In 2008, retailers were faced with the Great Recession, which forced consumers to spend less and be savvier about when, where and how they shop. Then in 2012, the emergence of showrooming hit retailers, which threatened brick-and-mortar businesses and encouraged consumers to find better deals from Amazon and other online pureplays.
Now, in 2015, the retail industry is facing another moment of flux: Rather than viewing the store as a weak target, it instead is becoming a key differentiator for retailers across categories.
“This year, we’re having a store resurgence,” said Nadir Hirji, Executive Vice President of Jackman Reinvents, a reinvention company that collaborates with brand leaders to help them realize untapped value for their business. Touting a hefty roster of clients, Jackman Reinvents has helped some of the industry’s top brands, including David’s Bridal, Duane Reade and Walgreens.
For years, industry experts and analysts imagined a retail world where the store did not exist. But now, Hirji noted “the store has a very important role to play. It’s not just an albatross of real estate.”
Best-in-class retailers, such as Cole Haan and Staples, are sharing how they are using the store as a hub for omnichannel engagement. Cole Haan, for example, was one of the first retailers to implement beacon technology, and is now rolling out endless aisle capabilities in stores. The retailer has even partnered with UberRUSH to extend same-day delivery to New York City-area shoppers.
Meanwhile, Staples is using in-store kiosks as a way to allow customers to purchase items unavailable in-store, and have them delivered to the location of their choice.
“Staples is talking about how a lot of their sales were coming from these in-store kiosks, and how they’re integrating in-store digital with classical digital channels,” Hirji said. “Everyone knows that you can increase customer loyalty, profitability and basket size if you engage them in several channels. It’s no longer good enough to say you’re omnichannel and have a great digital, mobile and physical experience. There’s a real need for a brand to not only show up but also differentiate across all channels.”
A key point of differentiation is to embrace technology make the in-store shopping more social and leisurely, rather than a necessity.
For example, “some grocers are even trying to integrate their app with the ability to order online and either pick-up in-store or even have someone pick the groceries for you while you get a coffee,” Hirji explained. “Retailers are trying to differentiate and think about how they can make the experience more leisurely and social, even if it’s more of a necessity.”
Understanding The ‘Social Playground’
As omnichannel becomes more of a business requirement, retailers need to understand that although they are in control of their brand image, they are no longer in control of the messaging, especially on social media.
“It is crystal clear to consumers when retailers delete negative comments on social media,” Hirji noted. “Their credibility goes right out the door.”
To better communicate and engage with these somewhat jaded shoppers, retailers need to consider how they can make messaging more transparent, and also respond to social inquiries faster and improve overall interactions.
Febreze and Doritos are two examples Hirji pointed to as brands that are using social media to connect with customers, mine feedback and respond in a timely and fun way.
The dawning of the social playground also is encouraging retailers to rethink their overall customer service strategies. Because consumers are more prone to starting on one channel and finishing in another, retailers need to ensure service reps have the data they need to drive consistent and valuable conversations.
“Just like consumers expect to start their shopping in one channel and finish in another, you’re getting customers who expect to start a conversation in a call center, and then engage again through chat and have all their history there,” Hirji said. Moving forward “customer service agents will be problem solvers and most importantly, maintain and foster relationships.”