Survive a retail apocalypse: Innovate the in-store customer experience
Originally published on Retail Customer Experience.
Just when we thought retail was going extinct, it showed us it had a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Before the advent of the internet, retail outlets defined themselves by their physical reach — the bigger the better. When e-commerce busted onto the scene, it presented such an appealing alternative to the big-box model that it led to thousands of shuttered stores as part of the “retail apocalypse.”
With the benefit of some distance, we can see this period as a market correction, rather than a death knell. In 2018, half as many retailers closed compared to the year prior. Meanwhile, startups are marching confidently into the space with innovative ideas for stale concepts.
Consumers don’t want to shop exclusively online, but they’re not satisfied with the traditional in-store experience, either. They want small, personal, curated experiences that leverage the convenience of home delivery. Retailers have a golden opportunity to thrive — as long as they’re willing to adapt.
The future of retail in action
The future of brick-and-mortar retail is not reserved for companies that started online or made splashy debuts in the last few years. Even legacy brands can adapt and excel.
Best Buy offers a great example. The company took aggressive steps to reconfigure store designs, diversify its offerings, and upgrade the in-store experience. Now, while many of its competitors are struggling, Best Buy is recording record-high stock prices.
There are signs of life across the retail landscape. Newcomer B8ta is reimagining retail through a “store as a service” business model. Small merchants can get all the resources they need to boast a brick-and-mortar presence through what amounts to a subscription. Essentially, B8ta is removing the gatekeepers from retail and inviting new products and ideas into the market.
Even dying brands like Toys R Us are finding new life through fresh approaches. Reports suggest the brand may be planning a comeback with stores designed more like playgrounds than toy warehouses. How can retail be dead if stores are literally rising from the ashes?
Delivering an exceptional in-store experience
People used to visit stores to shop. Now, they visit to interact. The expectation is not that they will walk out with something in a bag — it’s that they will experience products they want to experience again.
As we move forward, visits to stores will primarily be about education, awareness, and playful interaction. Consumers will expect to be engaged, surprised, and catered to on a personal level. Done well, the in-store experience has the potential to multiply a retailer’s revenue. Unfortunately, perfect isn’t easy.
Hooking customers with lots of options and fickle loyalties requires forward-thinking retailers to adopt cutting-edge technologies. Advancements like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things empower retailers to deliver a seamless, singular experience.
The goal isn’t to stuff stores with tech but to elegantly embed tech in ways that genuinely upgrade the in-store experience.
Here are some options already revolutionizing retail:
• Dynamic format displays: The days of static signage are over. LED walls, laser projections, or transparent LCD screens provide a dynamic tool kit for retailers to pull from. Stores can display clean and compelling imagery that’s able to instantly adapt. Plus, modern signage busts out of the rectangular box by allowing unusual sizes, shapes, and applications — every surface can now be a canvas. Shops now have an unprecedented ability to fine-tune in-store ambiance and target their marketing messages.
• Connected devices: Stores can be integrated in new ways, thanks to internet-connected devices. When all these devices work in concert, navigating the store feels like a homogeneous experience rather than a series of discreet steps. Connected devices also create opportunities for novel encounters. At the Microsoft Lounge, for example, a kinetic-powered wall of wooden sensors can track people’s movements and translate them into dynamic wall projections. When used smartly, connected devices make stores more immersive and accommodating.
• Advanced retail software: All new retail technology sits on a foundation of software. Everything from AI to digital signage is powered by a software layer that rapidly expands and advances. The software itself might not seem so exciting. What it enables, however, is truly transformative. Stronger, smarter, simpler, and more accessible software will make it easier for all stores to deploy new technologies effectively.
Retail technology is no longer an accoutrement; it’s the centerpiece of the in-store experience. Brands that embrace this idea now are in the best position to weather a period of disruption and come out stronger than ever.