To say the store has changed role in recent years is a massive understatement.
It would be more apt to call it a complete transformation – first being threatened by the growth of ecommerce, then rising like a phoenix from the flames as the centrepiece of retailers’ omnichannel offering.
However, this new position at the heart of multiple channels and interactions is not without its challenges. While newer entrants to the market can build their bricks-and-mortar businesses from scratch within this model, those with a longstanding High Street heritage are having to retrofit an omnichannel retail strategy around a business that has been built in siloes.
Somehow the online/mobile shops and digital marketing strategies that were ‘bolted on’ as they evolved must now support and drive traffic to the point at which customers can touch, feel and try products: the store.
It’s becoming pretty clear that reinventing the store’s role is impacting not just layout and investment, but retailers’ entire infrastructure. In the last few months we’ve seen several leading brands – including Boots and House of Fraser – cut back-office jobs and restructure senior decision making roles, to focus on the customer, rather than the channel.
This underlines a shift in mind-set within the omnichannel retail community; one that we hope will start to influence the appearance and capabilities of the store, and the way in which businesses interact with consumers.
For example, there has been great talk about the ‘store as a theatre’ concept; that shoppers must be entertained, surprised or enchanted by the physical shopping experience. But, outside of flagship and concept stores, how many retailers are doing this on a daily basis?
We’re not saying that companies have to rush out and turn their complete store estate into an experiential marketing experiment, like Ikea’s breakfast in bed pop-up. However, there’s a wealth of technology available that can be blended into the bricks-and-mortar environment to increase the customer-centricity of retail encounters.
For example, mobile POS is yet to explode in the way that industry experts predicted, which in some ways is surprising. The concept of taking service to the customer, and integrating with operational data to be able to give product advice, check stock availability, cross-sell, up-sell and take payments from anywhere in the store seems like a no-brainer.
However, while some retailers invested in the technology itself, perhaps the stumbling block was a lack of investment in their mobile POS implementation strategy. Tools alone are not enough to engage shoppers; it is the advocacy from sales associates that successfully integrates them into everyday use. That and having the right mobile device management strategy to keep them running at their full potential.
So perhaps it’s high time that retailers looked again at their store technology investment strategy, but starting from the back forward. Creating an operational infrastructure based on delivering to customer needs will help businesses establish what tools they need to do the job better.
More than that, as the customer-centric ethos spreads outwards across the business, it will encourage staff at the front end to view new devices not as an inconvenience, or something that’s difficult to get to grips with, but a tool for better, more profitable service. This open minded, positive attitude to blending digital and physical retail will ultimately future-proof the store.