Traditional retailers-whose days seemed numbered as e-commerce "pure plays" multiplied-are looking very much alive. In fact some are using digital to exploit their unique strengths. Learning from up-start innovators like Rebecca Minkoff and Argo Tea that successfully blended digital and store channels from the start, large scale retailers are using digital to transform both the customer experience delivered and their operating models, strengthening both the top and bottom lines in the process.
What to focus digital investments on first?
In three words: Making. Shopping. Easier. We believe digital success lies in targeting the inconveniences that have bugged shoppers for generations.
- Where is my size/item? Linking inventory availability for the store (and nearby stores) into a mobile app allows associates and consumers to quickly and easily find the product that they want. Each year billions of dollars in markdowns result from consumer demand inefficiently matched or not matched at all to retail inventories. This benefits size-intensive sectors-like shoes and apparel categories-where broken size runs badly disappoint customers and can drive up markdowns. Selling even a fraction of that inventory at full price would bolster the top line.
- Where is an associate? Cavernous big box and department stores struggle with covering their real estate in a cost effective way; this forces customers and staff to make service tradeoffs. If an Uber driver can track you to your exact physical location in midtown Manhattan, an associate must be able to locate a confused consumer who has opted-in for help at a store. Bonobos always stations staff near fitting rooms and at the front of the store. Nordstrom offers a "call-an-associate" feature in its stores. Tablets stationed around the store feature a call-for-help button that guarantees a human to help you in a few minutes.
- Why do I have to wait in that line? You probably shouldn’t have to. Video analytics can help monitor queues growing where traffic counters have failed us for decades. Point of sale lanes can be scheduled based on observational data to move consumers through faster. Or, skip the line altogether with solutions like Apple’s self-pay.
During the "dotcom boom", pundits thought that the golden age of retailing was over. They were wrong in many ways. While many retailers were slow out of the blocks to adopt and integrate digital into their stores, they are seeing what works and trying to close the gap quickly. Consumers, sales associates and investors are all winners now, and have reasons to look forward to a new, and better, generation of retail stores.