If you look at retail today, you’ll see an industry that’s on the verge of disruption. With headlines from Bloomberg such as “America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning”, it seems the future for brick-and-mortar retailers is grim. Boutiques, department stores, and even entire malls are shutting down, while e-commerce and the digital landscape are continuing to gain momentum.
What we’ve discovered is that perhaps, retail is not dying, but is instead going through a massive transformation. Take this headline from Forbes, for example: “Retail Apocalypse? The Sky Isn’t Falling – The Sector Is Just Evolving.” For new age retailers, expectations have been set. Retail consumers are looking for higher levels of service, employees who have true domain expertise, and stores that provide an elevated experience – beyond just shopping.
We sat down with Ron Tite, a speaker, author, and CEO of The Tite Group, to discuss the future of retail. What do today’s consumers expect? What does the future of brick-and-mortar look like? Working in advertising and as a retail consultant, he had great advice on what retailers can do to elevate the in-store experience, pulling best-in-class insights from brands such as Best Buy and Starbucks.
To view the full interview, listen to the podcast or read on below!
The physical store has been left behind
Recently, retailers have been laser-focused on the future of retail, diving into e-commerce, m-commerce, big data, and now AI, AR, and VR. What has happened to brick-and-mortar along the way? As Tite put it, “Retailers turned their back on the physical store. You can now go into a flagship store that has tumbleweeds rolling through the hallway and interact with staff who haven’t been inspired or trained for the new realities of retail.”
In a 2017 Total Retail Survey conducted by PwC, it was found that over 50% of consumers still prefer to purchase products in store. The physical store is still a critical step in the buyer’s journey. “When you come face to face with somebody – a customer who has gotten a sitter, parked their car and wandered into your store – you better hit that experience out of the park”, Tite emphasized.
Take into consideration that 46% of consumers research products online before buying them in store, and you’ll see why the need for training staff to become product experts is more important than ever. While discussing the future of retail, Tite explained that today, “we’ve been left with a brick-and-mortar environment that’s less than inspiring for both staff and customers”. When it comes to engaging and motivating retail staff, he added that “right now, there’s not a more important group of people to inspire to come into work every single day.”
Balancing the digital and physical worlds
Brands that are going to continue to thrive are the ones that can deliver a consistent and memorable experience across all touchpoints – which means digital and physical. “The ones who really get it understand the practicality and utility of shopping in an online environment matched beautifully with human experience and brilliant people who can help customers throughout their journey,” Tite explained.
Finding a way to keep your brand consistent, from the design of your website to the service your sales associates provide, is a constant challenge. In fact, 90% of senior executives state that customer experience is a top priority for their organization, yet only 27% of consumers feel name-brand retailers (department store, big-box retailers, specialty stores, etc.) are trying to provide exceptional service. It’s clear that there’s a disconnect between strategy and priority at head office, and what is actually being executed and delivered on in-store.
The first step to realigning the in-store experience is to shift your focus towards your frontline teams. Today’s retail employees have high customer expectations to meet, playing the role of a product expert, personal shopper, and even stock locator. Leveraging proper communication, training, and technology, brands can enable employees to become assistants and experts throughout the shopping journey. As Tite put it, “if you can positively impact the employee experience, great customer experience, and brand loyalty will follow.”
Building authentic brand experiences
Today’s consumers are looking for a truly human experience when they visit stores. One where they can rely on employees for advice, expertise, and a helping hand throughout their shopping experience. For retail brands, determining how to create both consistent and authentic brand experiences – at scale – is a great challenge. “If you bring it back to the basics”, Tite added, “What is a brand? A brand is really about what you think, what you do, and what you say.”
For retailers looking to create a more authentic brand experience, Tite suggests that asking the following three questions is a great place to start:
- What you think: What are your fundamental values? Are you hiring and training people based on those values and organizational beliefs?”
- What you do: If you’re saying you believe in something, are you actually delivering on that through your actions? For retail brands, this is really the actions of their store employees.”
- What you say: How are you communicating your values? This could be anything from your branding to in-store signage, or how employees talk about the beliefs of the organization.
Best Buy is a great example of a retailer that understands the new age of brick-and-mortar. Not only are they focusing on transforming their locations to become a destination center, rather than a traditional store, but they are also training employees for the new realities of retail.
Tite, who has previously worked as a consultant for Best Buy, mentioned: “they really simplified processes and empowered their frontline staff to act in a way that reaffirms the values of the organization.” As Tite explained, Best Buy worked on removing complex customer interactions (e.g. complicated return policies) and focused on hiring and training on values. “Basically [Best Buy] said ‘We’re doing away with all of it. Here’s the only thing you need to know: be amazing. Whatever you think that requires for our customers—we trust you.’”, added Tite.
To deliver authentic brand experiences, removing training and operational practices such as scripts, is a great place to start. As Tite concluded, “The best possible marketing an organization can have is frontline people who deliver on the brand promise. Think about how you can inspire people internally to speak on behalf of your brand. When the customer experience is amazing, that amplifies and becomes a campaign in itself.”