How To Plan For A Successful Retail Future

With more and more formally online-only brands opening up physical store locations, there is no question that brick-and-mortar retail remains incredibly valuable to the industry. At the same time, more traditional retailers are realizing that a dynamic web presence is essential to driving sales and traffic both online and in-store. To succeed in 2020, retailers need to find a way to balance both their brick-and-mortar and online strategies. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the two, with each one supporting the other and neither able to sustain themselves alone. By recalibrating their priorities and attention accordingly, retailers can better meet consumers’ needs and expectations.

Here are some key retail insights to keep in mind as you plan for 2020 and beyond:

Create A Seamless Omnichannel Experience

It’s true that online furniture sales now make up around 20% of the total industry revenue—making it one of the fastest growing ecommerce markets. But many of today’s consumers still want the option of being able to actually touch and feel the products before buying. Interestingly enough, this is especially true for younger shoppers. According to STORIS, “digital native generations are more likely to unplug and visit a store to discover new merchandise and make a purchase…However,  because digital native generations are overstimulated, a lackluster retail experience will certainly fail to inspire. Brands must tell their holistic stories effectively, both in-store and online.”

For many customers of all ages, online research is step one of the shopping process—even when they plan to head into an actual store later. That means that, in this first phase, they expect your website to provide them with key product information and up-to-date inventory data. They should know exactly what the item looks like and whether or not it is available at their store of choice.

Whether you’re offering them a “Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store” option or giving them clear directions on where they can find the product in-store, it’s important to bridge that gap between the digital and physical. By making this transition as seamless as possible, retailers minimize the risk of shoppers abandoning their products before purchase.

At the very least, retailers must recognize that if someone can’t find you online—they definitely won’t be able to find you in real life. In addition to making sure your website is easy to navigate, double check that your Google My Business profile is up-to-date and optimized. Consumers shouldn’t have to search far and wide to figure out how to get to your store.

Recognize The Power Of Online Reviews

One big part of the product research process comes from online reviews. While many people do seek out expert advice and technical details, you can’t deny the power of peer insights. For skeptical shoppers, reviews offer a certain level of authenticity—even when they may take their words with a grain of salt. In fact, a lack of any reviews can be a huge red flag for many shoppers, dissuading them from even considering the product as an option. This has been a major hurdle for many traditional mattress sellers, many of whom do not sell online at all. Beyond simply losing out on digital sales, these retailers also miss out on the reviews as well—which, in turn, has an impact on in-store sales.

Rethink The Purpose Of A Physical Store

If a consumer can easily access product information, customer reviews and place an order all with a few taps of their finger—then what are they looking to get from a brick-and-mortar store? There’s no question that the role of the physical shop has changed in this environment and that different consumer demographics seek out the physical store experience for varying reasons.

Some brands have positioned their storefronts as simple places to try out the product before buying it online, such as Saatva’s new Manhattan showroom or many of Casper’s new locations. Others have transformed their stores into aesthetic experiences with creatively styled vignettes and regularly rotating product offerings. This approach offers consumers a location to visit to get inspiration for how they want to dress or decorate. Of course, not every consumer is looking to spend their precious free time hanging out in a store. Convenience is still a big draw for many of today’s busy shoppers. By optimizing the in-store pick-up process, chains like Target are reimagining their stores as easy access points for people on the go.

No matter what type of store you have, now is an important moment to take a step back and evaluate what value you can offer customers. Why would someone like you, or your Gen Z niece or your grandmother walk through the door? While you can’t be everything to everyone, determining a concrete approach with the goal of targeting one or more demographic in mind will make planning for the future much easier.

Offer A Personalized Shopping Experience

The biggest asset of the online retail world is its ability to offer a more personalized shopping experience. With individual accounts and strategic data collection, ecommerce sites can easily curate their offerings based on a customer’s previous behavior. As the omnichannel shopping approach continues to gain momentum among consumers, it’s necessary for retailers to figure out how to incorporate this level of personalization into their physical locations as well. A one-on-one conversation with a talented RSA will ideally reveal key specifications like style preferences and budget—but digital tools can help enhance these discussions even further. A robust Customer Experience Management platform can help keep all of this information in one place—making it easily accessible to any sales associate. And with new artificial intelligence technology, many of these digital tools can also help predict what types of products each customer may be interested in. By combining the personal experience of talking to a real human with the tech-savvy business intelligence tools, retailers can bring together the best of both worlds and better support their customers.

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