Lisa Gomez of Deloitte believes that bricks and mortar stores are here to stay, but that the “walls are coming down”. I really like that metaphor.
More than ever, it is the “omnichannel” retail experience that companies are starting to focus on to ensure a seamless or at least consistent brand message and high quality customer experience across their physical stores, in-store kiosks, catalogues, websites, mobile platforms and/or iPad/tablet applications. But technology and social media and the multitude of platforms that are being developed and nurtured only tell part of the story.
Companies and brands are starting to focus in on tailoring their assortments and their experiences to the local customer base. They are using technology, marketing disciplines, information technology and data gathered from social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Groupon to further refine messaging and assortments. This helps provide the “Wow” customer experience itself.
This, of course, is nothing new. Retail has always been a very simple proposition: Provide customers what they want, when they want it, where they want it at a price they will pay. It has always been about that but corporations, bureaucracies and egos have prevented many companies from staying on task. Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, American Apparel to name a few more famous and high profile organizations at one time or another have lost their way by forgetting the af0rementioned basic principal.
Even Wal Mart strayed from what it did best and has now admitted mistakes and are in the midst of correcting them. Suffice to say, it isn’t easy to get out of your own way and continue to focus on delivering what customers want.
I will say this: The customer still needs to be inspired to purchase, especially if there is going to be any further impulse purchasing out there in the future (what with Smartphones in hand, customers are looking up pricing on the spot and comparing across all channels). I will keep pushing this forever. People continue to need inspiration, especially in the malls as the competition is not just next door or down the hall any longer – it is in the ether and global in scope.
Seth Fiegerman of TheStreet.com described what Apple has done at retail brilliantly (I am paraphrasing here) – it has created a destination shopping experience as opposed to more of an errand focused one. That is what has to happen regardless of the category. Some have done it well at times: Anthropologie; Hollister; Uniqlo; H & M. Even Disney has now decided to re-invent their store experience and is rolling out their latest re-designs globally.
This should not take deep pocketed resources to do this either. It really takes a willingness and an attitude first and foremost that the customer experience is tantamount to sustained profitability. Then it takes some creative thinking (and maybe even some objective third party help), a commitment from the organization to execute the new plans and some courage to stay the course. I believe there is no option but to constantly impress or “Wow” the customer today.
It is no longer good enough to have the best looking store in the mall. It has to appeal across channels and compete with everything and everyone nowadays. That is a scary proposition. But if a retailer can think beyond its own four walls and drive sales and influence as if there were no walls there to begin with, success is sure to follow.