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Retail Trends

Reinventing and Reimagining

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It’s a hot topic of discussion in retail C-suites: With e-commerce carving out an ever-growing slice of the sales pie, how can retailers ensure that shoppers’ bricks-and-mortar experience is productive, personalized, convenient — and most of all, memorable?

Digital engagement
Experts have varied opinions, yet all agree on the importance of traditional stores and consumers’ enthusiasm for shopping. “The problem is that the digital arena has gotten better at delivering on the things shoppers have always valued in a retail relationship,” says Kurt Salmon retail strategist Al Sambar. “Someone who knows you, [someone who] can help you find what you’re looking for and remembers what you bought the last time you visited.”

Sambar expects that to change, though. “The technology exists for store-based retailers to replicate that personalized shopping experience,” he says. “It’s now possible to know who a shopper is when he enters the store and recall past purchases. It can also be used in the store to ... provide dynamic recommendations based on a shopper’s purchasing history.”

He is puzzled, however, by some retailers’ seeming rush to replace traditional POS systems with mobile devices. “If they’re not excited by the product and the experience, they’re not going to make it to the POS.”

That complements research recently released by global design consultancy FITCH. The “Joy of Shopping” found that U.S. consumers want to be inspired, learn something new and have fun while they shop — but above all, they want it to be easier to find products. Stephen Jay, managing director for North America, insists retailers should create value for shoppers without being disruptive.

“It’s about understanding the journey,” he says. “What is the shopper looking for and how can I help her find what she needs? Once the retailer satisfies the need, it sets up the possibility that she will be inspired to look for something. The challenge is then to engage her in new and inventive ways.”

Commerce’s front door
Jon Stine says digital is a must. Tipping his hand to research to be unveiled at Retail’s BIG Show this month, Stine, a director of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, points out that 65 percent of U.S. respondents regularly research online and then transact in a store. “For two-thirds of U.S. shoppers, the Internet is the front door,” he says.

Retail companies must find ways to merge the virtual and physical shopping environments. “With so many decisions formed from online sources, it’s critical to bring that same digital content ... into the store environment,” he says. “The future of the store is a living, breathing website.”

Leon Nicholas, senior vice president at Kantar Retail, is less inclined to call for sweeping changes to the store environment. He encourages executives to use their most valuable asset — real estate — to make the digital and physical connections. “Take a clue from Walmart,” he says. “It’s all about using the stores not only as a selling point but as an acquisition or forward deployment point. Retailers are holding a trump card — their expertise in supply chain and logistics.”

It’s time for physical stores to reinvent and re-imagine, understanding that the expectations of today’s shopper have changed. STORES identified three retailers that epitomize the reinvention of the bricks-and-mortar store. Each takes a different approach, but each is succeeding.