There isn’t an industry today devoid of technology. It has completely revolutionized the ways in which business gets done — from improving personalized customer knowledge through data, to reducing costs and increasing accuracy in supply chains, to using chatbots and other artificial intelligence (AI) to improve customer service.
For the consumer, tech has leveled the playing field — most immediately, from a customer service perspective. Treated unfairly on a flight? Tweet about it. Experience a product fail? Take pictures and email them to customer service. But the extent of retailers’ technological support cannot just emerge when things go wrong. Tech in the retail space must be about making experiences seamless throughout the journey. Perhaps when that happens, we’ll see less volatility in the industry.
If we’re going to point blame for retail woes, we must consider the oversaturation of stores in the U.S. and the fact that, on the whole, stores have not offered the level of engagement customers are seeking.
Don’t get me wrong, reading stories of store closings during the past year has been painful. The domino effect is apparent, from the former employees to the vendors who lost business to the zombie real estate left behind — likely to become co-working spaces.
But the idea that consumers simply aren’t shopping as much as they once did, or that they only want to make purchases online, is giving a simple diagnosis to a complex problem. In fact, consumers are in a constant state of buying.
If they’re not in-store, it’s not because they simply want less. They want more, but in the form of convenience. To provide this, retailers must continue to embrace emerging technology and integrate it within every aspect of their business strategy.
Some sophisticated retailers are doing this:
- Look to L’Oréal which is reinventing beauty through tech — both through innovation of their products and with the company’s mobile app. They just purchased AR beauty app-maker Modiface to create more mobile experiences where users can interact with makeup shades and methods of applications across their brand portfolio;
- Lowe’s has launched AR apps too — and for good reason. GPShopper’s Reality of Retail Tech report found that 58% of shoppers want to use AR tech to see how something looks in their house before buying it;
- Take a page out of the Nordstrom playbook. It has concentrated its efforts on bringing online and offline together by rolling out Nordstrom Local, as well as through acquisitions of HauteLook and Trunk Club.
Mobile is table stakes now, so retailers need to leverage it to give consumers even more in terms of convenience and focus on hyper-personalization. How about loyalty programs that go beyond points? Retailers can offer tailored loyalty perks based on searches and frequent purchases.
And, of course, the payments process is undergoing a makeover. Digital payments have long made transactions easier and more secure, but in many emerging cases, it’s disappearing completely. Think Amazon Go. Retailers of all types (not just grocery) seek out services that allow customers to get their shopping done with an app, ideally skipping checkout lines altogether.
No matter your mindset on the “retail apocalypse” — whether doom and gloom or optimism — we can’t ignore the fact that retail sales were up by $121.5 million in the first seven months of 2017, according to IHL Group. Retail is not dying — it is evolving.
Retailers will feel the effects of a shift in consumer preference. And brands must choose how to react: Do they evolve, maybe even reinvent themselves, by pivoting to a more aggressive mobile strategy — perhaps by layering multiple sources of data — or do they leave the race?
As an industry, we must learn from the digital transformation that is occurring and bring to light more narratives where retail has the opportunity to innovate and progress.
Maya Mikhailov is a nationally recognized leader in mobile innovations and retail solutions. Since founding GPShopper, she has worked with Fortune 500 retailers and brands to craft mobile strategies that have revolutionized the way they do business and interact with consumers throughout the shopping experience. Mikhailov is an industry expert and educator on the topics of retail mobile trends, mobile strategy, user engagement and mobile fashion trends. She was named one of Mobile Marketer’s “Mobile Women to Watch,” the DMA’s “Guru of Mobile,” and was selected by the DoD to lead a cross-departmental education course on mobile best practices. Mikhailov has served as an Adjunct Professor at NYU, focusing on the highly personalized evolution of marketing and advertising through mobile technologies.