Retail to go from distributing product to distributing experiences’

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Date: March 52014

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By Candice So

Last week, The Atlantic ran a story about how the traditional, brick and mortar store is now dead, pointing to former gadget giant RadioShack as the perfect example of what happens when retail begins to wither in e-commerce’s wake.

But for Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet Inc., that’s just not the case – instead, Stephens, a regular speaker on the retail and consumer tech circuit, says he sees a physical storefront as being home to a unique experience for consumers, rather than as a place to store and sell products.

As more and more of our purchasing goes online … the distribution that’s coming out of stores is going to be diminished. So what do we do? Do we just keep shrinking stores based on that until they don’t exist anymore?” he said, speaking from a press briefing on Wednesday.

Or do we repurpose the store? Do we find a new strategic imperative for what the store should be actually doing? My belief is that the store is going to go from the distribution of product to the distribution of experiences, that the purpose of the store is going to be to create such a galvanizing experience that the consumer walks out and says, well, that was mind-blowing. I’ll buy from you across any channel.”

This week, he was showing off an interactive concept store called the Retail Collective” at Dx3, a conference for digital marketers and retailers held in downtown Toronto. As the curator of the exhibit, branded as the store of the future” and presented by MasterCard, Stephens said he went for game-changing technologies that he believes will shift how retailers currently market their products to their customers.

Frankly, everything you see today is not in the future – it’s happening now,” he said.

Here are a few of the innovations he picked for the Retail Collective:

  • Hointer – A Seattle, Wash.-based startup that allows consumers to enter an apparel store and decide what they want to try on by downloading an app and putting their phones next to the tag on a piece of clothing. Using near-field communication technology or QR codes to scan items, they can then enter a fitting room and then have clothing dropped off inside from the back room, without having to look for sizes on the sales floor. 

    By scrolling through the app, they can also ask for other sizes without having to leave the fitting room. Store employees can see what shoppers are trying on by checking store-issued tablets, and they can bring other recommendations. Consumers can close the deal by buying their items straight from the changeroom using their apps and smartphones, without having to interact with the employees.

  • iQMetrix – Provides retailers with a touchscreen displaying products in a visually appealing way – for example, a model wearing a full outfit. Consumers can go to the touchscreen and tap certain parts of the screen to see the product, the price, other colours, available sizes, and they can scroll to see whether any other sizes or similar products can be shipped to the store. The interactive displays give retailers the chance to upsell their products by recommending other ones in-store, and they also help to catch customers’ attention.
  • Nomi – Gives retailers insight into how consumers behave in their brick and mortar stores, the same way they do with online shopping. While marketers can typically model consumer behaviour based on the items they browse through online, or by looking at what consumers place in their carts, retailers at physical stores don’t see much besides conversion rates or changes in inventory. 

    Using sensors placed in stores, retailers at brick and mortar stores can get insight on what most people are eyeing and where they’re congregating in the store. Nomi also makes use of Apple Inc.’s iBeacon, allowing iPhone users to tap their phones to it to get personalized, targeted promotions based on their past behaviour.

In Stephens’ mind, retailers need to learn to blend the online and offline worlds, if they want to cut down on the number of customers who are showrooming” – that is, who come into a store to check out a product and then buy it online from a different company for a lower price.

I think that consumers are certainly going to become more and more sophisticated. I think more and more people are going to be inclined to be highly informed when they shop. And it’s going to become that much more imperative for retailers to create such a unique and remarkable experience,” he said.

You want to try and have an experience that’s so great, the last thing that somebody’s thinking about is, I want to buy this for a dollar cheaper somewhere else.”

The Dx3 conference runs until Thursday.