Retail Must Evolve the Customer Experience to Survive

Tony Blankemeyer, 84.51°
Marketing Insights
Current average rating    
Key Takeaways

​What? Retail leaders are removing the friction from customer experiences.

So what? Consumers are drawn to companies that invest their dollars in understanding customer preference and simplifying their lives.

Now what? Retail marketers should consider ways to favor speed to action and keep their customer's needs in sight.

​July 26, 2017

Today’s retail leaders are streamlining the customer experience by reducing friction in the path to purchase

It’s more than halfway through the year, and 2017 has not been kind to traditional retailers. Each month, another bricks-and-mortar store goes up for sale or announces hundreds of store closures. Bankruptcies are looming for brands that were once neighborhood staples. And let’s not forget malls; how are the malls doing where you live?

While analysts have proclaimed the death of retail as we know it, a string of headlines give insight into where the industry is headed: Holiday figures showed another year of highs for online sales on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday; after years of putting it off, Nike has decided to play nice and open a store on Amazon; Walmart paid a pretty penny for Jet.com and has been on an acquisition spree ever since. It’s not new news, but online commerce continues to grow in share even in categories we would’ve never considered.

The great retail race to be omnipresent is underway. Digital companies are raising their flags in physical locations, while traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are scrambling to scale up their digital efforts. As it stands today, there are strong leaders in each respective domain. The trillion-dollar question is: Will there be one that reigns supreme in both?

Evolve or Die

When surveying the retail landscape, companies are navigating the balance of new trends and mainstays in customer behavior. Let’s face it, as shoppers, our expectations have never been higher. We want our products or services whenever we want, wherever we are, personalized to us and at the price we want.

As a result, these are the most challenging times retail has ever seen. Lower price is still a key driver in customer choice, but seemingly table stakes, creating a race to the bottom and squeezing margins even tighter for brands. Time and convenience are the ultimate luxuries: We want next- or same-day delivery and are taking companies up on product assembly or installation options. Oh, and did I mention we don’t want to pay for any of it? 


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What’s a business to do? Evolve or die. Traditional brands and retailers are working to cut decades of fat (legacy systems, stodgy middle management, vanity store locations) while simultaneously staffing up with out-of-industry leaders to help push them to be more technical organizations. All of this, to meet customer expectations and avoid being dethroned by the digitally native companies who have agility in their DNA.

E-commerce companies have begun to open physical stores to test the waters in this channel and all the operational and logistical complexities that come with it. Through the process, formats are being challenged and experimented with, whether converting former large-footprint department stores into distribution centers or leveraging boutiques to become more experiential showrooms.

The result is enhanced shopping experiences that are informed by customer insights, improved marketing touch points that serve different purposes throughout each shopper’s buying journey and richer commerce ecosystems offering products people love in a better, cheaper and faster way. It’s a cohesive and efficient experience that permeates from inspiration and product discovery, to order fulfillment and post-purchase reflection. 

 

 How Brick & Mortar Stores Can Compete with Ecommerce Players

 

To achieve this, incumbents and challengers each have their own strengths to leverage and challenges to overcome, some that are as old as the game of business, others that are uncharted territory in the ever-changing landscape. And while sexy headlines about VR shopping channels or drone delivery may tip the hand of the more distant future, the fabled Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” doesn’t apply in the present. People are offering their attention and their wallets to companies that are investing in understanding customer preference and making people’s lives easier with a modern-day approach.

Today’s leaders are streamlining the experience by reducing the friction in the path to purchase. As for my picks, I’d put my money on companies that never lose sight of their customer’s needs and those that favor speed to action over being pacified by having some master plan (spoiler alert: there is no perfect plan).

May the best brands win. Customers already have.


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Author Bio:

 
Tony Blankemeyer, 84.51°
Tony Blankemeyer is partnerships lead and startups liaison for 84.51°.
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