The holiday season was once a boon for image editors, with images of the lines winding around the block as shoppers lined up in the freezing cold for a bargain.
Today, most shoppers are now comfortably seated on the sofa, clicking emails instead of hammering the curb. If now the most iconic of shopping events has migrated online, does that mean that the main street is finally redundant? More than ever, we wonder what a store is for?
This is precisely the question four retail experts gathered for a recent roundtable discussion on the retail revolution. And they revealed that, to quote Mark Twain, reports of in-store retailer deaths have been somewhat exaggerated.
Leanne Cahill, CEO of lingerie retailer Bravissimo, wanted to highlight the immersive experience of in-person shopping: “Store environments are ideally placed to offer choice and personalization. For many brands, stores are there to provide a holistic brand experience where you can literally step in and immerse yourself in it.
Chris Rigg, director of retail for outdoor sports retailer Ellis Brigham, agreed, but noted that while e-commerce appears to have acquired ownership of the convenience label, it also has a place in the physical retail. “There are two distinct customer journeys: the experiential buyer who wants the brand experience and the need for functional retail. We have to make sure we don’t forget it. There’s a lot of talk about theater in retail, and that’s key from a branding point of view, but people also just want to buy and go.
Of course, convenience means different things to different people. Making it a point of differentiation for a physical trader means pulling on many levers. These include providing click-and-collect type facilities, using real-time inventory management systems, and providing exemplary customer service.
“The word omnichannel is truly omnichannel-plus now, because it’s about how you join [on and offline] completely if you’re not pure gambling, ”says Beth Butterwick, CEO of fashion retailer Jigsaw. “Some of the devices and techniques like tablets that find inventory, find it locally, create outfit ideas and ship them home or help store staff talk about influencers. There is a lot more that stores can do.
Strategy first, then technology
With so much technology available, however, it can be difficult not to fall for the gadget trap. Of course, use it to display cutting edge technology, but it must first achieve efficiency and the ultimate strategic goals of the business.
“It’s a challenge for everyone,” warns Alan Holcroft, country director of global retail software company Cegid. Cegid’s unified commerce and payment platform benefits from the trust of more than 1,000 specialized and luxury brands in more than 75 countries. “Savvy retailers have adopted a focused innovation strategy,” says Holcroft. “Whether it’s investing in the technology to enable omnichannel flows or delivering customer data to store teams, that’s what people need to determine the best way to implement. ”
It’s also about delivering that full circle experience. From Jigsaw building outfits in store with customers, then emailing them the suggestions to review at home, to Ellis Brigham using a 3D scanner to create a literal digital imprint that the customer can then use to size when they are. online, the technology in the physical store is tying these last strands into the omnichannel experience. This can have far-reaching consequences, with technology improving customer satisfaction, reducing the rate of return, costs to the retailer and the carbon footprint. “It could be a real game-changer,” says Rigg.
As a partner of the store associate’s expertise, technology is essential to help staff deliver this focused and cohesive experience: “When a customer walks into our store, we want the team to be able to see the last thing that this person bought from us, even though it was online, and join what they are saying today. Much of our activity does not take place in the workshop, but in the fitting area. It’s the team that gives the customer the choice, ”says Cahill.
It is essential that all retail staff have access to the information they need to demonstrate this level of expertise. “One of the things that can lead to an inconsistent in-store experience is a lack of product knowledge,” says Holcroft.
“Where we see smart customers tackling these issues is around product cataloging – providing key information about the product you are selling in-store. I’m not just talking about fit, color, size or stock availability, but more about provenance, about sustainability, and that blends in perfectly with the omnichannel flow.
The human touch
It’s so important to remember that technology plays a supporting role in the store. That, to date, no bit or byte has been able to supplant human touch. “Humans can understand the state of a customer’s needs, which machines cannot. That’s why a combination of fantastic technology and human beauty is the best experience you can give a customer, ”adds Butterwick.
This extends to a much changed post-pandemic retail environment. Ellis Brigham and Jigsaw both moved some retail space to darker stores during the pandemic. Bravissimo used in-store staff while all purchases were made online to deliver virtual props in a familiar environment, albeit seen through a screen.
The challenge now is that customers want both in-person and virtual trials, while stores now have customers rushing in. When forced to close, Bravissimo always used the teams and the store environment to provide a virtual fitting. “We’re trying to balance being able to offer that while the store is open,” Cahill says. “The challenge is to learn and grow and bring people into the company who can support this journey,” insists Rigg. Holcroft agrees, “You can’t just leave technology up to the store teams and tell them to get on with the job. We need to make it simpler and more intuitive.
Holcroft also says that much more is now expected of staff: “The role of the in-store associate has completely changed, to be a brand ambassador, a sales champion and an expert in supply chain and from. [yet] they are still measured on traditional KPIs. Technology is a useful tool to complement the role change.
Measurement is no less vital in a post-pandemic environment, but retailers need to recognize that the way they measure success has to fundamentally change to meet the new conditions.
“We need to look at different ways of measuring people in stores. We changed our entire incentive away from in-store sales and made it global omnichannel. It’s hard to quantify. Watching a store’s halo effect is the most important thing we can do, ”says Rigg.
While it’s heartwarming to hear that the role of the store may change, it’s still popular with business owners and customers alike. But even though businesses are more relaxed about where the sale ultimately takes place, that physical presence comes at a cost, and it has to wash its face, financially speaking. “At the end of the day, the stores still have to contribute,” says Butterwick. “The store’s contribution and the power of the brand come from people and managers and their innovation. “
For more information, visit cegid.com