Throughout my years in the retail tech industry, I’ve been an avid supporter of independent businesses, and brick-and-mortar was the name of the game when I started Lightspeed 12 years ago. During this time, there have been various shifts in thinking on how retailers should approach sales, build customer relationships and adapt to industry changes as we undergo a rapid evolution of technology and how consumers shop.
A decade ago, the prediction from many retail experts and analysts was that brick-and-mortar was unequivocally on its way out, but that isn’t true. In my mind, it wasn’t ever about the absence of physical stores, but how to make owning and operating a shop more accessible and deliver a better customer experience.
The recent acquisition announcements from Walmart (purchasing online retailer Bonobos) and Amazon (purchasing organic grocery store giant Whole Foods) are proof points that retail conglomerates are recognizing the power of omnichannel: a mobile approach that allows them to sell everywhere, at any time. Traditional in-store shopping is not declining at the rate many had predicted and e-Commerce isn’t solely dominating the retail industry. Having a physical presence can be critical to digital success, and vice versa.
With an omnichannel approach in mind, here’s how independents can rise-up in the retail space:
Independent retailers understand how to connect with their customer, and they’ve adopted tools, like cloud-based point-of-sale systems (POS), that enable them to be agile as technology changes. The evolution of retail technology supports and enhances the in-store experience.
With a mobile POS system that can be accessed from an iPad, independent business owners no longer have to “break” the experience with their customer to reach the checkout counter. Instead, there is a seamless transition between browsing a select item in blue versus green on an iPad, for example, to the checkout point and payment.
Mobile POS has modernized the retail experience, giving retailers the opportunity to meet their customers wherever they are, which builds and strengthens the relationship.
2. Implementing Digital In-Store Concepts And Creative Partnerships
There is strength in affiliating with other businesses and retailers globally have begun partnering up with like-minded or unexpected organizations for activations that entice customers to maintain a longer presence in stores. As an example, lululemon lab in Toronto recently partnered with the city’s independently owned cold-coffee start-up Station Cold Brew to offer complimentary coffees to each visitor. The cold coffee was served “on tap” and store guests could sit at a bar counter to enjoy a sip while shopping.
As lululemon has grown into a major retailer for athleisure, the partnership enhanced the store atmosphere, gave it a community feel, and encouraged customers to grab a brew, stop and stay a while and have a conversation.
Beauty brands have also been especially innovative in this category, offering digital product-application concepts and counter-side video content creation. These digital activations keep customers in-store longer, to play with the product and to experience the brand in a way that wasn’t formerly available.
3. Content Creation
Retailers have become their own media outlets: they’re generating content that appeals to their customers and to a global audience, through their blogs and social media content. They have become a trusted resource, and have come to represent a lifestyle. The most successful independents build the relationship between the business owner/operator and the customer, far beyond a simple exchange of product.
Traditional marketing has moved to social media marketing, and a strong brand presence and voice on social platforms is integral to the success of a business. Customers are reading, sharing and engaging with their favorite brands, often browsing online before heading in-store. A number of retailers are dedicating one or more full-time staff members to managing social media channels and creating content.
Tokyo Smoke, an emerging cannabis retailer and a coffee shop, recently hired a former editor of a national newspaper, emphasizing the focus and hours they’re putting on a content strategy for their business. The owner of the shop understands that the cannabis community and the movement extends beyond the store’s geographical presence, and he wanted the means to keep the conversation going through a global community.
4. Get Personal
Independents excel at customization and personalization. For an independent business owner, relationships are part of their foundation. There’s less retailer-customer intimacy in a big-box environment because of the volume of customers that pass through the store daily.
Retailer Lovers Land is a top example of how independents are personalizing their customer approach. The store is primarily a bridal boutique, but also carries women’s clothing. For the owners, their goal is to extend their relationship with their brides beyond the wedding day, and they aim to be part of their customers’ narratives for the years following as she shops for clothes for daily or future life events. The relationship they establish by helping their customers prepare for a significant day in their lives is meant to continue well beyond that initial experience. It’s the type of relationship you wouldn’t necessarily acquire at a larger bridal boutique, since there’s little intention for a repeat visit.
For me, it’s been interesting watching retailers grow, adapt and change in the industry. I think the time really is now for the independent business owner. Why? Because independents have the ability to be agile, their customer-centric approach drives loyalty, and the growth of content creation and social media channels brings a local business to a global audience. A seamless in-store experience is just as important as e-Commerce: independent retailers — more quickly than their big box counterparts — have started to look at a back–to–basics approach, and they’re coming out ahead.
Dax Dasilva is the founder, CEO and creative mind behind Lightspeed’s suite of retail, hospitality and e-Commerce tools. Seeing the technological evolution of how people live, work and shop, and the need in the market for cloud-based business platforms, he was ahead of the curve when he launched Lightspeed in 2005. Under Dasilva’s leadership, Lightspeed provides industry-leading omnichannel commerce tools that enable more than 45,000 businesses in 101 countries worldwide to thrive. His vision of blending the best of the digital and physical worlds continues to guide the company today.