A new purpose for in-store retail in 2018: customer delight
Photo by iStock.com
By Justin Jones and Ashley Welch
With the bankruptcies and/or multiple store closures by seemingly untouchable brands such as Toys R Us, J Crew, Macy's, Payless Shoes Source, Gymboree, True Religion, Ann Taylor, Michael Kors, and more expected in the new year, we can begin to appreciate why retail is feeling anxious — to say the least. There's a great deal of hand-wringing and concern over the rise of online retail, with online sales soon to exceed $100 Billion for the first time, according to the National Retail Federation. As retailers begin to think about their strategy for 2018, these variables can weigh heavily on their minds.
Any worry, however, about whether online retail will erode in-store is misplaced. 2018 doesn't hold an either-or proposition, it's going to be both-and — consumers will value both online AND in-store experiences. So, a better question to ask is, "What's the purpose of in-store retail?"
Since the construction of the first shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota in 1956, we've viewed in-store retail in a mechanistic way. We built large shopping centers, containing the most popular retail brands, with sprawling parking and easy access for the largest population centers. We hired cheap labor — especially during the holidays — to accommodate the largest number of shoppers in the most efficient, cost-effective way. And we've jammed our stores full of merchandise in order to maximize sales per square foot. In short, we've created retail factories built for efficiency. Today, people (that's you and me) expect far more from their point-of-sale experience than a smooth, factory procession.
When it comes to efficiency, in-store retail will never be able to compete with the click of a mouse and free shipping. If in-store retail is only about access, distribution and cost, it's a wonder all shopping malls haven't closed already. That's actually something we can all be happy about. After all, if we're being honest about the average in-store retail experience—it mostly sucked! Who misses trying to find something in a store jammed with options, or even trying to finds someone, who can help you wade through those options in any meaningful way?
Online shopping has freed us all from the constraints of efficiency, and this opens the door to a new day of in-store opportunity: both for shoppers and for retailers. In their 2014 book The Second Machine Age, Andrew McAfee (not the crazy one who launched a computer security company, the smart one from MIT's Center for Digital Business) and Erik Brynjolfsson (works with Andrew) discuss human capabilities that cannot and will not be replicated by machines. These include new idea creation and complex communication. That's great news for in-store retail. Here's one of our in-store stories by way of explanation.
With efficiency off the table, we all now have very high expectations of an in-store experience, whether we realize it or not. Take, for example, the last time I bought a pair of prescription glasses. I went to a fancy-shmancy boutique in the Cherry Creek area of Denver. Why? I wanted to look good, and I don't entirely trust my own sense of style. I wanted expert advice and confidence in my decision and my appearance. I walked in the store and met Cathy. After some introductory conversation, I gave Cathy some vague and poorly articulated ideas of what I thought I wanted, and, without hesitation, she gave me three frames — and only three frames — to try on. The whole time I was talking, Cathy was studying my face and mannerisms. With each frame I tried, she told me why she thought they were a fit for me: for my face and my personality. Each frame was a very different style that I would NEVER have chosen for myself. I loved them all, and, yep, I loved Cathy.
I went with the Chrome Hearts, which were way more expensive than I had planned for (and I didn't care). Then, I bought the most expensive type of lens to go with them because they would both reduce glare from the computer screen I spend much of my day with, and they would appear completely invisible to others. Both of these qualities were points of value Cathy distilled from our casual conversation. I walked out of the store having spent over a thousand dollars — more than I'd ever spent on glasses — and feeling great about myself, about Cathy and about Europtics.
Create a "Cathy moment"
We've all had our "Cathy moments" in our shopping. And, whether we realize it or not, that's what we as shoppers really value when we're in-store. We want someone who connects with us personally, who can navigate a conversation (complex communication) to get to know us and to know what we value, and who can give us new ideas that will delight us and those for whom we're shopping.
A true moment of delight is when a store employee helps a customer see something they hadn't before — something they hadn't thought of purchasing, or a new idea they wouldn't have considered on their own. These delights are entirely human and not easily created by Amazon's algorithms.
So, what's the purpose of in-store retail? It's creating moments of delight for your customers. Make creating moments of delight the purpose of your in-store retail strategy in 2018. Downplay traditional efficiency metrics. And watch your sales, and your customers, line up.