Reimagining the in store experience in an omnichannel world
by Nompumelelo Mokou. There is hope for physical stores if they become a key component of an omnichannel strategy.Wednesday, 17 Mar 2021
by Nompumelelo Mokou. The dramatic global shift to online shopping and home delivery across many retail sectors would indicate that the future of the in store shopping experience is under threat. I feel though that there is hope for physical stores if they become a key component of an omnichannel strategy that makes the store itself an exciting and convenient component of the customer journey.
In this context, both data and technology can be a massive help to even small store owners if they have the right tools and use customer data in a way that enhances the personalised customer experience that more and more people expect. An article on Shopify touches on a number of things I think are important in combining data capture into a curated physical shopping experience. These include the collection of any customer data you’re missing, taking an omnichannel approach, customising customer discounts, empowering employees and leveraging in-store technology (robots, AI and VR to name a few). The recently published NTT Retail Guide benchmarking report suggests that retailers need to make better use of CX analytics (data) to support their CX strategies. Quoted in the report Sheila McGee-Smith, founder and principal analyst, McGee-Smith Analytics says: “The so-called ‘retail apocalypse’ did not begin with the recent pandemic but was exacerbated by it. For over a decade, consumers have fled to ecommerce providers who deliver the digital options they prefer. In 2021, traditional retailers need to step-up to the customer experience preferences of consumers or risk further extinction.”
The in store experience must become part of the overall CX experience. This goes for global brands as well as smaller niche retailers. But a number of things need to happen if the store is to regain its position in the mind of the consumer in the face of a global end towards online shopping, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The priority must be about customer safety. It goes without saying that all safety protocols must be in place. The equipment and products used must look good and have a professional feel. Make social distancing fun. The enforced reduction in the number of people in a store can be an excuse to introduce a relaxed and personalised in store experience for a few specific customers who are invited to participate in exclusive events that are more like gallery openings or cocktail parties. Retailtainment, to use another buzzword.
In this new retail environment, any retailer that owns or leases space needs excellent customer analytics and quality data that supports the retail strategy and, more importantly, the personalised shopping experience. At the same time, any use of technology or data must be thought through so that it enhances, not complicates the customer journey. Do not automate for the sake of it particularly when personal human contact in-store is the priority. Thus, data is utilised by the staff to make the customer journey that much more personalised. This is where information gathered online, enhanced by in-store history, can be used.
So, when a customer arrives in a store the staff, with a click of a button, knows any upcoming anniversaries or birthdays, their shopping history and preferences so that they are able to make recommendations that enhance the customer’s needs. Staff must be equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to be able to confidently speak about products, special offers and the customers own preferences. They must also be able to connect with a customer in a confident and personable manner. Staff are also an important source of information that can be used to gauge the mood of customers and tweak the in-store experience. The tools exist for the rapid capture of employee feedback and this is important in a fast-changing retail environment.
Despite the potential for the role of the store in the omnichannel environment, we do need to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on retail property and consider how retailers need to re-think the in store experience. An article published by McKinsey in April 2020 says that “…So far, 60 US retailers—representing $370 billion in annual sales and over 50,000 physical retail locations—have closed temporarily. The market capitalisation of physical retail space has fallen by more than 35 percent. When stores reopen, the world of brick and mortar may be fundamentally different.”
Pop-up stores in particular will be touch points for exclusive events linked to specific campaigns. The guest list will be compiled though their shopping history and online presence to ensure high-yield customers are attracted to the store. Flagship stores will be a place for customers to touch, feel and experience the whole product line, while benefitting from excellent customer support and one-off offers.
The role of the store is bound to change and will play a very specific role in any retailer’s sales strategy. There will be no stores just for the sake of a mall or high street presence. I think we will see a mix of pop-ups or flagships – not much in between. And data and technology will be at the heart of this new approach.
Nompumelelo Mokou, Executive: Intelligent Customer Experience, Dimension Data. Mokou is a Chartered Accountant by profession but has always been known for her love for business. She joined Dimension Data in 2016 and is constantly inspired and challenged by imminent change. She believes that greatness is not achieved alone but through multi-faceted people, expertise, contributions and opinions. This is what makes teams work. Her core philosophies by which she lives her life are to have faith and courage in all seasons and to never be afraid of challenges, no matter the size or complexity.
– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.