In the advent of Retail, the customer experience was intimate and connected.
Shopping was all about the corner store—the place who knew you, knew your family, knew your preferences and naturally personalized your experience. The rise of mass merchants and big-box specialty retailers marked the first industry disruption, where convenience and selection improved exponentially, but we lost the emotional connection that came with shopping at our local community stores.
The second wave of retail disruption
Amazon, Alibaba, and other digital brands are leading a second disruption of the retail industry, using platforms as a way to launch new services and methods of engagement for their customers. Everything is digitally enabled. Goods can be purchased with a single click. Purchases can be delivered or picked up more quickly and in more ways than ever before. Preferences and history are captured and stored to expedite future engagements. While these advancements continue to advance customer “convenience and selection, the emotional connection to the corner store grows wider still.
The third wave of retail disruption
Accenture believes a third wave of Retail disruption is upon us—a digital revival of the corner store experience at the scale of large Retail—a disruption that will that enable merchants, from industry giants to local chains, to create a more real connection with their customers.
Technology now makes it possible to bring the corner store customer experience back to life, everywhere—virtually and physically—in an interconnected, nonstop way. This new version of the corner store experience brings back the intimate human connection these stores once had in a form relevant for the digital age, using the power of technology. The boundaries of the store fall away, and all channels come together for a unique Retail experience.
Accenture refers to this next wave of technology-enabled disruption as bringing the REAL back into the Retail experience:
The old corner store offered an intimate connection to both people and community. It was a place where customers could feel, talk, connect, share and be heard. Winners will create a real sense of community where customers can find a place to belong.
With technology (such as augmented and virtual reality), the store of the future will know no bounds and will stretch into consumers’ homes, work and “me time.” The purchase itself will be secondary. Consumers will demand the ability to engage with their favorite brands on their own terms, and the store experience will play the new role of providing a tangible connection with the retailer’s brand.
The best part of the corner store was how they really knew you. Digital experiences will be increasingly personalized and tailored to the individual by recognizing how each of us plays multiple roles in our daily lives. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making it possible to see the complete customer, make an authentic connection and do so at scale.
Bringing the local corner store feel to a global business is difficult to balance. Local tastes will win over global standardization, requiring modularity and versatility in each retailer’s business model, platform, partner relationships and experience to make the store resonate based on local context.
The path to bring the REAL into Retail
Technology was at the heart of the last wave of retail disruption with the rise of the platform companies, and it is central to the next disruption wave as well. With one important difference— this time in the background, by enabling retailers to build relatable, engaging, authentic and local connections with customers. If done right, customers should not notice the technology; it’s the experience and brand story that will shine through. This transformation will be more difficult for the traditional retail brands as it will require trade-offs and/or significant investment. To do this pivot, it may require reconsidering your format strategy, prioritizing key customers or offerings, using real-estate to reinvest, and/or finding a partner so you can focus on your core. Those companies that can digitally re-create the corner store experience will turn customer relationships into loyal customer communities with long-term sustainability, and will successfully bring the REAL back into their retail.