Thanks to eCommerce, mCommerce, big data and more, the world of retail is changing—perhaps faster than at any time in history.
How can a small retailer keep up?
Start by digesting Retail Rebooted, a new report on retail trends from JWT:
True, the report focuses on larger retail chains and while many of the things they’re doing aren’t (or aren’t yet) practical or affordable for small retailers, there is still a lot to learn. You’ll want to pore over the massive report yourself, but here are some of the key takeaways.
The primary trend affecting small companies is “Retail as the Third Space.” While this has been underway for a while, it’s really taking hold now. As eCommerce and mCommerce become more prevalent, JWT says, brick-and-mortar retail will increasingly serve as a “third space” that’s only partly about transactions. It’s just as much (if not more) about the customer experience, customer service and a unique, engaging environment.
What Retail Store Customers Want
1. Personalized Customer Service
Customers want in-person service they can’t get online. This is crucial to differentiating your store from the one-dimensional online shopping experience.
What to do: Make sure your salespeople are well trained in customer service and empowered to make the customer experience outstanding. Hire for personality. You can teach someone to work a cash register, but you can’t teach “people skills.”
2. A Sensory Experience
Retail locations that are visually attractive and appealing are a big draw. Sensory experiences can take opposite forms. If your target market is kids or teens, you might want sensory overload with lots of excitement. If it’s moms, you might want a restful, relaxing escape from the stress of daily life.
What to do: Look at your store with a critical eye to how it looks, sounds, even smells. Something as simple as playing the right music or adding comfortable chairs where customers’ friends can relax while they shop can make a huge difference in how much time customers spend with you.
3. Fun and Entertainment
Customers no longer have to go to stores to buy, so you have to work harder. It’s always been the case that retail is competing for discretionary dollars, but today it’s even clearer that your store is competing with other leisure activities like going to a park, museum or sporting event.
What to do: Hold events that make your store a fun, exciting gathering place. A cosmetics boutique could hold makeover sessions; a children’s bookstore can host readings; a gourmet food shop can have regular tastings.
4. A Curated Experience
Buying online is convenient, but can also lead to overload, as anyone who’s ever shopped for shoes on Zappos.com can attest. “Consumers often feel overwhelmed by the abundance [of choices] offered online and want retailers to curate,” the report states.
What to do: You can’t compete with Zappos or Walmart, so don’t even try. Instead, focus on creating a carefully curated experience offering the best of the best. Use window and store displays to highlight your selections and emphasize your picks (“Staff Favorites” or “Favorite Mother’s Day Gifts”). Your employees must act as curators too, being able to advise customers on their purchases and knowledgeable about your stock.
5. Online/Offline Integration
Customers expect a seamless transition between shopping on your website (if you have an eCommerce site) and shopping at your store. If your business has both an eCommerce and brick-and-mortar component, make sure the experiences are integrated so one is an extension of the other.
What to do: Take an in-depth look at your store and website. Does your brand look and feel the same online and off? Try navigating your website like a customer would, paying attention to ease of browsing and buying. Provide services like allowing customers to order in-store and have products delivered to their homes, or ordering online and picking up in-store, or returning online purchases in-store so they can deal with a live person.
6. Mobile Technology
Big retailers are taking advantage of customers’ reliance on mobile phones to grab tons of data and personalize the sales experience. Lots of this is still beyond a small business’s budget, but it’s important to be aware of.
What to do: Make sure your store has a presence on local search sites like Google and Local.com so mobile shoppers find you when they’re looking for what you sell. Also check into geofencing, which uses mobile GPS technology to send texts to consumers who opt-in to receive messages from you when they’re within a certain radius of your store. If a prospect is at your competitors’ across the street, they could get a text from you announcing a special offer or other reason to head into your store. Pretty cool.