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The store is dead. Long live the store! (IRM57)

Jo Coombs, Managing Director of OgilvyOne UK shares her thoughts on reviving the store for the connected age.

I STARTED SHOPPING in the 80s when the high street featured the likes of Our Price, C&A, Etam & Chelsea Girl, Bejam, Comet, Wimpy and, of course, Woolworths. On Saturdays, I spent the money I earned working in a greengrocers on rainbow laces and Smiths tapes. Petrol was 30p a litre, a pint of beer cost 40p and milk was 20p a pint.

Oh, how things change. I’m not just reminiscing; it’s more morbid than that, I’m talking about death – Ratners & Radio Rentals RIP, Our Price & the cassette tape 10 feet under. Seven of the eight biggest US retailers in 1980 are now out of business and this year in the UK, Morrisons, Dixons and Tesco are reportedly killing off, or reducing hours at, nearly 200 stores.

So is the store dead?

Despite recent demises, the ‘store’ has never been more alive. In the connected age, the store is more vital and more relevant than ever before. In fact, I would argue it’s the most exciting time ever to work in a shop – and in retail at large.


Resurrecting the store is the very thing that people predicted would kill it (and our high streets) – the internet.

In this connected age, consumers want the best of both worlds; to be able to interact with products and staff in person whilst being able to have instant access to reviews from other consumers, the ability to compare prices and download discount codes now. This rise of continuous commerce requires retailers to provide connected experiences, curation, content and customisation. And they have to be omnichannel not just multi-channel with the subsequent renewed focus on the store.

Let’s be clear; most stores need a bit of a refit to stay alive in the connected age. We’re not just talking about new layouts, signage, furniture, new training for staff or even a new dress code. It MUST go much deeper. Indeed, the definition of refit is ‘to make something ready for use again especially by adding new parts.’

At OgilvyOne we talk about seven different components of store refit for the connected age to help brands create great customer experiences that increase loyalty. These ‘Magnificent Seven’ are as follows:

z The relationship refit: Consumers today expect retailers to bring together cross-channel insights through technology to develop deeper, more personalised service. The easiest way to do this is to arm in-store staff with meaningful information, like purchase histories, so that their interactions with consumers are judged on the added value they bring rather than the basics. River Island is one retailer arming all of its staff with Android devices to help customers, but are they completing the loop and feeding back in-store interactions into the system? Two-way data transfer is key. In this continually evolving connected age, retailers can (and should) automatically access and update a shopper’s profile, customer preferences and buying history to provide a better experience. In fact, with the advance of predictive analytics, they should know and respond to what a customer wants before they ask for it.

z The service refit: On-demand customer service is the order of the day. Assistants are out from behind the till. Armed with customer and product info, they are guiding customers through the curated store experience, helping them order from an extended online range or greeting them when they collect products reserved via apps.

Recruiting staff based on their service attitude will be key. Take Apple as an example – in-store service is a key aspect of their brand.

Another retailer with service experience at its heart is Wingtips the San Franciscan menswear store that is also a barbers, tobacconists, shoe shiners and private members club (which is also a living retail experience as everything from the glasses you drink from to the pocket squares you can borrow are for sale).

z The recognition refit: Customers will expect recognition in-store for their other interactions with the brand. Some retailers (for example, Burberry) have created closed ecosystems around brand loyalty that combine the user’s mobile and web behaviour to offer targeted in-store experiences and offers.

In the US, Target is creating personalised experiences for customers that mimic online experiences. Casino in France allow customers to use their smartphones to access information on products and pricing via NFC-enabled shelf edge labels, and scan items to add to their basket.

z The social refit: With 82% of smartphone users consulting their phone while in-store, being able to combine the intelligence of online shopping and social recommendations with the tangibility of physical retail will be key to success in-store.

Nordstrom recently launched a program where it displays merchandise that’s popular on Pinterest more prominently, which is something I expect to become more popular this year.

I would love to see brands allowing stores to take over their social channels and letting us know what’s trending in Shoreditch right now for example.

z The payment refit: One of the most frustrating parts of in-store shopping, is waiting to pay. Many retailers are already following Apple’s lead with its EasyPay self-mobile checkout, enabling customers to find, scan and pay for items without waiting in a line or talking to an associate unless needed. As consumers become increasingly comfortable with contactless payments, expect to see more retailers mimicking Kohl in the US, who are focusing on offering discounts and rewards alongside the varied payment options.

z The innovation refit: Topshop has adopted digital with gusto, and uses tech and social in store regularly, such as in its ‘Wish you were at Topshop?’ campaign. Its latest campaign, where they live streamed a virtual reality ‘experience’ of its London Fashion Week show, took the experience to a new level.

Similarly, Selfridges and House of Fraser are experimenting with tech – using augmented reality to make windows “shoppable” to capture passing trade.

In-store tech should be used appropriately and not just for tech sake. Just because mirrors can show you enhanced product info doesn’t mean that I want that when I’m standing in front of it.

z The delivery refit: Delivery is one of the biggest battlegrounds in the omnichannel battle. Drones are not the future and free delivery is unsustainable so retailers need to be investing in adding value to the click and collect proposition. It’s a massive moment of opportunity and proactive sales assistants will use it as such. For many retailers, this will require collaboration with some unconventional partners to improve speed and quality of service while providing additional choice for customers.

The key will be to collaborate with non-competing chains that share an overlap in customer demographics. This will allow retailers to benefit from increased footfall and shopper satisfaction without the risk of sales cannibalisation.

All seven refits are important, but the order they are tackled in will be different for every retailer – the important part is to maintain a focus on reimagining the role of the store within the overall experience.

In order to stay alive retailers must put the customer first. Whether they survive, thrive or fall by the wayside in the connected age will come down to retailers’ ability to reframe the role of the store in the continuous commerce journey with the customer at the heart of the whole experience.

The opportunity is unprecedented but retailers need to stop themselves overcomplicating things. Going back to basics is key. By focusing on understanding the needs and wants of the customer and designing store experiences accordingly will ensure that retailers continue to meet – and exceed – the needs of each and every customer which, ultimately, is what we want.

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