If brick and mortar retail is to survive, retailers can’t just sell technology, but they must use technology in new and smart ways. Plus, it can’t be gadgets for the sake of gadgets, but must help customers in measurable ways.
What that looks like is continued to evolve. It might be installing iPad stations where shoppers can browse (and hopefully buy) products that they can’t find on the retail floor. It may be putting up big screen TVs to showcase the latest technology and waiting for the orders to flow in.
The spray and pray technique doesn’t work, so it’s necessary to take a step back and take a different perspective. Why do consumers go to a retail store? Apparently, they want to buy something. They have a need or a problem. Or they might not have an immediate problem, but are window shopping the newest iteration of a favorite problem. That would be more of a potential problem. At the end of the day, it is always about solving peoples’ problems.
As a kid, my lower middle class family shopped for new clothes a handful of times each year, usually around a big holiday. Everyone in the family got to go to the cloth store with an assigned budget and get the most that we could from our money. We’d take that cloth to a tailor and give him measurements and the clothes would be ready in a week. We’d go and make sure it fit well and was the style we wanted
Of course, now, it’s a whole different world. I choose a retailer who sells readymade clothes. I find a store that has a style I like, that sells on-trend products. These retailers work to make sure that they have these high-demand items stocked in various sizes. It’s much easier but there’s still a problem. Not every size is in the store—I wear an odd size and they almost never have it. In the end, I almost always need to take my “readymade” clothes to the tailor to be shortened in the hem.
Further, my needs have evolved. As a software engineer, I could do my job wearing just about anything. When I changed into a customer facing role and travelled to customer sites to deploy systems, I had to pay special attention to my fashion. I needed to instill confidence in the customers that I will get the job done. As a brown Indian guy, it is even more challenging when all your peers are mostly Caucasian Americans.
Then I got promoted to design architect, where I led teams of people, anywhere from five to 20, in week long end-to-end design meetings. I need to provide solutions to these executives that move millions and even billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise through the supply chain. Again, how I dressed really mattered.
Now, I have transitioned into sales roles. It is even more important because I have very little time to win the confidence of the people, build that relationship and make them understand that our product and our company can solve the problem they are having. All these start with clothing. That’s true of every professional today.
All retailers, from those who sell technology to those who sell clothes are evolving in similar ways. It’s critical to engage the customer in ways that allow you to address their pain point. It starts with segmenting the market. In apparel, it might be babies, kids, adult women, and adult men, for example. Or for technology it might be power users and beginners or professionals and gamers.