“Physical retail is not dead – What’s dead is boring retail”

Physical retail is not dead

As retailers across Australia converged on Melbourne for the Inside Retail Festival of Ideas last week, a key message was clear – retail is not just about the products, industry logistics or the threat to bricks and mortar from the online realm, it is about the consumer and the experience.

Or, in what may well become the immortal words of retail consultant and Forbes contributor Stephen Dennis: “”Physical retail is not dead. What’s dead is boring retail”.

The key takeaway is: the consumer is looking for a brand encounter that’s exciting, innovative and ultimately compels them to buy. And the custom is there for the taking if you’re a real-world retailer prepared to go that extra mile.

Here’s an insight into some of the key quotes from the Inside Retail Festival of Ideas and the strategies that can drive a superior customer experience.

Know thy customer

“Consumers don’t want to talk about the products they consume, they want to talk about the experiences they have…the key question retailers need to ask – how do we improve the customer experience? It is the new consumer commodity” – Sean Swan, Associate Professor of Marketing, Swinburne Business School

In an online world the consumer is more digitally savvy than ever before, seeking out products, comparing them and scouting out their quality on social media long before they buy.

It may seem like a one-way street. But in the same digital world, retailers also have far more information about their consumer than ever before.

It comes in the form of retail analytics, customer loyalty data, online analytics and so much more.

From what they search to what they pick up and put down in store, there is a wealth of data at hand. The key lies in accumulating, analysing and applying it.

Top customer insight tools available:

  • Mobile Point of Sale analytics
  • Traffic counting
  • Heat mapping
  • Customer flow
  • Online analytics
  • Social media monitoring

The customer journey

“Digitally influenced bricks-and-mortar sales are far greater than e-commerce by itself – digital isn’t about transacting online, it’s about understanding how online is influencing your customer journey.”- Stephen Dennis.

The moment a consumer searches a retailer online, encounters them via social media, sees their advertisement or walks into their store, the customer journey begins. And a major focus at the Festival of Ideas was about ensuring this journey lives up to or exceeds expectations and engages clientele.

Essentially this journey involves a series of touchpoints where there’s an opportunity to engage and propel a consumer further towards a sale.

Top tools for engaging the customer and improving the customer journey include:

Service that goes above and beyond

“Online faces challenges, acquisition costs are getting higher. Offline is facing challenges because shoppers are moving online. Customers just want it to be better. They want tomorrow to be better than yesterday, and the next month better than this month.” – Cheng Zhan, Chief Technical Officer JD.com

Bricks and mortar retailers are in the unique position to service their clientele face-to-face, while offering a customer experience that’s second to none.

From having knowledgeable staff available to ensuring stock is at hand and payments can be swiftly processed, their strength lies in a retail experience where the service is personal and the gratification immediate.

Tools that enable premium superior service include:

The challenge of change

“The world has changed significantly, and retail is still struggling at times to catch up. It’s a race to see who can compensate for the deterioration of bricks-and-mortar sales.” – Former Myer CEO Bernie Brookes.

Retail may be “struggling to keep up” but the tools that allow them to “compensate” are readily at hand. It’s all about applying them to improve the customer experience.