
Mobile devices and their connectivity have given a new level of empowerment to shoppers, so much so that if a shopper doesn’t have her own mobile device, retailers are increasingly making one available to borrow in-store. Shoppers regularly “swipe” their way through digital look books, browsing through products and suggested accessories. Additionally, QR codes allow an easy, augmented reality link to additional product-related information, well beyond staid product spec sheets and more toward “how-to” videos and the like. And, don’t for a second think that social polling is going away – shoppers upload photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and the reactions of their social networks greatly influence purchase decisions.
Question for retailers: If you don’t already deploy in-store, opt-in Wi-Fi to assist your shoppers, what exactly are you waiting for?
Amaze and entertain
Of course, technology not only facilitates communication and information sharing, it has the power to amaze and blend education and entertainment at the same time – edutainment, so to speak.
Virtual mirrors are finding their ways into stores, and they allow shoppers to “try” on clothes without undressing or taking off shoes. Moreover, swapping out colors or adding accessories can be done in seconds, not minutes, and social media networks are seamlessly integrated, allowing shoppers to share instantly.
Virtual mirrors, and the resources to invest in them, don’t grow on trees. But, innovative applications of existing technologies can radically affect the shopping experience, as GeekWire demonstrated at Hointer:
Like any display or fixture, it is important retailers measure the impact of technologies and interactive displays on store metrics like traffic and conversion. Additionally, it’s important to understand the traffic demand of “interactive areas” to ensure there is ample space and availability to avoid unintended, negative shopper experiences.
Question for retailers: What makes your in-store experience different and better than your leading competitor’s experience?
Keep them coming back for more
In any business, retail being no exception, it’s extremely expensive to acquire new customers. Real long-term value comes from customer loyalty and retention, and customers serving as advocates, evangelists and promoters.
Consumers are now empowered to take control of more and more of their experiences, from time-shifting the watching of favorite TV programs to creating personalized experiences at restaurants and hotels. Store merchants are just beginning to embrace this shift in control from provider to customer, and the differentiation in the store environment – store theatrics – is a critical component if a retailer is to separate itself from its competitors and ascend to the status of “retailer of choice.”
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