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.
It’s also important to understand who is making the buying decision and how they make their decisions. They might talk with friends. They might get information through a relevant social media channel. Maybe they want emails from favorite retailers to get ideas. Further, you should think about what their buying criteria might be and make sure that information is provided. Perhaps its price or color. Perhaps environmental impact is important.
In addition, you should make sure that the technology adds to the overall energy and excitement of the shopping process. When people are, for example, trying out new products, or exploring how a solution might work for them, it makes the store feel livelier. Energy attracts energy, and energy attracts crowds. Experimentation attracts creativity, builds momentum and everything takes off from there. I can point to the Apple store as an example of these principles in action.
Stores that seem old and outdated are boring and depressing. Updating the environment is important. It’s important to get fresh thinking into the organization, fresh work force, new ideas, diversity, and people from completely different back grounds to infuse that new energy into the organization.
One millennial entrepreneur Marissa Swanson has an idea is to help people pick their clothes to wear for the day based on several factors such as the weather, the mood of the person, the occasion he/she needs to dress for and more. Her product is called Toss. It’s an idea that is compelling.
Recently, a gentleman at the 2015 CSCMP Conference talked about how difficult it is for him to decide what to wear every day, so he bought the same four sky blue shirts and identical dark blue suits, so he could make one les decision every day. Barack Obama, the former President of the USA, did a similar thing. President Obama always wore the same thing. Which is part of his secret to getting so much done. As he told Vanity Fair: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” This is because, the Commander in Chief explained, the act of deciding erodes your ability to make later decisions. Psychologists call it decision fatigue: it’s why shopping for groceries can be so exhausting and judges give harsher rulings later in the day.
Whatever they are selling, retailers need a solution for this type of problem. An app that helps you make that decision would be fun. My daughter told me she’d like to have an app that let her friends vote for which outfit she would wear each day. By tackling this sort of problem retailers have a chance of upselling accessories and generate more sales without hard sell techniques.
So where do you think retail is headed? Are the retail stores really going to shut down and we are going to buy everything online? Or are they just changing? How will this impact the supply chain? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.