You cannot keep working with typewriters when the whole world is in sync with computers. Physical stores are somewhat like typewriters when seen in light of the dominance that online shopping has been experiencing for last few years. But the analogy that I have made has to do more with stores’ ability to innovate, rather than with the actual need for stores. People still like to go into the shops, touch and feel the product. But the online world is winning solely at the point of convenience; the ease that it allows while shopping. You can zoom into thousands of products, check ratings and reviews of the product that you want to buy, find the lowest price in seconds, you can pay through your debit or credit cards, and the product will be at your doorstep within one day.
Logically speaking, there is no reason why people won’t make online shopping a way of life. And that’s precisely where the real danger looms for physical stores. The only way out from this gloomy reality is a sound and sturdy innovation…something which can mark them off from online retailers and brick and mortar competitors. And I believe that these 5 concepts will be the most important store differentiation 2017 trends.
Consumers have an unprecedented level of education and awareness about products. Due to the internet, social media, business journals, and consumer forums, people are bombarded with all sorts of information. Thus, that customers want to know everything about the product is actually not a surprise. And we will see that people will become more ethically conscious about the product worrying about where their money’s going rather than simply buying a product. What it means is, it won’t be enough just to sell a quality product in your store. You must sell it by displaying its complete information and really educating your store associates.
As an indicator of this trend, in 2012, 18% of Americans reported doing more “socially responsible shopping.” By 2014, that figure had rise to 30%. More than 3 in 5 consumers think that ethical issues are becoming more important, and 35% will stop buying from brands they see as unethical. Cause marketing works well online, too, but it really catches consumers’ attention when they’re accustomed to hearing about the latest scandal involving a mall brand. If you can surprise them with an environmental or social initiative while they’re window-shopping, they’ll be even more primed for impulse buying, which is more common in stores.
You have to justify people’s effort in coming down to your store by ignoring other stores. The only way to do it is to offer something that other stores aren’t. If you have enough financial muscles, you can go as far as creating smart dressing rooms like Rebecca Minkoff.
But if you are not quite there yet, you can still differentiate your store with a little investment in your tech infrastructure. The aim should be to bring the amenities of the online world into brick and mortar stores. By this, you will be having an edge over your online as well as brick and mortar competitors.
Crate + Barrel, a 170+ store furniture and home decor chain, has already moved in this direction. Recently, it created a program called “Mobile Tote”, which allowed shoppers to browse the shelves using store-provided tablets. The tablet also enabled customers to scan bar codes and get additional information about products, to add items to wish lists. Besides, customers were also able to take help of sales associates in gathering those wish list items. The technological use to create unique in-store experience will be by far the most prominent item on the list of store differentiation 2017.
Though enough ink has been spilled on explaining the phenom of personalization, the truth is that it will be always be high up in the list in your planning of differentiating your store. Let’s make it clear. As per this Accenture Interactive study, 56% of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer in store or online that recognizes them by name. Despite this, very few have been able to put personalization in a right perspective.
Nike has been fantastic in really upping this personalization game with its fitness videos on their Nike+ app. But that’s not the only way to do it. You can send the tailor-made content to your customers, use location-based technology such as beacons to push personalized offers to customers’ mobile devices. Its repercussion can be felt in precise targeting and generating personal rapport with customers. Plus, the added advantage of beacons is that they aren’t expensive. They generally cost between $5 and $30. Prices differ due to the beacon signal range, types of batteries used, typical battery life, and other factors. It’s cheap but effective. Rebecca Minkoff even uses personalization tech to greet customers by name and remember their preferences when they’re shopping in-store. It makes all the difference!
The definite benefit that physical stores have over online stores is the personal human touch that they can maintain with the customers. Thus, they can offer customers more than mere products. They can offer the whole new and unforgettable experiences. It can be done by simply paying more attention to individual customer by helping him in simplifying his buying process, suggesting better products as per his needs and preferences, maintaining personalized communication through emails or mobile messages, and even striking up friendships. The level of this experience can be upped by putting it in a larger scale.
You can also think about creating a feel of community among buyers by designing stores in that way. One such example is of Outdoor Voices, an athletic apparel retailer. It is not just using its stores to sell the merchandise. It has tried to reinforce the community element by hosting running clubs and other active events that relate to the brand.
Remember that it’s also a great way to keep your customers engaged with your store. They have a reason to be with you as you are giving them chance to belong to some community. This sense of belonging is rapidly decreasing in the modern world. Therefore, it can put your store right up in the top priorities of existing or potential customers.
Why does this discussion hold water? Because realistically speaking, it’s not within the reach of all the stores to differentiate themselves based on their products alone. That’s possible if your product is really path-breaking and able to rewrite the whole product creation and management theory. That happens once in a blue moon. And thus, stores need to be in the constant search of innovative ways to present themselves as different than the rest. Keeping true to the vibes of current times, technology will be the main fuel that will run the innovation locomotive. But that’s not all. It needs a holistic approach which will pinpoint the exact pain points of customers. Proper location, ethical undertakings, in-store experiences, and many other factors will also decide the direction of that locomotive. But if you fail to do that, be ready to go into oblivion. Because, in the retail world, you either flourish or perish!
Note: We keep a close eye on the happenings in brick-and-mortar component of the retail world. Read this blog where we have documented how stores across the globe are using technology to enhance their appeal and efficiency.