There are a lot of things I would rather do than go into a mall. The closest mall to me charges for parking, contains stores offering poor selection, changing rooms that feel like coat closets, and many abandoned store fronts which portray a very blighted reality.
If I can't buy it online, then I usually don't buy it. The truth is that most stores today are boring and fail to provide a valuable experience for consumers.
Unfortunately, this is not groundbreaking news. Everyday a new headline appears telling of store closures, layoffs, and bankruptcies. And with that, many reasons (both legitimate and erroneous) contributing to this demise have been created such as the “Amazon Effect”, “the death of malls”, etc.
As a strategist at iProspect, my team has the opportunity to be at the forefront, helping our many retail clients navigate and succeed in today's dynamic retail marketplace. We believe this new reality is not attributable solely to one factor but rather a fundamental shift in consumer behavior led by the proliferation of connectivity and the rise in consumer expectations.
Stores are not dead, and retail is not obsolete. Roughly every 50 years, retailing undergoes this kind of reformation. So, how do retailers come out on top? Here are 5 ways to succeed in the new retail reality:
Lead with purpose
In Simon Sinek's book, "Start with Why", he says "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it." Study after study shows that brands that lead with a strong brand purpose, rooted in core values, and prioritize the success of the greater good of society are most successful. Brands like REI and Everlane are leading the way by embedding ethical, sustainable, and responsible practices into their brand DNA.
Know your customer; really know your customer
It is easy to think you know your consumer, but on average, retailers have 10 different customer data sources making it incredibly challenging to truly understand the full consumer journey. And most importantly, it provides a muddied insight into how brands can eliminate friction for their consumer. Understanding your consumer, their expectations, and the journey they take with your brand is crucial. This requires eliminating silos and investing in a holistic view of your consumer.
Focus on the experience, not just the product
Experiences are the new currency. Today, it is incredibly challenging to differentiate products. Instead, differentiation must come through a unique and personalized experience that adds value to consumers lives. And every touchpoint brands have with their customer is an opportunity to build upon the experience. This requires a holistic view of your consumer, as well as internal alignment that prioritizes consumer needs ahead of company needs.
Don’t use tech for tech sakes
Often, brands focus on using new technology to make headlines, win awards, or simply say they are being ‘innovative’. They focus on Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots when they have not mastered the ability for consumers to ‘buy online, pick up in-store’. So it’s not surprising that 69% of the 7,000+ Alexa skills contain no customer reviews; they fail to add value to customer’s lives. Instead, companies should use technology to enhance the consumer experience in a way that provides a delightful, valuable experience.
Structure for agility
Gone are the days of annual planning cycles that require months of lead times and several rounds of approvals. The pace of change has never been faster and agile brands will be setup to capitalize on new opportunities in real time. I recently heard a client say "the secret to agility is pre-planning." Agile brands will build systems and processes into their organizational structure that will allow them to respond with freedom and flexibility.
The new reality of retail requires a new way of thinking. Those that will succeed will focus on these critical elements to drive powerful, sustainable business outcomes.