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Monday, April 13, 2009

Retail Experience Of the Future

originally uploaded by jef safi.
Do you think much about how the retail experience might look by 2015? Or even once we emerge from the current economic mess? I do. In fact, I believe that the new retail experience will be one of the most exciting results of our mess.

According to Paco Underhill, as reported in Transworld Business' summary of Envirosell’s The Science of Shopping Conference: Paco Underhill Presentation, retail will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 100.

Strong words. But, then again, Paco spends considerable time observing and analyzing shopping behavior around the world. Methinks he should know.

The post explains: "Underhill believes that global economic factors, innovations in technology, and a dramatic increase in vacant retail space in the US are creating a paradigm shift in shopping behaviors, and that the world is entering a new era of consumer behavior."

Intriguing, no?

Do read the entire summary and think about the changes in consumer shopping behaviors and how mobile technology [primarily smart phone related] is affecting shopping patterns. On the retail side, think about all that vacant real estate [remember that we've been considerably overstored]. What will become of it? How will it add value to consumers' lives? What about size? [To that I add, what about connections to local places vs. generic national entities?] And where is innovation happening?

Paco Underhill's suggestions on what retailers might do:

-Revisit Format

-Recognize Value, Significance, and Value
-Don’t Get Lost In Technology
-Make Financial Offering Consistent With Location/ Customer
-Be Careful To Cater To Local Tastes

I attended the 2006 Envirosell Science of Shopping Conference during which Paco introduced many of these themes. They sound further developed during this event. At that event, I had the opportunity to spend time with Wendy Liebmann from WSL Strategic Retail. Talk about delightful, clued in and totally passionate about retail! She presented at the recent conference and Transworld documented that presentation, too, in Envirosell’s The Science Of Shopping Conference: Wendy Liebmann Presentation.

She says: "nothing will be the same again." Her suggestions:

1. Know your shoppers.
2. Keep them in the store, keep them in the brand.
3. Value your customers' values.
4. Be where your customers want to be, and reach them where they are
5. Create emotional real-estate, not just another store
6. Innovate, innovate, innovate.

Here's more food for thought: according to Retail To Shift by 2015 by Debra Hazel of GlobeSt.com retail will be greatly affected by an overall customer base becoming both younger and older, richer and more cash strapped, tech savvy and not.

Talk about an intense dichotomy, which - to me - further reinforces that the middle is gone.

The article [and conference] suggest that the older [i.e., boomer] segment of the customer base will want "small, closer stores that are easier to shop, with large signage or lettering for convenience." Furthermore, stores will need to be more connected with consumers through technology.

Not too surprising in my mind. What about to you?

Take a younger consumer perspective -- particularly if s/he might have been exposed to a program like WANT from the University of Washington Environmental Design class which is designed to help college students develop smarter shopping habits that take into account frugality and sustainability. Imagine the implications for retailers... and the opportunities.

At the heart of the retail experience - now more than ever - is delivering a truly memorable customer experience, defined from the customer's perspective. Certainly, helping to put a purchase into a value framework makes sense.

So, how might we enhance that experience, particularly in complex categories [like flooring]?

In high end shopping experiences, a personal shopper plays a role, asking questions, offering suggestions, listening for feedback before making recommendations.

Think about your Amazon.com experience. Do you 'see' similarities? As in suggestions, or product reviews and recommendations? Read Personalization: Putting the “A-Ha!” into Online Shopping; the benefit? "Personalized product recommendations ... create cross-sell and upsell opportunities." Now read Enriching Retail Product Relevance. Recommendations help customers find products more quickly. "If I have a store that's easier to navigate for my customers, I get a higher degree of engagement and loyalty from those customers," and revenue.

My take on all this?
+ Online an offline will need to be fully integrated. [Be sure to read Marketing to Digital Moms: How To Reach Out To Today’s Tech-Savvy Moms and how important it is to be engaging with customers online.]

+ Start thinking about how to capture customer feedback on what you offer so others can benefit from the information and you can benefit from the increased engagement. Do you encourage reviews of your products and experience?

+ What do you stand for? It had better be distinct, memorable, and relevant to your customers because the middle is gone.

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