Shopping has changed. Solely meeting consumers with a traditional brick-and-mortar experience is a surefire way to become a victim of the retail apocalypse, and there are certainly enough tragic examples on record — from Toys ’R’ Us to Blockbuster Video — to prove the point. Whether surfing online from the convenience of their own smartphone or desktop, or actually stepping inside a physical location, potential purchasers are almost as interested in customized, unique experiences as the products or services they’re shopping for themselves. From interactive in-store demos to automated and personalized thank-you notes, the new retail ecosystem offers more opportunities to connect with target audiences than ever before, and those who take advantage are those that will most likely survive.
The Omnichannel Shopper Cometh
No doubt about it — the omnichannel shopper is here, and here to stay. The online and brick-and-mortar worlds have merged, giving consumers the ability to experience purchasing on a whole new level and in more than one exciting way: immersive/in real life (IRL), virtually or both. With high-definition imagery, customer reviews, streaming tutorials and user-friendly, 360-degree product and services videos — compatible with consumer VR headgear — remote parties can feel exceptionally informed before hitting the “add to cart” button.
Meanwhile, in-store shoppers are enjoying IKEA-type experiences more and more, where try-before-you-buy and digital checkouts make for both comfort and hassle-free convenience. Finally, for those who consult the Internet as a first step towards purchasing, but still enjoy getting out in the mix, they can now easily search for the nearest locations, find the best in-store deals and even secure digital coupons to print out or bring along via smartphone.
Right now, the question every retailer needs to ask and answer is “what am I doing to capitalize on the technological and experiential trends of the modern consumer world?” Below are a few helpful, real-world hints to point forward-thinking brands in the right direction:
The Modern Online Experience
Possibly the most exciting development in online shopping is the ability to pull the consumer directly into marketing through video/visual techniques we couldn’t have imagined even 10 years ago. Users can “walk up and down” store aisles and peruse shelves from the comfort of their homes or offices, “try on” clothes and makeup and virtually redesign their home interiors through interactive web site features.
Walmart’s 3D Virtual Shopping Tour, for example, “enables customers to take a virtual shopping tour of a curated apartment,” and choose items to explore, while its Buy the Room feature allows users to “add a group of items to a cart to buy a complete look.” Finally, with the rise of Amazon’s all-mighty A+ standards for online listings in retail, manufacturers are pushing for new and innovative ways to create product videos — using 360-degree camera methods, VR technology and drones (no need for cranes or helicopters anymore) — and broadcast them across the globe in real time through company sites or social media outlets, such as YouTube or Vimeo. When making a final selection, shoppers are apt to consider the competition with the most engaging, informative, upfront content, and video is inarguably essential to that.
In-Store Ain’t What It Used To Be
To capture the interest of the in-store shopper, it is no longer enough to have an attractive display case and well-organized shelves. Consumers are now beginning to expect unique and better experiences from in-store shopping, which means personalization, product accessibility, digital convenience and inviting aesthetics that inspire an immersive atmosphere, according to Forbes.
Today, there are game kiosks at almost every Best Buy. Nike has removed the fuss and muss of sorting through boxes via touchscreens that enable visitors to quickly scan for available models or sizes and make a purchase without the need to wait in a single line. And how could anyone disregard Apple’s influence? No question, it is and has been one of the most prolific providers of customized and personalized in-store experiences for years. With its easily accessible Genius Bar, designed to address any individual need or concern, and massive collection of computer-related gadgets and games to interact with, it is hard to imagine any other consumer-based hardware and software brand coming close to its informal style.
Likewise, Target and Nordstrom are offering curbside and storefront pickup, while Amazon Go is analyzing the data of its first “just walk out” experience in Seattle, where only a membership password is required for purchase. These developments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the latest brick-and-mortar business models.
A New Middleman Emerges: The Pop-Up
There is good news for retailers looking to maintain a strong online presence and still offer a tactile (yet, cost-effective) experience for eager pedestrians — the short-term pop-up store is a trending approach to supplying the fun, unique adventure they seek. It is a concept that meets both the needs for IRL product and service trials and helps hungry landlords fill vacancies.
While visitors to the freshly completed locations, which are often boldly designed to fit with seasonal or specific brand themes, interact with products, demos and highly trained employees — retailers and manufacturers are simultaneously collecting data and personal information (through purchases, surveys, specific interests, discount selections, etc.), and capturing consumer habits and feedback to create even more impactful online and offline experiences in the future. Furthermore, being an outlet for charity can be a great way for pop-ups to rally community members and even snag media attention.
One good example of this concept is The Period Shop from tampon brand Kotex, which “launched a pop-up in New York aimed at alleviating negativity and spreading love for women during their periods [and] featured ice cream, manicures, chocolate, comfy clothing, and Kotex U products for sale. Women were invited to browse the brightly colored offerings and share their experiences. Proceeds were donated to a women’s homeless shelter.”
In case it is not apparent by now, retailers have more opportunity than ever to connect with the demanding, and very picky, modern consumer. By creating unique experiences, online and off, and using big data analytics and feedback to inform next steps, we can meet continually evolving expectations in an increasingly digital world — where smartphones, laptops and apps are now the main sources of information for shoppers of all demographics. Unfortunately for some, without a serious attempt to evolve alongside growing expectations of the marketplace and strategically utilize in-store innovation in tandem with virtual channels, the risk of losing out to the tech-savvy competition is pretty much a certainty.
With more than 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur, innovator, investor and leader of facilities management and construction companies, CS Hudson Co-CEO and Founder Joseph Scaretta is perfectly primed for his role in driving and delivering the company’s strategic vision while ensuring all internal and external goals are met. Highly successful at growing brands through creative niche service offerings, Scaretta has become sought after by many familiar names across the country for his legendary customer service and ability to foster a “get it done” team culture. A strong proponent of corporate social responsibility, Scaretta received the Helping Hands Award from Citi Group and NYS SBA in 2013 for his work in rebuilding post-Hurricane Sandy, as well as a 2012 honorable mention in the Corporate Social Responsibility category by PR Daily for creating the Long Island Young Entrepreneur Challenge. Scaretta attended Hofstra University, Dowling College and is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). He currently resides in Trumbull, Conn.