How do you want to shop?
There was an old retail paradigm (that still rings true): get them to the store. It's the last mile. This is where the transaction happens. E-commerce - as we have known it to date - has been somewhat siloed in this paradigm. Many retailers still treat their online store as if it's just another store. There are so many issues and challenges in getting to the point of excellence with e-commerce, that many companies don't even know where to begin (and we're talking about the small, medium and large retailers here). It's everything from merchandising and pricing down to the postal service and dealing with returns. If it feels like e-commerce is something akin to Pandora's Box, you're not alone in you feelings.
The customer... at the middle.
And yet, if you sit down with traditional retailers and even the ones that sell exclusively online, you will see slide after slide in corporate presentations of this consumer now, firmly, placed in the middle of the experience. Everything centers around them and they are all-knowing. This part is true: never before in the history of business have consumers been this much further ahead of the brands in terms of communications, marketing and connectivity. Brands (and retail, in particular) continue to struggle to keep pace. Watching some of the major retailers work the "buy it online, pick it up in the store model" gives a glimpse of hope that retail operations won't become anything more than a place where people go "showrooming" (this is when you go to a store to look, but buy everything online either via your mobile device or when you get home).
Great brands create great experiences.
There is no doubt that the biggest opportunity that retailers have is to surprise and delight with a great in-store experience. Shopping is still a very social act and people love congregating around busy centers of commerce to experience life together. What brands needs to get their heads around is that the customer of today has already, fundamentally, changed. Not just because they are connected and mobile, but because they can now shop your brand twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and in a myriad of ways.
Setting up roadblocks.
The new retail experience is simple to explain: let them shop your brand wherever and whenever they want. The new retail experience is hard to execute on: we're talking about has challenges that range from technology and infrastructure (both back-end and front-end) to real estate and human resources. Human beings have a very difficult time with change - especially change that is backed up with decades of "this is how it has been." It's amazing to think that we live in such uncertain financial times on one hand and - on the other hand - how hard retailers often make it for customers to give them their money. I'm talking about willing customers who just want to shop the brand - whether it's on their mobile phone or in-store.
What retail needs is a more tethered system. A symbiotic technology that can pull together all of their physical locations with their inventory that marries their loyalty programs to their ecommerce platforms. What this really means is moving the digital channel out of a vertical and making it the horizontal that runs across the organization. It won't happen any time soon, but it's going to happen sooner or later. The convergence of ecommerce and physical retail buying is about to converge. We're almost at that point in time where you can walk into a store and shop it like you always have, but then be able to have a complimentary ecommerce experience to go along with it. This could mean the selling of virtual goods and it could also mean your ability to buy styles not available at the physical location. This could mean that it happens on an in-store kiosk like a screen or right from the palm of your smartphone-holding hand.
There's a new retail experience. Consumers are just waiting for the retailers to catch up.