The retail bubble is finally bursting.
For too long, retailers have remained bloated in store footprints and overconfident in mindset. Store experiences refused innovation for decades, while merchants ripped every dollar they could out of product. Yet somehow, we found a way to pack more product into our over-sized stores.
Finally, retail is experiencing the reckoning it has deserved for some time.
It’s easy to point fingers as well. Ecommerce is eating into store sales. Technology is too disruptive. Millennials are blamed for every problem known to the industry. They don’t shop enough, they don’t like going to stores, they showroom too much, they’re not loyal, they’re needy, they only pay attention to their phones.
The fault is solely placed on the stagnant evolution for most of the industry. The only areas driving innovation for the past decade are digital and ecommerce, which–by their natures–are driven by innovation, iteration and evolution.
Lo and behold, they’ve driven the most growth and sales projections across any channel.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. What’s happening in retail today is not the apocalypse; it’s merely an equilibrium. It’s an evening-out of inconsistencies, a repudiation of awful experiences, and a renouncement of an over-abundance of commodities.
Retail has always been hyper-competitive, but the arrival of specialty ecommerce-driven retailers and fast-fashion have terrified establishment brands. Not just because they’ve dipped into their profits, but also because of their rapid growth, agility and connection with customers.
They’re doing what the big guys should’ve been doing—investing in the best interests of their customers. Amazon is a juggernaut today, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were a tiny ecommerce retailer selling books. They understood their customers, and now Amazon is the stuff of nightmares for executives everywhere.
Brands need to take stock of their current situations and quickly invest in some changes to staunch the bleeding.
Stores need to focus fast
Brands need to reduce their store count. It’s okay—there are simply too many. That is the one area in which most retailers are doing the right thing. But it’s not just about reducing the footprint, it’s about making the footprints you have stand out.
Nobody needs five stores in the same city; not even cities like New York or Chicago require that much space.
The remaining stores need to be immaculate, they need to be special, and they need to provide an incentive for customers to drive, walk or bus all the way to their locations instead of hopping on their mobile devices.
Guess what? It’s not just millennials; most customers don’t go to stores anymore just to go shopping. Bigger is no longer better. Nobody wants to browse four levels of every product imaginable for hours to find the one piece that suits them.
Shopping has changed; deal with it and change your store layouts.
More importantly, change the way stores are thought of within the customer journey. Customers want service and they want experts; they need a reason to come to your store. That reason is no longer product; they can always find it online with more convenience and at a cheaper price.
Associates need to provide outstanding service in-store. They must give great advice on product, pairings, styling, and really enhance the customer’s experience.
In fact, the store itself needs to accomplish those goals. Whether that’s through digitizing stores or adding more experiential elements and reducing overall product—the store itself needs to be an experience.
Harness ecommerce and digital
Customer marketing is just as valuable in stores as it is to ecommerce. Utilize and invest in it.
Email alone could probably save the world for stores—yes, it drives in-store traffic, so get creative and find strategies to drive people to stores by talking about those amazing new store experiences you’re developing.
Speaking of those amazing new experiences—integrate digital into your stores. A sale is a sale, no matter where it comes from. Buy a million tablets and outfit your army of associates with them to help customers find the product they want.
A person holds up a smartphone in the middle of a supermarket. The phone's screen displays a number of offers and sales not visible on the shelves.
Store associates also need to embrace email sign-up and loyalty. Their jobs directly rely on those programs, as they are where sales will focus in the future.
Multichannel is a buzzword for a reason—if a customer comes into your store looking for an item and the store doesn’t have their size, it’s going to really upset people if you can’t order that size for them online on the spot. There’s no excuse anymore for not having omni-channel capabilities; it’s not that complicated to execute.
If your store does have it, you need to let your customers know that it exists. Take one promotional table sign out of the store and make it about service; customers will use it if they know about it.
Radically rethink the comp-sales model
Store comp-sales are pretty much consistently down across the industry. But that doesn’t mean that all stores are failing. The fact is, ecommerce and stores are no longer mutually exclusive; they’re mutually beneficial.
Some online stores are—in fact—attributable to stores for 90 percent of the leg-work, the customer just ordered the item online.
Customer journeys are increasingly amorphous. They don’t see the difference between stores or online, and quite frankly they don’t care. They buy where and when they want to, but most customers are at least researching in a combination of channels—mobile, app, ecommerce, store, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram. Given the nebulous nature of customers, the comp-sales model needs to change.
Multi-storey shopping center as seen from the inside, with a number of stores having visible 'sale' signs in their windows.
Retail will thrive again
The current climate and intense pressure will change retail forever, but it will thrive once brands can realign with their customers.
Perhaps the biggest challenge retailers face is their own internal expectations. Collectively, we need to own our mistakes, understand them and learn to avoid them in the future. For retail to thrive, there needs to be a major shift in mindset as the old guard is simply out of touch.
Slowly, that shift is happening, as pioneering brands prove that a transformative model is the key to growth in such a tough atmosphere.
There’s still more work to be done, and the sooner we all embrace the evolution of our customers, the sooner we can start focusing on stealing each other’s market share again.