Pete Brown, Consultant, Elixirr shares his views on the future of retail in 2018 and what could be on the cards for the in-store experience.
For decades, the store remained mostly unchanged and it was the ever-improving range of products that kept bringing customers to the door. Not anymore. A rise in consumer expectations across all industries, coupled with the rapid growth of enabling technologies has meant that leading retailers, such as Apple , view the Store of the Future as being a “community space” rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar experience. One of the most exciting examples of this in 2017 was the move by several pureplay retailers to launch physical showrooms for their products. Amazon is the best case for this; as well as the marketing around AmazonGo and the mobile-enabled shopping experience, Amazon has been using an outlet in Soho, London, this Winter to demonstrate to customers just how great Amazon products would look in their homes. This is cemented evidence that physical is here to stay.
This trend is not constrained to multi-billion-dollar companies. Everlane, a six-year-old sustainable apparel start-up founded in San Francisco announced it would be opening its first 3,000sq ft store on Prince Street, New York. Michael Preysman, Everlane’s Founder and CEO said in a statement: “after six years, we’re excited to announce our first location – a store where people can come not just to shop, but to learn, share, and make new friends.”
The key difference that this change within the in-store environment has brought about is that it has forced retailers to focus efforts on customer experience rather than traditional back-office or operational improvements. Traditionally retailers have been much more comfortable assigning resource to solve operational or transformational change (think Lean Six Sigma) than diagnosing the true reasons customers are leaving their stores empty handed. When retailers try to address these gaps, they are often distracted by the nice-to-have or future technologies such as Augmented Reality and view these as peripheral or stand alone to their core technology offering. This is not surprising as this world of start-ups and complicated algorithmic software is often miles apart from where they currently stand. More often than not, smaller technology companies such as those working in near-field communication, NFC in short, or last mile delivery are focused on creating a big picture view for investors rather than bringing future retail clients on their journey with them. Some retailers have tried to overcome this is by producing a corporate lab or innovation centre but these are often destined to fail due to a lack of internal experience or outside-in influence.
There are two key ways retailers can tackle this problem. The first is to diagnose what your true in-store customer pain points are and review how new technologies can help to alleviate this pressure. The second is to continue to build your existing online technologies in a way that allows customers to take control of their in-store experience through recognition and data. This means looking at how to build in-store loyalty from customers who have already downloaded your app or have an account with you.
DIAGNOSING PAIN POINTS
An important pain point for any physical retailer is that of payment and exit. It is still the number one driver for basket abandonment and the area that has the best business case for in-store technology based improvements. With 59% of British consumers now using contactless cards to pay and an estimated £1bn worth of time saved value per annum until 2021, this is an area retailers cannot afford to miss out on. The British market is maturing faster than global counterparts in this area however 2018 will see this becoming a priority for everyone. Customers are also becoming more mobile reliant and we will continue to see a growth in Apple Pay, where we have already seen a push to store customer credit card details in the Apple Wallet, rather than carrying a purse. Companies like Qminder are also looking at how to improve this experience with a queue management system that uses personalisation to assist in reducing wait times. For any retailer, enabling these payment and exit technologies should be the priority before looking at any of the fancier experiential tech that is out there. These are also easier to make a traditional business case for and retailers should focus on rolling out these solutions estate wide as soon as possible.
RETAILAINMENT & PERSONALISATION
Apart from pain points, one of the buzzwords thrown around again last year was retailainment, from George Ritzers book ‘Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption’. This term means the “use of ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy.” There is certainly some truth in this but what does it really look like in practice and how should retailers address it?
A key trend for 2018 is that retailers will engage with third parties to provide a pull factor to their stores. In London, Browns East the new experimental store based in Shoreditch and owned by Farfetch has engaged with everyone from digital artists to Virtual Reality companies, with the aim of creating an environment that is engaging and personalised for customers. The retailer understands the value that outside-in thinking brings to a company and the constraint brought about by trying to build everything in-house. Traditional retailers should seek support to navigate this world of complex start-ups, either through hiring an entrepreneur-in-residence or engaging with specialists to provide external guidance.
Another trend will be retailers using existing customer information to build personalised experiences. The store experience of the future will be customer device driven with in-store hardware only used to provision something that customers cannot do at home. Unsurprisingly, retailers are seeing a downward correlation in the level of engagement with old-style store technologies such as iPads, against the number of people who now own these devices at home. Instead, there will be a shift to customers using their personal devices to be recognised and acknowledged by the store, enabled by NFC technologies such as QR scanning. We are already seeing companies such as the LVMH brand, Sephora , take advantage of AR for facial recognition to successfully transform the business case for recognition technologies. For every major new technology release retailers should be assessing how it fits against this strategy and how to avoid making customers download multiple applications for use.
2018 will be a year of significant change in retail. We will see the continued merging of the online with the physical and no doubt the demise of some retailers who cannot keep up with the pace of revolution on the high street. This is the time for companies to establish a strong digitally-enabled, physical presence and not be distracted by the plethora of information that is pressured on them through internal or external sources.