The three most vital concepts for retail today are: experience, experience and experience.
Though there’s been no shortage of talk about the necessity of providing consumers with experiences and products that heighten their retail experience, innovative business consultancy PSFK Labs said the future of retail will be about democratizing access.
“Winning the hearts and minds of today’s shoppers can’t be accomplished with one-off tactics, marketing campaigns or points-based rewards,” PSFK said in its Future of Retail 2016 report. “Instead brand and retailers must develop a broader process that considers the core needs of shoppers, delivering utility, value and meaningful interactions at every point along their journey.”
There are 10 pillars of delivering the new shopper experience, according to PSFK, and they are all about enhancing the purchase path, building better relationships, creating a valuable community and elevating the top tier.
1. Create confidence
Above all, retailers today must give shoppers the tools and advice they need to discover new products and choose the best options for their own lifestyle and needs.
Product immersion will be key here—retailers should provide hands-on product experiences so consumers can make informed decisions, and guided recommendations from resident or online experts will also increase the likelihood of a sale.
Sephora’s Fragrance IQ online matching service, for example, guides consumers toward their ideal perfume by letting them take quizzes, answer personal questions and explore scents in stores. The retailer’s website even promises three free custom samples for the consumer’s scent match.
2. Eliminate obstacles
Shoppers want ease in their retail experiences and it’s the brand’s job to minimize the time and effort consumers spend on the path to purchase.
Concepts like Macy’s partnership with shopping experience specialist Hointer, which lets consumers scan garments as they peruse the store and have them delivered to a fitting room, and Starbucks’ Order and Pay that lets customers place orders and pay for their coffee without ever stepping in line, will win with consumers.
“Leverage emerging tools to allow shoppers to quickly discover and buy products anywhere they encounter them,” PSFK said.
3. Democratize access
Democratizing access is all about opening the door for consumers to access services and experiences that were once too expensive or exclusive.
Online subscription service Stitch Fix connects women with a personal shopper that shares recommendations on what they should buy, giving the more general public access to an experience that was only ever for the well-to-do.
Store staff should become “customer concierges” that deliver more personalized experiences and retailers should trial immersive and real-time video technologies that let consumers experience brands and products in a new way.
4. Recognize and personalize
Retailers should put systems in place to remember and act on purchase history and consumer preference data in order to tailor those experiences over time.
Walgreens Pharmacy app uses shopper data and context to anticipate new needs, and luxury shopping service Moda Operandi armed its personal stylists with a streamlined customer relationship management (CRM) that lets them view product recommendations for clients, compile them in a collage creator and review clients’ browsing and purchase history to make better informed recommendations going forward.
5. Promote transparency
Today transparency is vital both along supply chains and at the retail level. Companies should be forthcoming with consumers about policies and processes that surround the products and services they offer.
Amazon Elements products come with a unique code customers can scan in the Amazon app and learn about the origin and purpose of each part of the product and then track its travels through the supply chain.
“Give consumers a behind the scenes look at the sourcing of products and their impacts,” the report noted.
6. Perfect partnerships
Retailers can create added value for consumers by partnering with like-minded companies to provide expanded offerings.
Gap announced a partnership with Virgin Hotels this summer that gives hotel guests the option to have the latest Gap styles delivered straight to their quarters, like room service. Instacart partnered with All Recipes so that users perusing dishes on the recipe site can add all of the ingredients to a grocery list with one click and have them delivered.
“Build an ecosystem of partners and perks that reward engagement in a broader variety of ways,” PSFK explained.
7. Optimize ownership
Building a responsive support network offers consumers expert service and post-purchase education is another way brands can win in the new retail world.
Eco-friendly, outdoorsy brand Patagonia has a branded pick-up truck that tours the country fixing consumers’ previously purchased apparel, mending rips and tears and replacing zippers and pulls.
Enjoy, the brainchild of ex J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson, is a personal commerce platform for high-end electronics that sends an expert to the customer’s home for set up post-delivery.
Services like these not only foster loyal customers, but extend the usefulness of a brand’s product of offerings.
8. Cultivate community
When consumers and fans can unite around a brand, that’s added value on top of existing products and services.
Underwear and sports apparel brand Björn Borg launched a dating app that lets users gain functionality in the app, like the ability to instant message other users, with fitness points earned from exercising with their mobile device in hand—all with the goal of meeting a like-minded fitness fanatic. In short, the brand says, “Sweat, swipe, socialize.”
As PSFK urges, “Experiment with new ways to make products a catalyst for shared connections—whether through knowledge, experiences or ownership.”
9. Encourage advocacy
The best thing a consumer can do for a brand is promote on their behalf and retailers need to tap consumers for their knowledge and feedback to create opportunities for that advocacy.
Sony launched a crowdfunded platform called First Flight to test its own products to promote new business ideas and improve its profitability.
“Utilize the power of community-based platforms to launch new ideas and solicit feedback from an engaged audience of fans,” the report noted, shopper-led exchange is key.
10. Deliver delight
Lastly, though arguably most importantly, consumers have to be inspired to spend—most aren’t eager enough to dish out dollars that they’ll spend them on unoriginal products or lackluster experiences.
Brands should provide consumers unexpected perks and promotions that reenergize existing relationships and build on the brand’s broader promise.
Kenneth Cole is trying to embody the Internet with a new concept store in New York at the corner of Bond and Bowery opened in September. The store is filled with over-sized and regular size touch screens where consumers can search the brand’s collection as they would online, but the out-of-the-box part is that consumers can have the store opened on demand. New York-based shoppers get a card with a number they can text, and with three hours notice, the store will be opened for them, no matter the time.
“Offer one-of-a-kind rewards and experiences to a top-tier group of customers and influencers to generate excitement and grow broader appeal,” the PSFK report advised.