A Glimpse Into the Future of Retail… And How to Plan For It

As someone that specializes in retail marketing, I’m often asked what I think the future holds for retail. Though I don’t have a crystal ball, I do have a (healthy) obsession with anything related to consumer behavior and shopper marketing trends.  And the way I see it, there will be two major changes to retail, as a whole, which are:

a) A Convergence of Online and Offline

Instead of being competing business models, these two sectors will evolve into a single retail entity–that happens to have both online and offline applications.

b) A Redefinition of the In-Store Experience

Stores of the future will no longer be transaction factories; rather, they will provide shoppers with value-added learning and entertainment experiences.

So you could say the future of retail will be a marriage between tradition and technology: what was always there AND what is now available.  And so, it seems only fitting to use an old wedding adage—something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue—to illustrate my various recommendations for planning a successful future for your retail organization.

Something Old

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the retail success stories of our past. Historically, companies were committed to customer service and focused on their sales force as an integral part of their success. And we’re seeing an upward trend in the reintroduction of customer service and brand training. They key is looking back to how things used to be done (specifically in terms of customer service and relationship building) and then doing it. Customers openly admit that they are looking for these types of experiences. In fact, of the 86% of customers who are willing to pay more for a better experience, 1% claim that retailers meet their expectations (Forbes).  Clearly, there’s an unmet need. Furthermore, 78% of consumers say that a company’s customer service plays a role in deciding between brands (Zendesk).

The reality, these days, is that customer service IS branding. So how are you making customer service an integral part of your shoppers’ experience?

Something New

Incorporating “something new” Is about looking towards the innovative technology of today (i.e. beacons, pay-as-you-go technology, and other omni-channel elements), and understanding how they fit into your marketing mix. We need to keep in mind that technology is like the (re)-invention of the Guttenberg printing press: it was a breakthrough game-changer, but the technology was only as good as the story it was printing. Same goes for the incorporation of new technologies into your marketing strategy. Technology is simply a vehicle to deliver your brand’s story and demonstrate your point of difference, but it is an absolutely critical part of the consumer’s experience—and expectation.

As an example, Rebecca Minkoff introduced Smart Dressing Rooms in December 2014 to her retail stores and created, what company CEO Uri Minkoff (the designer’s brother) is calling “Retail 3.0.” Standing in front of the 122-inch connected wall, customers can browse and request specific items be sent to their fitting room. Store associates communicate with their customers via text while customers browse, drink in hand.

This incorporation of technology enhanced and complemented the brand’s reputation for forward-thinking. It’s a great example of incorporating new innovations that align with the brand and giving customers an experience worth talking about.

Something Borrowed

When planning your marketing strategies, take inspiration (and even guidance) from market leaders and thought leaders, alike. But this is not about simply cutting and pasting; it’s about adopting best practices that match your brand’s particular personality and the unique needs of your own customers. Ask yourself what your brand’s versions are of the ideas and actions that you are admiring from afar. The key here is recognizing that it’s not always necessary (or cost-effective) to ‘reinvent the wheel’.

Case in point, Tesla’s VP of design admits their stores are ‘exactly like’ the Apple Store (Business Insider), from how they organized their floor space to their use of multi-sensory experiences. And, (not by accident), both Apple and Tesla focus on the way the customer feels, allowing them to enjoy their in-store experience, instead of pressuring them to make a purchase.

Something Blue

And then, there are times when innovation really is the key to creating something worth talking about. So instead of ‘Blue’, it’s probably more appropriate to call this section ‘Out-of-the-blue’… as in “out of the blue thinking”.

This is about being open (and more importantly, supportive) to the original ideas that come from within. In other words, we need to embrace the innovative practices and/or products that are created in-house. To do this, effectively, you need to create a culture that supports customer-centric, user-friendly ideas; a culture of innovation and creativity.

And stats back this up: innovative companies average an annual growth rate of 13%, whereas other companies average around 5% (Entrepreneur.com). Furthermore, 68% of consumers are willing to pay 21% more, on average, for a company that they believe to be innovative (2015 Ketchum Innovation Kernel Study).

So what’s next?

Adhering to these macro recommendations, outlined above, will certainly help your retail organizations remain relevant as you move forward, but you also need to be in-tune with subtleties within your specific market and category.  Be sure to make listening—to your customers and staff—a priority; their opinions and feedback are often the most important guide for ensuring success into the future.