How Specialty Retailers Can Succeed in the Age of Amazon

Turning Deep Product Knowledge and Personalized Engagement Into Competitive Weapons

Specialty retailers, especially those with carefully curated product offerings and complex sales cycles, face intense competitive pressures against the convenience offered by online retailers and big-box merchants. While consumers value the deep product knowledge, personalized engagement and ongoing customer relationships that specialty retailers can offer, it’s often a challenge to get new (and even returning) customers into the store. Additionally, many specialty retailers have failed to keep up with the latest technology trends — particularly those that can build a comprehensive customer database and simplify marketing and communications tasks. This white paper will identify winning strategies to help specialty retailers accentuate their strengths — top-tier product knowledge, years-long customer relationships and strong ties to their local communities chief among them — while also providing the tools needed to enhance the in-store experience, personalize customer engagement and build customer loyalty. Additionally, these tools will help specialty retailers reach new generations of customers who will be attracted to high service levels, shared values and community relationships.

Specialty retailers will learn effective methods to build on their unique business attributes by:

  • Enhancing existing customer relationships with personalization techniques that can attract and retain customers in a crowded marketplace
  • Automating marketing outreach and customer communications via email, text, social channels and other consumer touch points;
  • Leveraging events, classes and other in-person experiences to grow store traffic, showcase the retailer’s depth of product offerings and build community relationships;
  • Arming in-store associates with the information and product knowledge they need to enhance the sales process; and
  • Expanding the retailer’s high-touch, information-intensive sales processes beyond the store to digital and social touch points.


  1. Personalization
  2. In-Person Experiences
  3. In-Store Associates
  4. Automation
  5. Interactive Digital & Social Experiences
  6. Personalization Quiz


Consumer data is everywhere, and while your customers may have shown they’re willing to share their information with you, in return they expect a better buying experience — one with less friction and more personalized service. They want instant access to the products that interest them and the ability to get those items into their hands as quickly as possible. Your shoppers don’t want one-size-fits-all product suggestions, and they won’t tolerate delays when it comes to completing their transactions and taking delivery of their purchases.

One primary challenge retailers face today in upholding their end of such data-sharing deals is that often, they’re still relying on fragmented ecosystems with customer information spread across numerous disparate platforms. This makes it difficult to gain insight into a shopper’s buying history and preferences, and where openings exist to recommend complementary products.

77% of executives state that their technology architecture is becoming very critical or critical to the overall success of their organization…It’s not about a single tool or service, but the culmination of an array of technologies.

Source: Accenture, Technology Vision 2021

As the sea of data expands, you have an opportunity to stand out from your competitors and attract customers by delivering a highly personalized experience that gets right to the heart of what your shoppers want and expect.

  • Get a complete customer view by connecting data about their online buying activity with their in-store purchases.
  • Identify products that align with the shopper’s purchase history and preferences.
  • Use endless-aisle technology to expand the buying experience and provide shoppers with the products they want.
  • Bridge the data between your back-end systems.

Using the right blend of technology, specialty retailers can look across each customer’s data profile — which products they viewed online, what they’ve already purchased and how frequently they’re buying from your brand. Your in-store associates will be able to connect the dots and use that information in the moment to close the sale by making the shopper’s experience come to life.

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In-Person Experiences

Your customers have no shortage of available buying options. They can go online, complete a few clicks and have their new item on its way in just a few minutes. Competing against multi-category merchants — many of which offer lower shipping costs to shoppers with higher order values — is an obstacle for retailers, but it isn’t insurmountable.

As a specialty retailer, you have a tremendous asset that many big-box and online-only sellers don’t, and that’s the ability to create an in-person experience that deepens the customer relationship and drives better retention. Consider that your customers may not be making quick purchases; often, they’re spending a considerable amount of money or making a significant change to their lifestyle.

Customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020.

Source: Walker, Customers 2020

Savvy brands can take advantage of this niche, and its more involved sales cycle, to make the in-person experience part of the customer’s buying decision. If your locations offer classes or hold other types of events, you have a valuable opportunity to leverage technology to grow your in-store traffic, showcase the depth and value of your product offerings, and build strong and lasting community relationships.

  • Make it easy for customers to book appointments and schedule classes online.
  • Give customers a sense of belonging by offering them opportunities to learn and connecting them with others who share their interests.
  • Use in-store digital signage to boost engagement and inform shoppers about upcoming events.
  • Enhance buyers’ satisfaction by showing them how to get the most value out of their purchases.
  • Add personalized email communications and event invitations to bring customers back into the store.
  • Leverage social media channels to advertise events and encourage shoppers to visit the nearest location.

A robust technology platform will enable your brand to provide easy access to consistent information — pricing, product details, event times and locations — while driving increased store traffic. Using the right tools, you can create an in-store experience that sets you apart from the competition and boosts customer satisfaction and retention.

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In-Store Associates

With a better in-person experience in mind, specialty retailers must remember that consumers have more information available to them now than ever before. An increasing number of shoppers conduct thorough research before setting out to make a purchase, and they enter your stores with an impressive amount of product knowledge. Between traditionally high turnover rates of in-store staff and the enormous volume of new products and accessories coming to market, sales associates may not have as much familiarity with the latest releases. This can put you at a disadvantage if your in-store associates must scramble to catch up. You could lose your customers’ trust, and they may even wonder if their trip was a waste of time.

Technology is the key to address this challenge. It enables your store representatives to keep up with the pace of commerce today. But a proper retail management system should encompass much more than just the POS transactional component in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Acting as a sales aid in the store environment, the right tools put vital information at associates’ fingertips to help them move your customers through the buying journey. But it’s also essential that associates have the support they need to use the tools at their disposal effectively.

84% of businesses see data literacy as a core competency that all employees need to have in the next five years, and 70% say a lack of data literacy skills in the business is impacting the value they get from investment in data and technology.

Source: Experian, 2018 Global Data Management Benchmark Report

Shoppers have greater confidence in their purchase when the sales rep is knowledgeable. Additionally, supporting technologies such as Endless Aisle, with its immersive content, enable a frictionless and informed purchasing experience. Mandating technology training from the top down creates a culture of data-informed associates that can better support customers both in-store and online. Rounding out the empowerment of your in-store associates is the Dropship platform, which puts any number of flexible delivery options on the table and allows customers to choose where, how and how quickly they want their items shipped.

  • Look up products and share details with shoppers while they’re still in the store.
  • Have visibility into the full spectrum of inventory — in every store, warehouse and distribution center, and even what’s available from suppliers.
  • Provide access to immersive content in-store so buyers can validate their purchase decision and complete their transaction on the spot.
  • Offer delivery to the shopper’s home or to the store, in case additional setup or training is needed.

By putting powerful technology in the hands of your in-store associates, you’ll empower them to never have to say No” to customers.

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With their longer and more complex buying cycles, specialty retailers often bump up against difficulties maintaining customer engagement. Shoppers may want to contemplate their purchases. Some need to sit down with an expert to ask questions and discuss a product’s features and functionality. Others might not make this type of purchase often and need help navigating the various options.

The result is a sales process that doesn’t always begin and end in the store. And because their journey may take more time, it can be a challenge to keep your customers’ attention on your brand. Automation – applied in the right ways and used as part of a broader strategy – can help you extend the customer relationship.

  1. Example: A wireless brand leverages automation to touch base with customers whose contracts are coming due.
  2. Example: A jewelry retailer relies on automation to let it know when a customer’s anniversary or birthday is on the horizon.

Automation doesn’t replace your in-store associates. Instead, because store staff inevitably have downtime, you can recapture some of those hours through the use of automation. Best-in-class systems remove the guesswork for associates by clearly identifying touch points for customers based on any number of parameters — key dates, historical purchasing patterns, even the length of time since the customer’s last in-store visit. With a quick email or text message sent at just the right time, all of the customer data your brand has been collecting over the years can finally deliver tangible value in the form of deepening existing relationships and driving revenue.

When your customers receive communications tailored to their buying history and personal profile, they’re more likely to click through to see what you have to offer. For example, is wedding season on the way? If so, a discount code for cufflinks and ties may be most effective when targeted at customers who have purchased a suit in the last few years.

A customer was just in the store as a result of the text message they got on their phone about a relevant promotion. I’m pleased with that type of ROI.

Charlie Kariainen, Director of Sales, TEAM Wireless iQmetrix customer

Retailers that are winning — and winning big — have prioritized data-driven personalization and automation. Impersonal interactions are yesterday. Highly relevant, personalized experiences that feel organic and natural are the key to success tomorrow.

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Interactive Digital & Social Experiences

Though the in-store experience remains a powerful asset, specialty retailers must also work to make their digital touch points with customers equally effective. In a sea of social media channels and email inboxes, shoppers can more easily hit Delete rather than take the time to read everything in front of them. Getting your communications noticed takes good data and knowledge of what your shoppers want.

With its strong automation capabilities, RQ makes it easy to extend your high-touch sales process into the digital realm. Consider your loyalty program. It’s an important component in many retailers’ strategies, and you can boost its impact with the right approach. Using online touch points, you can reinforce the value of your customers’ rewards points and direct them to products they can buy with their loyalty rewards.

Customized receipts are another option. They offer a lasting reminder of your warranty policy, of recurring events held in your brick-and-mortar stores, and of suggestive sell items that dovetail with the customer’s previous purchases. Including these messages on personalized receipts can bring shoppers back into your store.

As people pursue greater meaning in their lives, businesses will reevaluate what it means to be a customer’ and an employee’…Organizations must support customers’ and employees’ increasingly liquid desires and their pursuit of deeper meaning in their daily lives. They can cater to people’s growing thirst for conscious consumption by providing guilt-free experiences, and by creating new ways to help people feel good about being who they are and doing what they do.

Source: Accenture, Fjord Trends 2021

The importance of post-sale support can’t be overstated. Because your buying cycle may be information- and time-intensive, a customer survey or follow-up questionnaire may offer a timely way to reconnect after a purchase. Ask customers what you could have done better. Solicit their feedback on their sales associate’s knowledge level. Inquire about any lingering product questions they may have. By identifying opportunities to improve, you can move your brand to the front of the pack while showing your customers that you value their input.

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Personalization Quiz

Is your brand already a specialty retail superstar, or is there room for improvement? Take our quiz to discover your position and identify opportunities to sharpen your specialty retail skills.

  1. Has your brand earned a reputation as the go-to place for customers to receive expert advice on product features, functionalities, and compatibility with accessories or other related items?
  2. Is your catalog focused on a few key product categories but brimming with options so customers can choose the perfect configuration for their needs?
  3. Are your stores known for community participation, perhaps through sponsoring of local sports teams, hosting classes or other events, volunteering for community fundraisers, or helping to advertise holiday or school celebrations?
  4. Do your customers feel confident that your longtime sales associates know their needs and preferences, either because of their past shopping history or through ongoing email, text and social media communications?
  5. Does your brand offer shoppers the same wide array of shipping and delivery options, no matter if they make their purchase in-store or online?

If you answered No” to any of these questions, it’s time to move your brand to the front of the pack and take your place as a trusted specialty retailer. Call iQmetrix today to learn how our suite of retail solutions can help you modernize your technology stack, drive better customer retention and improve long-term shopper satisfaction.

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