Building the store of the future takes more than cool tech

January 14, 2019

What is the store of the future? Is it augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, smoke machines and disco balls?

The store of the future combines the best of online thinking into the physical world, according to Healey Cypher, CEO of Zivelo, and Albert Vita, director of in-store experience and visual merchandising at The Home Depot.

Cypher and Vita took to the Innovation stage on Sunday at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show for a rapid-fire discussion on what the store of the future will look like and how it will serve a clientele with expectations that are outpacing the abilities of physical stores. 

“Having big stores with a lot of stuff and great selection is not enough,” Cypher said. “Customers want more. They have more at their fingertips every day so now it’s about experience. It’s about service, it’s about speed.”

Start with the right mindset and ask the right questions

Vita said he also puts the customer at the forefront when thinking about the store of the future. “When I think about retail or the store of the future, I like to simplify things. When I think about retail, at its core, it’s about human connection and value delivery. “We start thinking about, ‘How do we exponentially grow both of those?’”

Human connection and value delivery are at the heart of many of The Home Depot’s latest forays into innovation, including the company’s pilot store in Atlanta and its design center in San Diego. “It’s important for us to remember that when a customer comes to our store, it’s a privilege to be able to serve them, especially when we are talking about our home. Your home is where your life happens. It’s where your love happens,” Vita said.

"If your company was going to do some new innovative in-store experience, don’t you have to measure it in a new way? Traditional metrics won’t work, we have to take a look at a more holistic approach.”

Albert Vita, The Home Depot

Building the store of the future also involves asking the right questions and having the right mindset and the right values, as well as looking at the data and making tough decisions on where you focus, Cypher said. “It’s so easy to think of the store of the future as all this sexy icing on the cake, but you’ve got to think of all the layers underneath.” That foundation includes understanding that the store of the future is a living lab, that every innovation has an expiration date and that every aspect of an organization — from supply chain to marketing to HR to associates — has to be taken into account in the innovation process. “The store of the future is not a singular activity but a sustained process that lives on,” Vita said.

A holistic approach to metrics

Measuring the right metrics when it comes to innovation is instrumental but can be tricky for many retailers, Cypher said. “There’s a myth around physical stores that online has better data. But your store can be an incredible source of data,” Cypher noted — think of the interactive mirrors found at Rebecca Minkoff.

While there will always be a place for traditional metrics such as sales numbers and financials, the store of the future should also look at non-traditional metrics when it comes to measuring success, such as talking with associates to find out what’s working or looking at non-store metrics that might be impacted by changes, such as supply chain. “If your company was going to do some new innovative in-store experience, don’t you have to measure it in a new way?” Vita asked. “Traditional metrics won’t work, we have to take a look at a more holistic approach.”

Associates can be innovation heroes

Cypher and Vita finished the session by talking about the seven traps to avoid when building the store of the future; the most frequent, the friction trap, is the idea that retailers create even more friction in the effort to solve for friction. Cypher also cautioned against the associate trap: “I would argue one of the number one reasons tech and interesting experiences fail in stores is because associates just don’t care or it hasn’t made their life any better,” Cypher said. “Make your associates feel like heroes. Make sure they’re incentivized and that they know what they’re talking about.”

For Vita, a genuine affection for associates as well as customers and a desire to use empathy to solve problems are what drive the store of the future. “Successful innovators don’t care about innovation,” Vita said. “That’s not the end goal. We care about solving customer-centric problems, and innovation is just the byproduct of that.”

Stay up to date with NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, including sessions, photos and videos on the official show recap.