Retailers face a simple choice today: speed up the shopping experience or slow it down. That is Insider Trends’ Head of Trends, British Cate Trotter’s, opinion. She is one of RetailDetail Congress’ keynote speakers on 27 April.
Do you agree that stores have become marketing tools rather than points of sales nowadays?
C.T.: “That is very true in some cases. Look at Samsung’s flagship store in New York, where you cannot even buy anything, even if you wanted to. It is basically the cathedral of experiential retail. That approach, focused entirely on the experience, is one of the possible shopping experience improvements.
Another option is to speed up the shopping experience and make it more efficient. I always start out simple: a “shopping experience” is a sequence of moments and one has to look which have added value and which don’t. Especially the physical stores’ shopping experience needs to be stripped from everything that does not provide added value, like looking for the product, carrying a shopping bag, waiting in line, …
A retailer can therefore choose one of two options: either you speed up or slow down the process. One can focus on enjoyable, enriching and slow experiences or one can try to make the faster elements as fast and convenient as possible. Just be really clear about what you are promising.
There are very smart retailers focused on convenience, like electronics chain Argos in the United Kingdom: they have micro stores and smaller stores that mainly serve as pick-up points. Physical stores still process 80 % of all sales in the United Kingdom, so they are still relevant. Adding pick-up points in stores, turns them into points of sale again.
Stores can offer both the fast and slow option and still service the same customer. We are not talking about different types of customers, because one single customer may want to be fast one time and take a leisurely stroll the next time. Smart brands therefore give both options, like a new Starbucks in London already does: it has a seating area with waiters and a bar where people can quickly pick up their order, placed and paid for through the app.”
Experiential retail is a very visible trend, but will that focus remain or will it blow over?
C.T.: “I really don’t think so. We are not going to go backwards at all, because there is just so much technology that we cannot live without. I believe in a ‘digital first retail’ approach, in which the store’s role is going to alter. There will be no more walk-in warehouses, those days are gone and in the next ten to fifteen years, you will see those types of stores disappear.”
Could you provide examples of what you consider to be future-proof retailers?
C.T.: “I try not to constantly talk about Amazon, but you simply cannot not talk about Amazon… Its level of experimentation and the boldness of its ideas are what makes that company future-proof. It is not so much about what you are doing right now, but about your mindset, your way of thinking! Amazon thinks so incredibly big, it’s amazing.
American DIY market chain Lowe’s does the same thing: even though it is an old, established retailer with many large, physical stores and long-term rental agreements, its board is trying very hard to bring the chain forward. Just like at Amazon, the board is considering every possible technology and how those can be implemented in the business.
In Lowe's Innovation Labs, the company experiments with technology that is currently too expensive and clunky for commercial application. Perhaps however, this technology offers possibilities for the future, like how Lowe’s has now implemented robots in several of its stores on the American West Coast. These robots can show you where products are, talk to you in several languages and scan items. Such advancements will not generate a lot of money right now, but could provide an enormous competitive edge in the future.”
Do you think believe robots will really man stores in the future?
C.T.: “Up to a certain degree, yes. We already have fully automated stores without staff, we just call them vending machines. We are definitely going to see more machines and fewer people in the entire ecosystem. In the long term, hardware and software will take over repetitive tasks that offer no added value. The side of retail that is going to speed up, will be automated. I believe discount supermarkets will be completely automated and without staff in the future.”
How can smaller retailers improve their stores on a budget?
C.T.: “If you are a local entrepreneur, I feel it is a very good idea to join a local platform that allows customers to check your supplies. London has the Nearstreet app: everyone can log in and ask where a particular item is available, because it is highly frustrating to need something and not find it anywhere.
Another idea to make sure your customers can contact you and set something aside for them. Allow customers to text you they are on their way to buy printing paper for instance. If you hav it ready at the cash register, the customer will not need to bother with parking and will not need to browse an entire store for the item. You can help speed up the entire process and increase the customer’s convenience levels considerably.
As stated, there are two tracks: speed up or create more experience. Add services that have an added value or experience, like in-store events. You could also partner with other brands: create an exclusive collection and cross-promote.
Make sure you always have new and exciting products and stay one step ahead of the customer. They should find things they have not seen before and that excite them, like Best Buy does exquisitely. The electronics chain looks for new tech start-ups and offers them a spot in their stores, giving the customer new, exciting gadgets to see.
Do you know what also works? Ask your customers what they expect from you! Ask them what they want from your store or brand and you will get surprising advice. To find out their actual needs, is definitely enriching.”
Cate Trotter will be one of our key-note speakers at the annual RetailDetail Congress in Antwerp on the 27th of April 2017. Click here for more information or to book your seat.