Physical retail must reinvent itself with the help of technology.
Both brick-and-mortar and brick-and-click retail are experiencing a profound transformation. The ways consumers shop are shifting. Stores are closing. The driving force behind this change is mobile technology’s evolution, coupled with the continued rise of online sales and the re-casting of expectations around what it means to shop in a physical store.
The time to reinvent is now. Mobile marketing must position itself alongside in-store retail throughout this transition, tightening the industry’s partnerships with brands and manufacturers, and helping traditional retail leadership adapt and keep pace with technology and related advances. To begin, both industries can start with a close look at the following factors.
- The Ubiquity Factor: When it comes to brick-and-mortar retail, there is simply too much product on the shelf and too many items hanging from the fixtures. In an on-demand world, retail has defaulted to offering just about every option that a manufacturer presents them in the showroom — and that’s not to the industry’s benefit. As The Amazon Effect illustrates, when consumers want an everything-under-the-sun selection, they simply shop online. Rather than mazes of massed-out merchandise piled high on tables, retail needs to revitalize the craft of curating truly distinctive and appealing assortments of goods. The goal is clean, clear, aspirational, elegant presentations that welcome consumers rather than overwhelm and repel them. Legacy retailers need to return to the lessons of Retail 101, getting back to the basics and applying the limited-assortment and inventory principles that applied 50 years ago. At the same time, mobile marketing can advance retail’s effectiveness in this effort, providing app-based in-store resources and empowering the industry to inspire and inform shoppers around focused and exclusive collections.
- The Relationship Opportunity: Blame for the weakening of consumers’ attraction to in-store experiences can’t be wholly assigned to Amazon and the Internet. Retail 101 applies here as well: the winning focus for in-store retail will be friendly and helpful personalized relationships between shoppers and deeply knowledgeable — even expert-level — sales associates. Mobile marketing can augment retail’s connection to physical-retail customers by empowering associates with the data and tools needed to learn and communicate, and they can base this approach on consumer-granted location-based mobile information. Nothing will replace the power and satisfaction of an authentic personal connection, but retail should also embrace mobile’s unique intelligence opportunity to offer meaningful insights into consumer needs.
- In-Store Scarcity — Not a Net Negative: When retail leaves behind the inventory wars, it creates a shopping environment in which it’s OK if a given product sells out. If physical stores are continually offering inspiring choices in place of shopworn merchandise left for months on shelves and fixtures, then changing inventory adds to the opportunities around fostering proactive, personalized relationships. Again, this is where mobile marketing’s consumer behavior data and quantified experiences come into play, helping traditional-retail executives return to the proven principles of yesteryear and encouraging shoppers to revisit the value of in-store recommendations. And, it is important to note, when consumers find excitement in browsing the newness of a changing space, they generate greater visit-frequency to boot.
- Pricing Factors and the Mobile Consumer: Consumers are curious, smart, and data-informed. Omnipresent mobile devices empower them to readily access competitive pricing, meaning that the days of convoluted sticker games are over. It’s time for retail to cut a clear path to value for the in-store shopper, justifying price-points and defining the difference between ubiquitous online inventory versus the immersive, identity-shaping relationships that become possible when a consumer steps into a store.
Yes, retail is responding to the changing dynamics of shoppers’ behavior, and there are prices to be paid in the process, but the trend of store closings in the last three to five years is ultimately a healthy one. Physical stores will not simply fade away, but they’ll have to do more with less. The days of over-storing are finished.
Surviving physical-retail locations must up their game, get their houses in order, and, again, not blame digital when the root of the industrywide problem lies in stores chasing away consumers. Nobody wants mounds of inventory or insultingly complex pricing gimmicks. Nobody wants unkempt fitting rooms, soiled carpets, poor lighting, and often-unsanitary rest rooms.
Physical retail must reinvent itself with the help of technology. Mobile marketing is poised to help, providing brick-and-mortar with conduits to content, to forward-leaning customer interactions, and to moments of anticipatory inspiration. The time for smaller format, easier to maintain, easier to refresh, and less-capital-intense environments has come. Remaking in-store retail along these lines will bring consumers back. They will browse to touch and experience the product. They will discover new reasons to feel welcome and inspired. Together, mobile and retail can reinvent in-store shopping as a meaningful and memorable alternative to online purchases alone.
Julie Bernard is Chief Marketing Officer at Verve.
This article first appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.
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