E-commerce businesses were born online with an inherent agility that has been refined over years of practice. While traditional retail spends time centered around inventory and store layout, these digital natives have the freedom to focus entirely on customer needs—no inter-store supply chain required.
But traditional retailers are fighting back—and not by simply transitioning online. Integrating digital into the physical retail store is the new transformative trend, and it’s at the center of discussion at this year’s eTail Europe event.
‘Stores of the future’—it sounds like a cliché, something from 1950’s science fiction. But it’s a term that realistically foreshadows what in-store retailers will deploy in the years to come. Using new technological concepts, they’ll take customer engagement beyond the sliding doors and into customers’ mobile devices, launching personalization techniques built on customer location, behavioral, and contextual data. Imagine a nearby favorite store alerting you to discounts on your favorite brands, just as you’re passing by.
Why an in-store approach to customer-centricity is different
There’s nothing new about customer-centricity. But for in-store retailers, it requires new strategies, specifically because driving sales requires foot traffic.
These new physical retail strategies will take on many forms. But at the core of those channels for engagement is as a new content approach as well. At eTail Europe, look out for discussions on ‘conversational commerce’—a new, intuitive method for engaging consumers online that puts them at the focal point when driving in-store sales.
And it requires more than a new digital approach. In-store retailers will begin restructuring internal teams to keep up with customer preferences and expectations. They’ll leverage integrated technologies that keep staff informed about customer preferences so they’ll be ready when they walk through the door.
How physical stores are now a critical part of omnichannel strategies
Behind the curtain, we’ll see a lot more innovation driving excellence in understanding customers. Retailers will sprout new ‘innovation labs’ to help them truly understand the omnichannel customer. Moving forward, retailers will talk about ‘omnichannel strategies’ in a way that is inclusive to physical stores. Decisions about digital-savvy customers will factor in-store components and become part of marketing and engagement approaches moving forward.
On a granular level, this doesn’t bode well for all physical stores. Retailers will begin assessing ROI on digital investments for particular stores, and some may be shut down as a result. But while we’ll see more consolidation in this way, many other stores will simply skirt a lot of the physical window dressing to become something different—popup brand experiences, live showcasing spaces, and entertaining ‘retail destinations’ whereby their own flavor of digital inclusion will befit the local market drivers around them. Highly visible locations in popular areas, for example, may be the best place to showcase the latest, most exciting products via digital engagement strategies rather than sell standard inventory.
How loyalty through brand-led omnichannel experiences turns customers into advocates
The imperative for physical stores to drive loyalty is strong—perhaps more strong than digital-only retailers. This new non-intrusive approach to engagement, will be a thought-leadership focal point at eTail Europe, where local stores are becoming consumer allies. Digital efforts will frame physical stores as relevant to the lives of their shoppers, putting customers—not devices—at the forefront of digital strategy. Mobile device must stop being a convenient channel for retailers and become a convenient opportunities for potential customers that want to engage with them.
The customer will be at the forefront of digital strategy. From a content perspective, those customers who become emotionally attached to retailers will evolve into loyal customers. And increasingly this emerges not just by the products retailers offer, but the way in which they are offered, the contexts in which retailers inform customers about them and offer discounts, and the degree to which customers are inspired.
Why measurement can’t simply be about numbers anymore
Both physical and retailers are adding a qualitative edge to their analysis of consumer data, and eTail Europe’s discussions on this subject couldn’t come to soon. When customers are at the forefront of brand experiences, retailers are stressed to adapt user experiences based on context, behaviors, history, and location.
But retailers need more than raw data to adapt. You’ll see more discussions about measuring emotional responses throughout the customer journey as means to better engage customers. This will emphasize connecting with customers as a step beyond simply engaging them, and assessing responses to understand more about their emotional involvement with your brand.
When you understand what drives customers and you keep up that analysis, the ROI is unprecedented. But you’ll need to pay eTail Europe a visit to understand more about how this works.
How centralizing this data creates deep customer intelligence
Customer-centricity isn’t just about messaging. At eTail Europe, you’ll see grater discussion around generating deep customer intelligence, which brings together multiple data sources on a continuous basis. This is a starting point to predicting future consumer behavior, which gives retailers an edge on becoming that relevant partner at all important intersections in consumers’ lives.
In 2018, technology providers are close to solving this problem. AI and machine learning gives the capability to analyze customer behavior at every interaction point, in real time. They then know what small changes drive conversions across channels. With a deep, complex understanding of the customer, retailers can better predict purchasing behavior and personalize online experiences.
A piece of advice: you’ll need to know how the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will impact this strategy beginning in2018. It’s an overarching European law that will tell retailers what they can and cannot do with their customer data going forward. eTail Europe will have great information on getting over this logistical hurdle.
What to expect during the in-store digital technology invasions
Retailers already see influence from online interactions playing out in physical stores. The lines between in-store and online worlds will blur even more as the second generation of digital store produces even greater results (e.g. instore tracking, virtual fitting rooms). Now that retailers have had time to pause and rethink their in-store strategies, many are seeing success with this latest technology.
Get it all at eTail Europe
Get all of this information and more at eTail Europe—the retail industry event of the year. It’s the only conference that provides retailer-only sessions throughout the entire event. There are more networking opportunities than at any other industry conference; more settings to foster discussion, facilitate big picture problem-solving, and encourage sharing in a non-proprietary, information-based environment. Don’t let you, your team, and your business miss out. Download the agenda here.