At the 2018 iQmetrix Meetup, I sat in on the session The Future of Retail. Three brilliant presenters touched on the changes to come for retail and how businesses can act to stay upstream of the flood of new trends. Their expertise is something all retailers should consider when making plans to scale for the future.
The future of retail is a daunting thing and frightening to most businesses in any retail sphere. Now more than ever, expectations from consumers are turning industries on their head and shoppers are becoming more demanding in what they want from their retail experience. The newest generation, Gen Z, views the experience in-store almost as important as the product they’re purchasing.
The new golden rule for retail? Not just transact, interact.
Retailers Big and Small are Making Moves
Steph Kolly Boult, Product Manager of Endless Aisle, gave proof that expected interaction is more than just a passing fad. Large retailers like Nordstrom, Shopify, and Cartier are introducing new experiential shopping experiences that provides exactly what these Gen Z (and Millennials, too) want from the businesses they trust.
Nordstrom has engaged in buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) where the pickup locations are shops and community areas where consumers would want to spend time. Shopify has transformed their retail processes to include experience centers where businesses can be supported beyond the online platform.
A New Retail Experience
Overall, the retail space is transforming. In New York, small retailers are coming together to create context for the products they sell. Apartment shopping settings are popping up, where everything in the home is able to be purchased. This allows shoppers to visualize a product in their own lives—whereas a traditional online or in-store experience does not reflect that of their own living situation.
The Meetup day one keynote speaker, Shelly Palmer, touched on how small data (rather than mined big data) can provide better insights into understanding the consumer. Small data collected at every touch point allows retailers to solve real problems before implementing services that don’t fully satisfy the consumer’s expectations. Shelly mentioned that “wireless stores are the new post office,” and if we think about what that means, it’s scarily true. It’s a luxury that wireless and repair retailers have customers that still come to their brick-and-mortar store. Like the way of the post office, this will not always be the case for wireless and repair and these new methods of the in-store experience (think coffee shops, food trucks, apartments as stores) can mitigate that change and keep customers in stores.
So, what can retailers do today to prepare for the future?
How to Compete and Win
To start, retailers must make sure the in-store experience is up to par. It’s so much more than design; it’s about layout, feeling, and interaction. Take mobile seriously and take the sales process to a customer in order to create a personalized transaction that provides them with the relationship shopping experience that Gen Z and Millennials are begging for. For example, VR has been used to bridge a gap between "what is" and "what could be" in the retail space. When consumers are looking for that personalized connection, companies have used VR to create atmospheres that enable their staff to provide the ideal interaction. When the layout is complete, the build begins, and the retailer knows what feeling the finished product will elicit.
Next steps begin and end with knowing your customer. With all the data that can and should be collected, there is no excuse to not know who is purchasing from you. Who upgrades every year? Who likes $0 phones? Who spends the most money with you? These small data points make a big impact and let you accurately provide customers with what they want. Because, as you may have already experienced, newer generations are quick to end loyalty with a brand that does not understand them. Did your business send Android deals to an iPhone user? If so, it’s likely that they won’t be subscribing to your services for much longer as in their eyes, you don't know who they are.
Streamlined or Bust
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again; retail is changing really, really fast. Will you survive? Sure, we can take insights from the experts, think tanks, researchers, and vendors in our industry but when it comes to retail, you can't just be aware of these insights— you can either act on them and adapt to industry changes or you decline. Change in retail is not a new concept and recent trends of constant innovation and experimentation can be dangerous. Nathaniel Morris, Senior Manager of Technology at Cellular Sales says that this notion means we need to “keep looking at the curve coming at [us] in order to adapt. Retail is a value exchange and since value erodes over time, for [retailers] it starts with the transaction. Consumers engage in seamless interactions daily and if that streamlined process fails, it can end your relationship with them." And the demands are endless: shoppers want consistency but innovation. Competition demands development as the competition for wireless hardware is cutthroat; which devices has the best camera, the largest storage space, or the sleekest design are all things evaluated by consumers as they pick and chose between the many mobile device options. When they find their ideal device consumers will show loyalty to that product or brand, however, have no patience for a disjointed experience. In pursuit of being the chosen product consumers purchase by making additions to their offering, companies must also be mindful of the expectations customers have; shoppers are known for being unforgiving of businesses who can't keep up.
Be Sure to Make Waves
Disruption is coming and having an increasing value exchange is everything. Take a page from the Zipcar handbook. This car company provides fuel, insurance, and a vehicle at an hourly rate. Their processes are completely disrupting the face of retail and disregarding the traditional consumption model.
Did you know: when it comes to shopping, it was found that 68% of Millennials demand an integrated seamless experience regardless of the channel.
75 years ago, your retailer knew who you were. Millennials and Gen Z are after that same “small town” relationship experience. How can you mimic that when you're dealing in a ever-changing, tech world? Be sure to start by knowing the customer. This includes:
- Who are they as people?
- Where do they come from?
- What are their needs?
- Where, when, and what do they buy?
Understand your audience beyond the point of being able to accurately target your marketing.
All three presenters iterated the same takeaway: if it’s not relevant, it’s not working. Reverse hubris and focus on the customer first. What are you doing to stay relevant and useful?
The iQmetrix point of sale and retail management system, RQ, is industry-leading for a reason. See how this solution will jump start your ability to stay ahead of consumer trends and help you surf the wave of new retail processes.