The alarm keeps ringing in retail. Over 6,955 stores closed in 2017 in the USA, says a Fung Global Retail & Technology report. A pretty bleak state of business, when retail giants keep announcing massive store closures, if not debt restructuring or bankruptcy.
Most identify the emergence of e-commerce as the decline factor for brick-and-mortar stores. However, although it might be the most recent factor, e-commerce certainly isn’t the most important one, says Nick Egelanian in an interview with Retail Dive. According to Irwin Greenberg, former Hess CEO interviewed by The Morning Call, retailers have stopped trying to make retail interesting: “It’s terrible, because it’s boring, and they’re chasing people out of the department and specialty goods stores to online shopping.”
Reenchanting shopping: data and customization.
Consumers today expect a rich experience, both in terms of information (as they have unlimited info online) and adaptation; they want to find exactly the product that’s perfect for them. To achieve this, retailers need to meet the challenge of personalization. The right adaptation and customization of the purchase experience can boost conversion and customer retention.
It seems the timing is exactly right: tech is more and more customization-friendly, and acquisition and use of data allow a better knowledge of clients. Retailers must now make the decision to invest to collect data in an appropriate fashion, then implement the right customization service with that data. According to Irwin Greenberg, retailers must invest in brick-and-mortar stores, instead of massively closing them. In this respect, data and tech might just be the right idea.
When tech serves customer experience.
According to Ari Bloom, Avametric CEO, augmented reality is “the perfect dose of tech embedded in the physical world”. Indeed, this technology is more accessible and easier to approach for newcomers than virtual reality, which has more immediate barriers, both in terms of equipment and attitudes to learning in order to interact with the tool.
VR opens many opportunities, both for physical and online retailers. For online retailers, the possibility to virtually try on clothes could drastically decrease the numbers of returns. For physical retailers, virtual fitting could not only allow clients to try on more clothes (and potentially buy more), but most importantly to collect crucial data both on the clothes (fit, cut, the moment the purchase is decided…) and, most importantly, the customers. if paired with an education data, the use of this technology could change the very nature of in-store salesmanship, with ultra-tailored advice provided thanks to access to valuable info on the taste and purchase history of customers who walk into stores.
In this respect, Maje has been testing the implementation of its app directly in-store. Maje salespersons can for instance access a customer’s purchase history or the content of their awaiting shopping cart… The app allows workers to check an item’s availability both in-store and in nearby stores, as well as placing an online order… It also allows consumers to enrich their store visit with access to the retailer’s online content, looks, tips, Instagram profile, etc. The excursion inside a brand’s universe is enriched through screens.
Zara has launched a pop-up store in Westfield Startford, London, in February. It’s a concept store that allows customers to collect their online purchases, as well as placing orders for the newest collection. Other tech options are explored, such as connected mirrors. They allow customers to check product information, and suggest similar or complementary products in order to “create a look”. In the same spirit, screens allow customers to scan a product and access that same type of information thanks to the RFID system (also used by Dress in the City, one of our startups and 2017 Look Forward Award laureate). This pioneer concept store will supposedly grow bigger, and Inditex has expressed an interest in taking the model globally.
Check-out is also a burning question. Zara’s pop-up store features, as a complement to traditional check-out, a self-service check-out option via mobile pay. However, a fully free of check-out experience in Amazon Go fashion doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for fashion retailers. Indeed, tech has created so many opportunities specific to fashion retail, that they will more likely be explored (and be worth exploring) than payment-related innovations.
Look Forward’s perspectives
It seems that shopping will take two very distinct forms: on the one hand, convenience shopping, represented by local stores and solutions that insist on practicality like click-and-collect. Convenience shopping won’t be entirely replaced by e-shopping, but technology can help make it a good complement to online shopping and integrate it in a more global and integrated shopping itinerary in order to remain relevant to shopping behaviors.
On the other hand, physical retail centered around customer experience will grow more and more important and will definitely become a crucial and necessary investment for retailers who wish to maintain brick-and-mortar shops — typically luxury and premium brands. And for “experience shopping”, integrating new technologies is a crucial turn that cannot be missed.