5 Strategies for Retailers Competing in a Digital World
Online sales reached record levels on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2012 — each in excess of a billion dollars — but don't count out brick-and-mortar retailers just yet.
Retailing is evolving very quickly due to the influence of the internet, smartphones, social media and more sophisticated consumers who are increasingly pressed for time and want to shop in a way most convenient to their lifestyles. Progressive retailers are taking note of digital trends and looking to unify their online and in-store experiences as a way to entice, connect and better engage with customers year-round.
1. Go mobile. Mobile apps are being embraced by brands as diverse as Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and KFC/Taco Bell. They enable consumers to shop in-store, quickly pay with their iPhone or Android phone and depart. Apps make shopping experiences easier, faster and sometimes cheaper. Retailers need to leverage consumers’ mobile devices to pull them into their stores.
2. Less is more … but more is better. Consumers are looking to maximize their buying power and get the most out of what they have. Retailers who bundle products in-store and offer bonuses allow their customers to give more and get more value. This practice also helps retailers maintain their price and brand quality perception.
3. Embrace the "go to market economy." Retailers have the opportunity to better serve and engage consumers with a shop anyhow/anywhere go-to-market approach. Merchants who embrace this strategy, including Home Depot, Toys"R"Us and Sears, allow customers to shop whenever and wherever they please and then pick up or have their purchases delivered as suits them — site to store, store to home, phone to anywhere, etc. Retailers who provide an omnichannel experience will be brand leaders.
4. Deliver an authentic brand experience. Customer loyalty is built year-round, not just during the frantic chaos of the holiday season. Retailers need to optimize their brand experience, offer special products and deliver on their brand promise 365 days a year. There are ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors, including adding express frequent shopper lines or handing out special amenities in the frenzy. Some brands are experimenting with novel pop-up stores, flash sales and/or tailored events to appeal to new demographics.
5. Individualize through digital convenience. Integrate digital kiosks and tablets throughout your stores to encourage feedback in online forums, and to provide in-store shoppers with tools to easily visualize products in their everyday lives.
Boutique retailers like Fab and Gilt Groupe create dynamic, intuitive and visually engaging content that reads more like a fashion magazine than an online retailer. This keeps consumers interested in what they can discover or "find" and relates back to brick-and-mortar retailers regularly resetting the store. Others, like Amazon.com and eBay, observe your shopping behaviors and respond with recommendations, bundles and other insights. They're simply offering a virtual personal shopper or that favorite sales person who knew you from department stores’ past.
Whether you're a "brick" or "click" in this digital world, it's important to be consumer centric, putting your customers first and understanding the journey they're on when shopping. Make your user interface real or intuitive, simple and meaningful. Finally, shopping will remain a social behavior — especially in Western culture. Therefore, it's important that your brand and experience remain human, real and authentic to consumers. Digital strategies should enhance this human experience and not replace it. New ways and places to shop can be created, but brick-and-mortar retailers remain the best way to make, maintain and foster the human connections that will be necessary to compete in an increasingly digital marketplace.
Randall Stone is a senior partner and director of customer experience and retail designat Lippincott, a global brand strategy and design consultancy.