What comes first? No, we’re not talking about a chicken here. Instead, which comes first in this instance: does a good retailer follow the shifting demands of a customer or, instead, lead them to develop new expectations? Whether you think in-store retail experiences have been altered by forward-thinking retailers, leading their competitors to play ‘catch-up’, or whether you believe it’s more driven by consumer wants and needs, at the centre of every side of the argument lies one thing: digital technology.
NRF 2020: Retail’s Big Show takes place in New York City today and tomorrow; with the angle of ‘2020 Vision’, the show promises to showcase the technology that retailers can adopt to have a ‘visionary’ digital strategy of the future. But the future doesn’t need to be a far away concept: so what can retailers do to future-proof their store estates now in order to provide a positive customer experience?
The obvious place to start: online sales
The headlines reporting online sales are certainly nothing new and although the media depiction of the “war” between online sales against the high street is obsessively tracked, there’s not been a substantial change for some time. In fact, the latest report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that online retail sales (as a proportion of all retailing) stands at 18.7%, with online sales accounting for 18.2% of sales from clothing, textile and footwear stores.
So, why shop online? Whilst there are certainly many benefits of trying on clothing in-store and walking away with your new purchase within minutes, not everyone has access to the stores they want to shop at on their local high street and consumers increasingly have access to quicker, more convenient technology that allows for speedy delivery, all from the comfort of – well, from wherever and whenever you want to shop! Its importance within our society cannot be underestimated.
But it’s not just how we work or shop or even socialise that technology has had an impact on; it’s also encouraged customer expectations to evolve and now retailers must swiftly react.
Wider product exposure
As technology has made it easier for a customer to browse through multiple items and styles, via many different channels, so have retailers had to embrace technology to provide the wide range of products to satisfy this. Getting as many items seen as possible has become vital for modern retailers to survive; if a customer can’t see what they want in a retailer’s selection, they will quickly find it elsewhere.
The 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF) insight report ‘Shaping the Future of Retail for Consumer Industries’ states that retailers need to “build a greater understanding of and a stronger connection to increasingly empowered consumers”, later adding “the traditional measures of cost, choice and convenience are still relevant, but now control and experience are also important”.
Putting the power of choice into the hands of the consumer can also be harnessed by store staff utilising technology such as Mercaux’s inventory system. Essentially an up-selling tool, it allows store staff to show customers their full inventory, so that if they want a ‘nice top’ to go with their newly-purchased jeans, they can ‘shop the look’ and access a wider range of products.
However, the insight report also gave a stark warning regarding the impact that digital technology has and needs to have: “As choice (within the market) increases, loyalty becomes more fragile, and the consumer becomes more empowered. Businesses will have no choice but to remain agile, and constantly innovate and disrupt themselves by embracing new technologies to meet the high standards and expectations of consumers.” In light of this, retailers must continually adapt and evolve so as not to get left behind.
So, are retailers responding well to shifting expectations?
Retailers have recognised that not only is meeting customer expectations important, but that it also adds value to their organisation. Having technology in place that keeps systems up to date, responding to questions and queries rapidly, and creating seamless retail experiences is all critical and has been adopted by many retail businesses. But what more can be done to meet these expectations?
PIM systems are also an essential tool; having just a single point of entry for all product data, they give retailers the opportunity to get accurate information on all products across as many channels as possible, quickly and efficiently. Primarily created for digital channels, having rich product content that’s easily accessible also helps consumers to make informed purchases, whilst also providing store staff with a wealth of information at their fingertips to help convert sales.
Additionally, with customers being able to find what they want online, there’s also an expectation that they’ll be able to find the right stock in-store, too. Utilising both a WSSI and an omnichannel supply chain system will help to see where stock should be sent to, and how to best move it around your existing store estate so that more stock is sold in the right place, at full price.
Ultimately, those retailers that embrace digital technology recognise that doing so is not just a reaction to demand or a prediction of what people might be looking for in the future, but that it’s also about making a retailer as profitable as possible in the present. If you want to hear more about how we can support your brand’s future aspirations then click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org