The Retailer Spring_09.05_FA


How the High Street can remain competitive in an e-commerce world


THE GROWTH OF PURE PLAY E-COMMERCE RETAILERS IN THE LAST DECADE HAS BEEN STUNNING. THE RAPID SHIFT HAS CHANGED THE WAY CONSUMERS SHOP AND SIGNIFICANTLY HEIGHTENED THEIR EXPECTATIONS. High Street retailers, however, can be forgiven for not celebrating the progress. From a consumer perspective, it’s liberating to be able to get anything you want delivered in two days, but this uber convenience kills consumers’ motivation to visit stores. Now is the time for brick-and-mortar retailers to turn the new reality on its head. In fact, consumers’ new behaviour and the rise of pure play e-commerce can be an advantage for traditional retailers who rethink their strengths. Think of the winning paradigm as “retail as a service.” Big pure-play online retailers have established themselves based on convenience and rapid delivery. They are designed for spearfishing — shopping journeys that begin with a specific product in mind. The consumer is out for the best price and/or the fastest delivery. High Street retailers have a chance to provide something more — something different. “I think there is an opportunity for High Street retailers to inject some personality, some soul, into their stores,” says Natalie Berg, the founder of London-based NBK Retail. Personality and soul, like what? How about John Lewis sending associates to theater training to build their confidence and improve their in-store interactions with customers, as reported by the Daily Mail. Or what about the Nike Store in central London? David Bucking- ham, CEO of Ecrebo , a point-of-sale marketing company, says Nike understands the value of transforming a store visit from an errand to an event. “Nike’s central London store has made a big effort in moving into what we might call ‘Shoppertainment,’” he says, “with a big focus, not necessarily on product-related things, but having high-profile sports stars making appearances and giving talks.” In short, omnichannel retailers with store fleets need to think of those physical locations as an advantage, not an albatross — and they need to double-down on what they have that big online pure plays do not. Understand the power of transforming a store visit from an errand to an event.

Three ways to put retail as a service into action Think of your store as a centre for community, a place that goes beyond transactions: establishing your brick-and-mortar locations as something more than a place to buy things, creates customer loyalty and provides consumers with a reason to buy from you even when an e-commerce pure play might offer a lower price. Here are a few ideas to iterate on: • A grocer could host a cooking class to encourage customers to come in and engage with the products and environment in a new way. • A wine specialist could host tastings or informational seminars to educate consumers. Advice on pairings or proper barware would tell customers that the merchant cares about them. • A cosmetics store could provide in-house consultations to allow customers to get just what they are looking for, without having to guess their way through an online product description, increasing confidence in their purchase. Turn to technology to keep up with online pure plays: The increase in customer expectations shows no sign of receding, so retailers need to constantly refresh the technology that gives them an edge. The good news? “There are a lot of very, very clever technologies out there that retailers can equip themselves with to compete,” Chris Fields, an analyst with Retail Connections, says. Some ideas: • Cashierless checkout eliminates the unpleasantness of waiting in line when a customer just wants to get home with her or his purchase. There are a number of companies rolling out systems to upend traditional checkout. • In-fridge delivery might not be for everyone — either retailer or consumer — but Waitrose has tried the idea. It pushes the envelope on convenience and inspires thinking on other ways to better get goods to consumers. • Augmented and virtual reality have been slow to roll out, but for certain verticals (think home furnishings) the interfaces can spark a shopper’s interest and lead to an in-store visit. Think of your stores as a network of distributed warehouses, showrooms and customer service centres: It is hard for consumers to connect with a large, invisible online presence, but when your store is just down the road, consumers feel a connection.

20 | spring 2019 | the retailer

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