The current death of retail continues to be greatly exaggerated. Just look at how the newer, social media-friendly in-store experiences continue to drive new "Blended Retail" shopping events.
While modern technology helps lead the charge and e-commerce shopping continues to grow rapidly, brick and mortar stores are still holding up well, as many people still prefer seeing and trying out products before committing to a purchase.
Also, according to research from Statista, the preference for shopping online versus in-store decreases with age. It'll be interesting to see how retailers adjust to suit their aging demographics as well as the group on track to have the largest retail spend of any other: Generation Z.
The smartest companies should be focusing on creating experiences in store that directly speak to this first generation of “always on” and socially conscious shoppers.
Outside of just Gen Z, many purchases involve both digital and physical browsing of goods nowadays. Often a purchase begins with online research followed by a visit to the store to make a purchase, or conversely a purchase may start with a customer examining the product in-store but making the purchase online. Plus, with the prevalence of smartphones and other mobile devices, shoppers can perform their online research and price comparisons while in the store (also known as "showrooming").
It's a pretty interesting evolution if you look at other age groups. Baby Boomers grew up as television dominated, and saw a subsequent rise on the importance of commercial advertising. Millennials came of age during the internet explosion and digital ads. Each group's unique technological standpoint has directly shaped the way they shop and how they respond to, and build relationships with brands.
What is unique for Generation Z is that all the above have been part of their lives from the start. The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest Gen Zers were 10. By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations they quite rightly take for granted. Now these implications of growing up in an “always on” technological environment is coming into focus for savvy retailers adapting and creating modern in-store executions that are specifically tailored to the younger generation.
"With shoppers' expectations rising, the proliferation of data and new touch points, and increasing competitive pressures, retailers must focus on delivering the most relevant customer experiences possible in order to succeed. It is no easy feat to deliver engaging content and powerful personalization at scale without the right tools and technology," said Aseem Chandra, Vice President, Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Target. "By incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, retailers can automate exceptional experiences for each individual consumer across every interaction."
This is all well and good, but while we view online options as personalized, more convenient, and less hassle, online retail will always lack immediacy.
Understanding Data Will Save Retail, Not Kill It
So how can physical retailers use data? We know about AR (augmented reality), beacons, and the IoT (internet of things, smart devices). Retailers to some extent have tested these features solely, in a vacuum, but the process needs to become seamless and fluid. People will never want 45 apps for 45 different stores and therefore must remember to turn on specific phone features to access things. They want simplicity (I mean, who doesn't?!).
"Data is the future of retail in the sense that without it, retailers won't be able to survive and compete. Data helps inform the ability to be truly customer-centric and relevant to consumers," said Marissa Tarleton, CMO, RetailMeNot.
It's easier to understand your customer through data so learn about them and take them on a journey.
Right now, today, someone could walk into your store and receive a welcome message directly on their phone with specially tailored deals. They could use augmented reality to figure out if a piece of furniture will fit in their house. They could share their purchase on social media and have a 24 or 48-hour window where they received incentives for driving other people to make purchases in that time too.
It's Key To Create A Unique Instagram-able Experience
The argument over privacy versus convenience will naturally occur. But data can drastically enhance the experience. "Personalization continues to be the holy grail in retail--consumers expect highly personalized experiences and brands must address this. Automating personalized experiences, in-store and online, with machine learning and AI will benefit retailers and consumers," said Michael Klein, Director of Industry Strategy and Retail for Adobe.
If the store associates know your name when you enter a store and they remember you, that elicits joy. If they know how to deliver exactly what you want quickly and can put it in your hand immediately, you will come back. We are creatures of habit.
"The retailers that are winning are those who are converging in the center between online and brick and mortar. They are nimble to consumer needs, leading with mobile and using personalization and experience to differentiate," said Tarleton.
Truly, it's up to the retailer to make it super easy to shop where and how the customers want in their channel of preference (on desktop, in-store or on their mobile devices). Furthermore, experience is more than just making smaller stores feel more designed and intimate, with a better aesthetic. Of course that's important. But experience is also how well you know your customer and how well you can immediately meet their needs.
In conclusion, Generation Z definitely leads the way in sharing all their experiences in real time via multiple social media apps. This can be a great value to retailers when they successfully deliver in this arena. In coming months, I'll look at the latest technology that's helping retailers evolve their in-store experiences.
Tony Giudici is a Director of Market Development for Excelerate America, the ultimate resource for modern entrepreneurs and small business owners. Have you modified your business's selling channels to better entice Gen Zers? Tell Tony about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tony Giudici is a Director of Market Development for Excelerate America, the ultimate resource for modern entrepreneurs and small business owners. Do you turn to unboxing videos when making product decisions? Have you created one for your business or product? Tell Tony about it at email@example.com.