Building Community in Retail – Magazine Articles
For years we have heard about the impending death of Main Street. Footfall is down, costs are up and e-commerce is taking over. News headlines seem to support this idea, just consider the ongoing House of Fraser saga. Yes, it was bought by Mike Ashley, but suppliers are still clamoring for money (to the tune of Â£ 484million, according to the EY administrator), jobs are at risk and relationships with luxury brands like Mulberry took a hit.
One of the biggest threats retailers face comes from e-commerce giants and the continued growth of online shopping. While most retailers are tackling this challenge by moving to an omnichannel model, they also need to consider changing buying behavior, how customers are more savvy than ever before, and how retailing is changing. detail itself is evolving.
Going forward, there are many solutions and innovations that retailers are considering to avoid a slow death. In practice, this may require a delicate balance between a number of factors, ranging from technology and new business models to experiential retail and shoppers’ entertainment. But everyone needs to make sure the customer experience is the same across all touchpoints, from in-store interactions to purchasing products on apps or online. To a large extent, this has been accomplished through technology which makes shopping more convenient, gives the customer more choice and the transaction is completed quickly.
RECOVERING THE COMMUNITY
While this is a win for the customer experience, what about the retailer’s long-term goals? The ultimate goal is to increase revenue by attracting more buyers.
Shoppers want human interaction when they walk into a store, according to a recent PwC study. They don’t all want to use self-service technology or talk to bots. In fact, 59% of people surveyed globally said they believe brands have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience.
Maybe something can be learned by taking a higher level view and looking at the main street as a whole – not all towns and main streets are struggling. Stockton-on-Tees, for example, defied the odds and recorded more store openings than closures in 2017. It was the only city center in the region to turn the tide following the proactive regeneration plan of the municipal Council.
According to the city council, ââ¦ our regeneration of the High Street has been about providing a city center that offers different things. It was as much about organizing events, celebrating heritage and creating pleasant spaces as it was about shopping â.
Applying this same mindset to individual stores or retail chains can have a huge impact on the health of Main Street.
Retailers like Sports Direct and Game are taking the idea of ââcustomer entertainment to the next level and showing what can be achieved. The collaboration between the two companies sees Sports Direct opening e-sports spaces in some of its stores. The first Belong gaming arena has already launched, with more to follow, and offers players a state-of-the-art space to play the latest games.
John Lewis in the new Westgate Shopping Center in Oxford offers customers an Alice in Wonderland themed experience, supported by 300 staff members trained by the Oxford Playhouse Theater.
Other retailers are making smaller, incremental changes, such as integrating coffee shops and nail salons into stores. These add-ons offer value themselves, but also ensure that shoppers stay in store longer and are more engaged.
THE TECHNOLOGICAL POINT OF VIEW
Technology is always important, but, according to the PwC report, as a catalyst for this more human customer experience, not at its expense.
While entertainment and experiential retail are one element, they need to be brought together and enabled by technology. Together, they can foster a sense of community.
Walk into any official Apple store today and you’ll notice that there isn’t a single “traditional” item in sight. Instead, you’ll find staff with a mobile POS device in one hand roaming the shop floor freely and helping customers.
The advantages are clear: buyers don’t have to queue to make a purchase, especially during peak periods. Likewise, there is a tremendous degree of freedom and liberation that comes from freeing staff members from a static crate and allowing them to work throughout the shop if necessary. Suddenly, employees are no longer limited to simply scanning barcodes on items – they can serve, interact and interact with customers, providing that crucial personal experience.
This in turn allows for a much more immersive and interactive in-store experience – something that is becoming increasingly crucial to ensuring the future success of in-store retail.
Regardless of the technology, updated point of sale systems, tablets, mobile devices or MR devices, there are bound to be challenges. Specifically around the cost. However, there are several ways to overcome these barriers through the use of different payment options, such as subscription models. Retailers can effectively shift the cost of new technology to operating expenses, instead of CAPEX, by keeping costs predictable and manageable. It also allows them to spread costs over time, while still being able to reap the benefits of new technologies and shorten replacement cycles.