(Victoria Justice at a Revolve event during Coachella, 2017)
If you’ve ever scoured a sale rack or bin for shopping deals, you know how quickly the task at hand can turn from hopeful to dreadful. Drunk on discounts, you start bargaining with yourself, trying to justify why something that’s not *quite* what you were looking for is actually perfect for customer . Or perhaps you’re striking out, and your size is nowhere to be found in the piles of markdowns. Why brave the sea of bargains (not to mention bargain-hungry shoppers) when you can leave the searching to the magic e-commerce elves from the comfort of your couch?
There are many reasons traditional retail is facing its demise, and technology is the most obvious culprit. Computers, tablets and smartphones allow shoppers to find whatever they’re looking for, while the latest innovations deliver almost instantly. Additionally, as we’ve noted before, today’s shoppers would rather spend money on experiences than on possessions. As GPShopper.com puts it, “The bottom line is that experience and event spending habits that were once reserved for the wealthy have become commonplace amongst Millennials and Gen Zer’s alike.” So it only makes sense that brick-and-mortar retailers, many which are struggling to keep their doors open, up their in-store experience game to adapt to the times. We have some insider knowledge for these struggling retail stores; in the wise words of rapper Vanilla Ice: “Stop, collaborate and listen.”
Step 1: Stop.
Turning around the latest trends is no longer resonating with shoppers. Fast fashion and mass production needs to stop—or at least drastically slow down. In fact, the slow fashion movement is on the rise. In addition to experiences, consumers are becoming more conscious of where they spend their money. Instead of trends, they are opting for ethical, well-made basics built last. Everlane, Cuyana and Rent the Runway are all examples of brands that originated online and are slowly and thoughtfully expanding to the retail space. While they found success online, they noticed a customer need for the physical, face-to-face encounter. “Online-first businesses such as Shoes of Prey, Warby Parker, Birchbox and Amazon have opened physical locations for the majority of customers who like to touch, feel and try on products before proceeding with a purchase,” says Entrepreneur.com. “Online retailer Bonobos has a chain of 21 ‘Guideshops’ that don’t carry inventory for purchase. Instead, customers can walk in or make a fitting appointment, then have their merchandise delivered to their home or office.” Similarly, Rent the Runway now offers five locations to assist designer-fashion lovers in styling their rented ensembles for special occasions and everyday looks. Plus, as we recently examined, rental and subscription services are redefining traditional wardrobes altogether.
Step 2: Collaborate.
Customer service is now the bare minimum. Customers expect exceptional service because they know they have endless options of where to spend their money. One way retailers are adding experiential appeal is by partnering with other brands, for instance Target’s designer collaborations; influencers, such as Cupcakes & Cashmere blogger’s clothing collection for Nordstrom; and even large-scale events. If you’ve noticed retailers popping up at events like Coachella and Bonnaroo, there’s a reason. “When brands sponsor events, the event will heavily market the brand through email, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat,” observes GPShopper.com. Whether sponsoring, hosting a party during an event or offering a featured, event-themed shop online, retailers are putting themselves at the forefront of the events millennials are frequented to stay relevant. Forbes has even declared festivals the new fashion week.
Step 3: Listen.
Customer knowledge is key.“The future of the brick-and-mortar retail needs to be rooted, not only in customer experience, but in customer obsession,” asserts RetailDive.com. “This really means that in order for retail stores to evolve, they need to obsessively listen and take action on customer feedback.”
If you’ve ever stepped foot into an Anthropologie store, you know how intoxicating the experience can be. And it’s no coincident you end up spending much longer wandering around the dreamy duds and home decor. According to Fast Company, “Anthropologie has never advertised, yet its customers stay longer in the stores than most chain shoppers. Their average visit lasts an hour and 15 minutes. And some visits extend to an epic four hours. They spend more—the average sales per square foot is over $600, and the average customer spend per visit is a relatively high $80. And they keep coming back…” This is because are incredibly specific about who their target customer is, far beyond the typical demographics. “‘In my experience, retailers spend most of their time looking at things from the company’s perspective or the marketer’s perspective,’ [Anthropologie president Glen Senk] says. ‘They talk about trends and brand but rarely about the customer in a meaningful way. We’re customer experts. Our focus is on always doing what’s right for a specific customer we know very well.’”
Assuming all customers crave want the latest tech innovations, for example, can be a sinkhole. After only four months, Walmart is eliminating its Scan & Go checkout initiative because the technology wasn’t resonating with the supermarket chain’s customers. Still, Amazon has invested in a similar cashier-free experience. “Amazon uses its data to understand that although its technology works in the Amazon Go store format, it’s less likely to succeed in Whole Foods because that value proposition isn’t as important to those shoppers,” notes ProjectNosh.com. “Whole Foods shoppers want quality goods, knowledgeable employees and personal interactions over a speedy checkout.”
The Bottom Line:
Like apparel, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for retailers. What works for one business doesn’t always work for its competitor. Of course, skipping the mall means missing out on your favorite store’s soundtrack. But who needs that when you can online shop to the beat of your own playlist? Busting out a Vanilla Ice beat from the late ’80s might not keep customers coming through the doors. But it’s a start.