If you’re longing for the good ol’ days of retail, get over it. The way shoppers shop has fundamentally changed.
Your shoppers and customers no longer request personalization and individual attention, they demand it. And this burgeoning need for relevant engagement drives them to choose when, where, how, and why they interact with your brand.
This goes beyond experience alone. Consumers are now defining the empowerment economy.
So how did we arrive here?
In recent years, several impactful moments pushed shoppers toward being active participants in their shopping experiences, with the expectations and freedom to drive them.
Of course, the giant elephant in every retailing room is Amazon, which started over two decades ago and completely disrupted the entire industry, only to even further catapult shopper expectations with the release of Amazon Prime just 11 years later.
Then came smartphones. Specifically, Apple released the iPhone in 2007, making the App Store and our modern definition of “social” a thing. The proliferation of smartphones granted shoppers unprecedented access to information, people, and businesses all over the world, right in the palm of their hands.
And retail is just beginning to see the evolution of voice-activated devices since Amazon Echo, aka, “Alexa,” and Google Home were released in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Retail is beginning to realize the true impact these smart devices are having on the shopping experience, the anticipated growth of voice is astounding.
With empowering technologies and opportunities to shop nearly anywhere, there’s clearly been a shift in the role shoppers play in retail. And, as recent history has revealed, ignoring that shift leads to grave consequences.
According to CBS news, 2017 was one of the toughest years for North American retail in history. In 2017 alone, nearly 40 major retailers filed for bankruptcy or bankruptcy protection. And many of these were household names like Toys R Us, who just recently shuttered for good, RadioShack (yet again), and Payless ShoeSource.
Every retailer should be looking for ways to escape this fate because if and when they do, there will be tremendous upside.
Take Nordstrom, for example.
Nordstrom has been a winner throughout what some have claimed to be a retail crisis. While others are closing down shop, they’re actually expanding with not only new stores, but new ways of empowering their customers.
Nordstrom’s new men’s store in Manhattan continues their successful Reserve Online & Try in Store program (80 percent of customers who have tried the service choose to shop this way again), will be staffed 24 hours to accommodate late night visitors, and will have a barbershop, self-service return kiosks, and same-day delivery for a small fee.
There’s also Ulta Beauty, whose CEO Mary Dillon recently stated, “People want to buy online, and they want to come into the store and try things.”
In How Mary Dillon Turned Ulta Beauty Into The Leading Cosmetics Retailer, Dillon further explained that Ulta has to participate in every channel to give their shoppers what they want, when they want it. And as a result, their celebrated loyalty program has nearly 22 million active members and now generates more than 90% of Ulta’s overall sales.
Why, then, has Nordstrom, Ulta, and other thriving retailers – like Warby Parker, TJ Maxx, and Walmart – managed to go from the supposed retail apocalypse to a new retail renaissance?
The answer is simple: They believe, like RetailNext believes, that every shopper deserves the best shopping experience. And perhaps most importantly, they understand that it’s shoppers who get to decide what that is – not us.
Our job as technologists and retailers is to move shoppers from inspiration to action by meeting their needs.
Shoppers make no distinction between shopping online, through mobile, or in stores. Shopping is shopping is shopping. And what they truly desire is an experience that is personally relevant and inspiring, makes a meaningful connection, is immediately fulfilling, and is devoid of friction and boundaries.
In this new world, there are no walls or barriers to how shoppers shop. And retailers are now in the position to either meet them where they are or risk being left behind.
So how does retail get from where it is now to where it needs to be?
Well, right now, you’re equipped with a multitude of tools and strategies – SMS, social, email, signage, etc. – to reach your shoppers. You’re also able to develop campaigns around certain audiences (like loyal shoppers or repeat visitors), and you can segment those lists in your CRM. All of these are incredibly valuable to engaging your customers.
In the empowered customer experience of tomorrow, where customers define their own journeys and interactions with your brand, add to your current capabilities a complete 360° view, including historical, in-store, and real-time data. Through this lens, the dynamic content you send your shoppers will now include far more personalized offers and actionable recommendations, which in turn drives far more targeted and relevant engagements. Then, with real-time suggestions and clearly defined context – only show me products for curly hair, for example – the connection is even more meaningful, memorable and immediately satisfying.
Imagine your shoppers creating their experiences for themselves. Imagine them telling you exactly what they want, when they want it, whether they are online, in-store or both. Again, it is not your job to just sell them things; it’s your job to provide the infrastructure that inspires action.
That is true shopper empowerment.
In closing, remember one last thing: throughout the retail apocalypse narrative, there appears a preoccupation with the number of shoppers in stores. What if we understood shopping to be a holistic term instead?
Within marketing, there is a place for purposeful segmentation. There is value in targeting and developing journeys on common attributes. But things are changing because shoppers are changing, and make no mistake, retailers who do not engage shoppers in every possible conversion channel at every possible stage will fail. Retailers who build walls instead of bridges will fail. And retailers who rely on manipulation over inspiration will fail.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why states, “There is a big difference between repeat visitors and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”
So now you have to ask yourself: Are you building loyalty or are you just driving traffic? Your empowered shopper will surely tell the difference.
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