Back to Basics at Shop.org
All of us that are either in or cover the retail industry for a living have undoubtedly heard the sentiment, "You must adapt your business to meet the needs of today's changing consumers." While I agree with this statement for the most part — consumers today have access to more information on your products and more avenues to buy those products than ever before — the last two words I take issue with: changing consumers. Are we really?
Sure, the numbers of ways in which we can shop have grown — e.g., via our mobile phones; buy online, pick up in-store; online marketplaces; etc. — but is what we're looking for when making a purchase changing? Consumers 50 years ago wanted to find a quality product at a fair price, and expected the experience when buying that product to be a pleasant one. Is that any different from what today's consumers want? Will that be any different from what consumers 50 years from now want?
All of the noise that surrounds us — social media, in-store kiosks, QR codes, mobile wallets, etc. — gets a lot of the attention these days, but in the end consumers’ core values still revolve around quality merchandise, fair pricing and excellent customer service. Excel in those three areas and chances are your retail business will thrive. Worry about growing your number of Twitter followers until after you've mastered the basics.
This leads me back to last week's Shop.org Annual Summit in Denver. After listening to some of the more successful retailers out there (e.g., Jerry Storch of Toys"R"Us, Jamie Nordstrom of Nordstrom, Laura Wade-Gery of Marks & Spencer) talk about how their businesses are growing in this tough economic time (not to mention the ultra-competitive retail landscape), I walked away thinking that the formula for retail success today hasn't changed much from 50 years ago.
Of course you don't want to stick your head in the sand and be resistant to change — not that that's what these speakers or others at the conference were trying to communicate. There are tools and technologies available today to help you better serve and market to consumers; put to use the ones that make sense for your business and don't bother with the ones that don't. But focus your energy first on getting the basics of merchandising, pricing and customer service nailed down.
For the vast majority of consumers the basics of retailing means visiting brick-and-mortar stores. While e-commerce is the fastest-growing segment of the retail industry (and one that deserves your complete attention), stores are and can still be a critical component of retailers' operations. The inherent advantages of the channel — e.g., store associates; the ability to touch, feel and try on products; the fun of shopping with others; etc. — are hard to duplicate in a digital environment.
I arrived at Shop.org last week excited to hear about all the new technologies that are going to revolutionize the retail industry. I left three days later intrigued about the possibilities of the future — geolocation marketing makes too much sense for it not to be effective for cross-channel retailers, what with consumers all but glued to their smartphones — but with an appreciation of retail's past. Mastering the basics of retail is the best way to ensure future success.