Retail industry professionals are fond of saying things like “the only constant in retail is change.”
Uh, yeah, maybe not so fast on that one.
Sure, there are pockets of innovation and true industry disruption, but retail’s most difficult challenges of the past several years have centered more on an inability to quickly respond to a changing shopping environment, not a changing retail environment, and there’s a difference between the two.
In fact, I’d argue it’s the inability to differentiate between shopping and retailing that’s a primary root cause of troubled retail.
Retail is used to calling the shots related to shopping. In the “good ol’ days,” chief merchants wielded tyrannical power. The chief merchant decided what could be bought, where, when, how and for how much. Shoppers didn’t really have a choice in the matter, and retailers grew more powerful, more wealthy and, over time, perhaps a little too comfortable in taking shoppers, their customers, for granted.
Retailers were retailing, and shoppers were forced to shop and spend in the retailers’ domain.
Those days are gone. Forever.
Shoppers have the power now. It rests, literally, in the palms of their hands. Shoppers have access to more information than ever before on products and services, including customer reviews and opinions from their personal networks and those of industry influencers. They also have a wealth of global alternatives in which to shop and spend.
Shoppers wield that power throughout their shopping journeys, and it’s the manner they embark on shopping journeys that have changed and left retailers a step or two (or more) behind. Shoppers have changed the way they shop, but many retailers haven’t responded quickly enough in how they retail.
Shoppers have moved on, and now retailers are struggling to interject their brands into shoppers’ domain and remain relevant.
Today’s shoppers sometimes shop within a single channel, be that online or in-store. Increasingly though, those once very separate channels are being combined into a single connected journey. Shoppers, particularly the youngest shopper generations, don’t think about doing “online shopping” or “in-store shopping.” To them, it’s all just “shopping,” and the common denominator is connectivity. From product awareness and education through consideration and purchase, shoppers are connected and expect to drift seamlessly from one branded touchpoint – digital or physical – to another.
Shoppers expect seamless and friction-free. Those brands that can’t offer smooth shopping experiences are simply not going to win. Seamless, smooth and friction-free mean different things for different segments, of course. Convenience stores are supposed to be convenient – it’s the name, for crying out loud – so cashier-less check ala Amazon Go makes perfect sense. But, for a shopper shopping luxury fashion, a check out queue is the least of her worries. Friction-free in that segment means something entirely different, and it’s going to be built on personalization, fit, exclusivity and experience.
So, what’s the answer?
The best answer is, almost always, “It depends.” In this case, it depends on retailers understanding shoppers’ new connected journeys, and there’s not a lot of time to be wasted – too many brands have wasted too much time already, and the once mighty, at least those that still exist, are on life-support.
Brands pretty much know how shoppers shop online, and with smart store analytics, they’ve begun to understand the in-store journey. But, the missing link is how those two channels are now brought together as one by shoppers, and it requires a new information architecture for retailers to understand consumers’ processes, identify and remove friction points in shopping journeys, and deliver the seamless shopping experiences customers strive for and deserve.
Shoppers’ connected journeys demand brands integrate data streams from a retailer’s entire IT infrastructure to deliver real-time analytics, calculate attribution of strategies and tactics, and empower activation for continuous improvement. Those data insights help retailers answer their most pressing questions, including:
- Who are my shoppers and who are my buyers?
- What key actions turn a shopper into a buyer?
- What are the obstacles – and their root causes – that prevent shoppers from converting into buyers, and how can those obstacles be surmounted?
- How effective are digital marketing campaigns at driving shopper traffic and conversion at physical store locations?
- What are the digital touchpoints that influence my shoppers and their buying decisions in-store?
- What are the non-digital touchpoints that most influence shoppers and their buying decisions online?
- What content is most relevant and engaging to my shoppers? How does engagement impact conversion, both online and in-store?
- Which promotional campaigns and offers, delivered through which media, are most effective at brand awareness, brand recall, digital and physical traffic and conversion?
Once a retailer gains its answers to those questions above (and many others), the easy part begins. The best retailers have always made shopping special. Knowing how shoppers define ‘special’ will guide brands into developing strategies and executing upon tactics to surprise and delight their shoppers. They have to change, and be shopper-centric every step along the way. Their very survival depends on it.
Join the #retail, #SmartStore & #ConnectedJourney conversations on Twitter @RayHartjen & @RetailNext, as well at www.facebook.com/retailnext.