The retail battle is on: to help shoppers sort through the noise of the Web, discover new products and receive an individualized or special shopping experience like that found in a high-end store, online retailers have pulled out all the stops. In addition to adopting product recommendation technologies aimed at providing an Amazonian shopping experience, some retailers are focusing efforts on the product mix.
Frank and Oak, Piperlime and subscription-based services like Quarterly and Kiwi Crate have turned to curation — whether through an influencer or celebrity, or by design — to bring the personalized boutique shopping experience online. Mass market e-tailers have also embraced this trend; last winter Zappos introduced Glance, a social commerce site with an edited collection of footwear, apparel and accessories to help consumers sort through its vast array of products.
Now that the boutique-like experience has made its way online, to stay competitive, brick and mortar retailers are highly conscious of delivering the differentiated in-store experience that cannot be found with online shopping. Retail technology systems and merchandising strategies are helping retailers offer a carefully crafted and personalized experience in-store.
Here are three strategies retailers can employ to keep the boutique experience in the boutique:
Show your story
Online retailers have the advantage of using text to describe their products and tell their story. In-store, retailers can "show" their brand story through merchandising and design. By grouping like products on the floor and designing displays that tell a story and show how products can be used together, retailers can give their products context, upsell and make it easier for customers to see how the items would fit into their lives.
For instance, New York City boutique STORY takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store. Every few weeks the store rotates "stories" or store concepts, completely overhauling décor and merchandise. In the in-store displays, each piece of merchandise has a place in the narrative, visually weaving products into emotion-triggering themes. For example, its "home for the holidays" concept turned the entire store into a festive home that shoppers could "live" in. Every item was for sale, enabling customers to bring home the experience for themselves.
Make your salespeople the experts
Online curation sites and well-known e-tailers like Overstock.com and ShoeDazzle use celebrities, influencers or experts to curate product assortments and give the products the allure of being pre-screened by experts for quality and "coolness." In contrast, the in-store experience relies on the employees working on the floor. By investing in training, you can make sure your employees are knowledgeable about products and store processes. To reduce training time, you can also arm employees with technologies and tools that allow them to provide the same content and recommendations as their online counterparts. Some stores that have digitized their inventory and supply chain and are giving sales people tablets they can use to pull up product information for browsing customers.
Leica, a camera retailer in SOHO, New York, known for its expertise in cameras, film and photo equipment, was faced with the challenge of educating sales associates with knowledge of hundreds of camera parts, film types, and accessories. By implementing a mobile inventory-centric retail system, Leica employees can quickly confirm an item is in stock and provide customers with specific product details right from the showroom floor. This way, Leica avoids the dreaded backroom stock check and maintains attentive, expert customer service. To keep this red-carpet treatment going, Leica's salespeople can check their customers out right from the iPad.
Personalize your in-store experience
Online retailers capture data about their customers so they can provide tailored product recommendations to consumers as they browse products on the sites. New technologies now make this possible for traditional retailers. Mobile identification and facial recognition software enable merchants to customize the sales approach to the shopper's purchasing habits. New York based Nomi, for example, gathers shopper behavior insights like time spent in line and average number of store visits using technologies that connect with customers' cell phones to record their movements in-store. Prism Skylabs allows retailers to track customer movements with heat mapping technology, helping stores cater to customers' preferences based on items and displays that attract the most foot traffic. Access to this type of customer information allows retailers to identify trouble spots in their stores and extend to customers a tailored experience that mirrors what is found online.
Dax Dasilva is CEO of LightSpeed. Photo via STORY.