Embracing Change: The Retail Renaissance in the Age of E-commerce

Retailers can increase foot traffic as well as sales by embracing the trends that are reshaping the traditional in-store shopping experience.

By Stefan Midford

Although the industry narrative of choice has been “the great demise of brick-and-mortar in the age of e-commerce” – including recent headlines that beloved toy store Toys R Us will be closing more than 700 stores across the U.S. – rumors that physical stores are obsolete are greatly exaggerated. In fact, 2017 holiday retail sales exceeded industry expectations by growing 5.5 percent from 2016, the most significant increase since 2011.

It’s true, though, retail is changing at a rapid pace. And, while studies show consumers crave in-store shopping experiences, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling to keep up. To remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving retail landscape, retailers must embrace change and the latest technologies.

Trends Shaping Physical Retail

1. Social-Friendly Spaces 

Contrary to popular belief, while consumers relish the ease and convenience of e-commerce, shoppers are not abandoning the physical store to shop online exclusively. In fact, the Census Bureau found that online transactions accounted for less than nine percent of all retail sales in the first quarter of 2017.

However, to remain relevant, retailers must keep up with changing consumer needs. To do this, physical retailers must create compelling, holistic retail experiences to counter the lackluster routine of online shopping.

Since the in-store customer experience is more important than ever, one of the biggest trends shaping retail today is personal, interactive experiences that are social media-friendly. For instance, Millennials are the fastest-growing group of consumers, and as a highly sought-after target audience, retailers should take into consideration the 95 percent of Millennials who follow a brand on social media. Facebook alone has the power to influence about half of consumers’ online and offline purchases.

To become a part of the social conversation, optimize your brick-and-mortar store for social media interaction that will help you build a connection between your brand and the consumer. For example, opt for visually pleasing, branded displays that customers can photograph and share with friends and followers.

2. Interactive Experiences

As customer expectations continually change, the traditional retail experience just won’t cut it anymore. The latest retail technologies combined with unique environments designed for the consumer are making the shopping journey easier and more enjoyable. Savvy brands are leveraging omnichannel techniques and experiential marketing campaigns to make the in-store shopping experience more interactive.

Consumers today are drawn into the physical store for the social experience as well as an opportunity to experience products before purchasing. Smart mirrors, for instance, can increase the chances of a sale by helping customers explore different sizes and options easily. Store events also encourage customers to leave their couches to come and experience your products.

3. Meaningful Data Insights

A new report from Salesforce and Deloitte found that data is the key to enhancing the customer experience and winning over shoppers. Brands with a revenue increase of at least 10 percent in the last fiscal year were found to focus on data at nearly double the rate of underperformers in all areas on average—including continuously gathering information on consumer expectations, trends and feedback.

In-store technology has evolved from futuristic to mainstream with automated product shelf analysis, enhanced traffic pattern monitoring and integration of mobile app marketing based on customer recognition. Not only do these technologies help to increase foot traffic, but in-store tools provide retailers with robust data and insight into customer behaviors that can be used to inform future initiatives. In fact, the latest retail technologies are helping companies offer unique in-store shopping experiences and gather insights once only available to online brands.

4. High-Quality Teams 

Another aspect of the changing retail landscape is the transformation of retail workforce operations. Customers need to be engaged by well-trained staff that are authentic brand advocates representing the products they sell. They want to see field staff on the floor that can provide better information than what is available online. Today, store employees must act as brand ambassadors to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Accordingly, retailers need to attract, retain and develop a retail workforce that meets the growing needs of the marketplace. In order to grow, retailers need to make sure they are cultivating sales team talent with the appropriate skill sets to give customers a superior experience. To do this, retailers can implement digital retail workforce tools to develop their ultimate workforce team, improve the in-store performance and stay competitive.

Embrace the Retail Renaissance

While traditional retail is undoubtedly going through a vast disruption, physical retail is far from over. However, to remain competitive in today’s ever-changing retail landscape, retailers need to embrace change and the latest technologies. Retail stores that combine online and in-store components can create unique experiences that customers will engage with and remember in 2018 and beyond.

Stefan Midford is the president and CEO of Natural Insight, a leading provider of a cloud-based advanced retail execution and workforce management platform. Founded in 2005, Natural Insight delivers cloud solutions to consumer brands, retailers and merchandising and marketing agencies to improve field execution across the retail ecosystem. Midford has more than 40 years of proven experience in the retail industry and is dedicated to solving challenges and developing solutions related to retail execution, field management and on-demand workforces.