This morning, the Financial Times published an article on the dismal state of retail — Staples, Dick’s Sporting Goods, JC Penney, and others are all struggling. In large part, these challenges have been driven by a growing number of consumers moving their purchases online. With the move to the web, traditional retail is forced to compete with wholesalers, web-only discounters, and of course, Amazon. In fact, offline retailers now have the added challenge of serving consumers who enter their stores to browse, but make their purchases online from home. Not only are these consumers not spending money in-store, but they are buying the same products at competitive sites.
The hits to share prices and profitability are likely to continue as more individuals move their purchases online, particularly for products that don’t require browsing. Books, office supplies, and personal technology can all be bought online without having to be reviewed in-store. As virtual fitting rooms, bespoke “e-tailoring”, and subscription services grow in popularity, more verticals will be affected — we’re already seeing the growth of web-based food delivery and clothing purchases, for example.
So how does a traditional brick and mortar retailer respond to all of these changes? Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution — in an industry going through such major shifts and developments, a response needs to be aggressive, innovative, and quick. To get you started, here are three suggestions for how retailers can respond to these changes.
#1: Use your physical presence as a marketing channel. Physical stores are both a driver of revenue and of awareness. Embrace the fact that your customers will be going to your store to browse and purchase online later by providing a more integrated experience between the two channels. For example: enable customers to make an in-store shopping list (so that they can later buy online), or provide coupons for people who go to stores and also shop online (remember Foursquare?).
#2: Move to new business models — subscriptions, triggered marketing, and personalization. One of the biggest differences between offline and online retail is the ability to personalize a customer’s experience. A store is a “one size fits all” venue — every person experiences a traditional retail location in the same way. This isn’t true for a website, so make sure that your online presence is using the best personalization tools, newsletters, alerts, and strategies to engage one-on-one with your consumers. Furthermore, push yourself to explore new business models that make sense for your store. As an example: if you sell office supplies, why not let your customers subscribe to a monthly paper delivery or toner replacement?
#3: Incorporate mobile into your strategy. The majority of marketing emails are now read on mobile devices, and retail purchases are experiencing a similar trend. With new technologies such as cell phone tracking, you can actually see how customers are interacting with your stores. This allows you to build a full profile for an individual while they are in-store, and when paired with a savvy sales person, will help you convert more retail visits into actual purchases.
The retail space is heating up and major changes are coming. We’re excited to see what’s next, and to the victor — that is to say, those who embrace the wave of technology changes — will go the spoils.