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10 Ways to Translate Today’s Retail Trends Into Action

There has been much talk about experience superseding product in terms of importance in the modern-day store, and the technology to accommodate these smart upgrades abounds—but many retailers are left wondering where to start in the shift away from the traditional store.

At NRF’s Big Show in New York City last week, trend research and reporting firm PSFK led a seminar titled, “Retail Playbook 2015—Translating Trends Into Action,” revealing 10 actions retailers can take to reinvent their stores and highlighting brands and their requisite offerings that are successfully tapping into those trends.

In short, “Customers want to shop on their own terms nowadays, and as brands you need to respect that,” Scott Lachut, PSFK’s director of research and strategy told the audience.

The talk focused on the importance of the physical store, but stressed that the shopping experience must really be redefined if stores hope to remain relevant, and more importantly, open. Below are the 10 in-store actions PSFK said retailers can take to target today’s connected consumer.

1. Be there and everywhere

Today, the world is a purchase platform, Lachut said. And the key here for retailers will be leveraging a wider variety of mobile and social channels to close the gap between product discovery and purchase by letting customers buy instantly from anywhere.

He added that the firm has seen a shift toward social being where brands can reach their consumers, and Twitter’s “Buy Now” button is evidence of the trend. Users can tap the button on merchandise and offer tweets, get additional product info, and with a few more taps, own the item.

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Target has also capitalized on the trend with its “In a Snap” app, which lets users scan any Target ad page, add the items to a cart and checkout, further streamlining the mobile purchase process.

2. One-click everything

Shoppers today are doing a lot of research prior to their shopping experience, so retailers should simply give them the tools they need, Lachut said.

Shop Ahead is the concept to consider, or providing customers with an almost real-time view of what’s in stock at stores so they can order product ahead of time and set up reserve in-store or curbside pickup.

Gap’s Reserve in Store lets consumers do just that, and Supercuts hair salon lets customers book appointments in advance with real time data on wait times.

“This is respecting customers’ time,” Lachut said. For today’s consumer to be content, it will be all about delivering convenience and efficiency and letting shoppers optimize every visit.

3. Power to the people

Store associates are constantly cited as the worst part of the shopping experience and consumers say the employees typically lack necessary knowledge.

According to PSFK, retailers should give associates tools to connect with consumers in more ways.

Personal shoppers at Nordstrom, for example, send text messages to customers about the latest fashions, and Fiat has created a virtual test drive experience guided by remote staff.

French department store chain Galeries Lafayette created a mobile in-store trip planner app to help make planning a shopping excursion easier for consumers. Users can select the brands, restaurants and customer services they’d like to experience while at the 10-story flagship Paris store, for example, and the app will generate a map to help them navigate the trip.

4. Digitize the real world

Technology and service should now sync in a way that gives consumers the power to shop the way they want to, a concept PSFK calls “personalizing the path to purchase.”

Fashion brand House of Fraser installed navigational beacons inside of its manikins, which can then send information about the outfits worn to consumers’ mobile devices.

Smart fitting rooms are also a growing tech trend, and brands like Rebecca Minkoff and Bloomingdale’s already installed the technology in some stores to let shoppers scan and search for items to see what is in stock, and even request that the items be brought in for them to try.

5. Everyone of a kind

Retailers should provide recognized recommendations for consumers, or opt-in experiences that let shoppers share information about themselves and their preferences and, based on that data, receive help picking the right product.

With virtual makeover platform ModiFace, consumers can upload an image of their face and photo analysis generates personalized skincare product recommendations and suggestions for a suitable regiment.

Selfridges now offers a similar experience in its Fragrance Lab where consumers visiting its Concept Store in London can be assessed based on preferences and get a signature scent tailored to them.

“Whenever someone goes through one of these experiences, if it is done right, it becomes something shareable as well,” Lachut said.

6. Be the hub

With product now a backdrop, brands must consider what the store does beyond just sell things, Lachut said—and be a sort of community cornerstone.

PSFK noted that the idea here is for brands to think of their stores as marketplaces for relationships.

Club Monaco opened a bookstore and coffee shop combo in its flagship store on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan with the idea that creating a lounge area would invite consumers to spend more time and more money. Urban Outfitters also capitalized on the concept with high-end coffee and product repair services provided in stores around New York.

What retailers need to consider, according to Lachut, is “How do you get them [consumers] coming into the store more frequently even if they don’t necessarily want to buy something?”

7. Imagine the ideal

This trend is all about lifestyle curation—brands should be offering expertly curated product selections to complement the consumer’s broader lifestyle.

Electronics retailer RadioShack partnered with hardware manufacturer PCH International to create shop in shops, called RadioShack Labs, that feature products from innovative hardware startups giving consumers easy access to new devices they may not have known they needed.

Sears’ Connected Solutions shop-in-shops offer a selection of curated and complementary devices in one location for consumers to access with ease. The retailer piloted the shops in three stores to start and hopes to expand that to roughly 200 by mid-year.

8. Experiences not products

Stores should become almost living showrooms so that consumers can get immersed in a product, Lachut said.

At Fast Retailing’s GU stores in Japan, for example, customers can walk right out of the store in clothes they’ve tried on and wear them for a day before paying a single dollar. T-Mobile offers a similar experience with its Test Drive, which allows consumers to try products for up to seven days before buying. Airbnb partnered with Ikea to let people spend a night in the store’s showrooms, and Ikea even provides treats, creating a true experience.

“The strength of the physical store is allowing customers to get familiar with a product,” Lachut said, “But you can push that further and let them know how this will work in their lives.”

9. Zero inventory

Retailers need to capitalize on the concept of transforming the store into a digital showroom and on-demand delivery hub, according to PSFK. Immersive visual experiences should enable customers to “see” an entire catalog of products in multiple settings and styles.

At Lowe’s, a 30-by-30 virtual reality room lets customers see their renovation products in advance of demolition to get a feel for how things will look. Shoppers design their rooms on an in-store iPad, enter dimensions, select flooring and countertop options, for example, and can then enter a Holoroom which projects a 3D rendering of the design.

Vizera Labs lets users project digitized features onto a product like a new upholstery design on the furniture destined to be reupholstered to see what in would look like prior to committing to it.

“This is maybe a step further than you need to go,” Lachut said, “But the lesson is you create an experience.” 

10. Kill the checkout

Brands should be thinking not just about digital payment, but anywhere payment, according to Lachut, and the store should be a place where customers can just tap to pay.

Apple Pay and like technologies will be key to incorporating the trend toward letting consumer check out digitally from anywhere in the store.

“It’s too early to say if customers will soon be able to buy, bag and walk out without any interaction,” Lachut said, but the notion may not be far off.