Retailing sure ain’t what it used to be?
The future of retail will change dramatically
A change is sweeping through retail and it’s not what everyone assumes it is. We may think the internet is changing shopping forever, and it certainly is, but another unspoken dynamic is everywhere, it’s the divergence of retail.
Every action has a reaction and retailing is no exception, Shopping is moving from shopping as a branded experience to buying with ultimate in ease and minimal risk.
“Don’t stress, you may have inherited the past in retailing, but you can help to create the future”. Peter Sergeant
Over the past 100 years, the retail industry has seen many changes. Much of that change was driven by consumer convenience. In 1950, most people had to go to many stores to buy their weekly food needs. One store for meat, one store for fruit and vegetables, a fish store, and a dry grocery store.
Retailers were specialists. Your local fruit and veg store stocked the best fruit when it was in season, and they really knew their produce. Your butcher knew all about meat and took special orders.
In the 1960s and 1970 retail saw a big change with the popularity of the ‘Supermarket’. Bigger stores that stocked all of your food needs under one roof. This was a big change for consumers and for retail.
Consumers could save time by picking up everything they needed in one shopping trip. Sure, you could make an extra trip to the butcher to get really good quality meat for a special occasion, but for every day the Supermarket was so convenient.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Sam Walton revolutionised retail with the invention of the Mass Retail Store and eventually the superstore that had everything. Now you could buy pretty much everything under one roof, from carrots to car batteries and pillows to pie crusts and have your car serviced at the same time. One trip to get all your needs and most things started to become cheaper.
“Retail is a customer business. You’re trying to take care of the customer, solve something for the customer. And there’s no way to learn that in the classroom or in the corner office”. Erik Nordstrom
Westfield further added to the changes by introducing massive shopping complexes with lots of independent businesses under the one roof along with entertainment. They created places for younger people to ‘hang out’.
In the 2000s the Internet became big and intrusive. Customers started buying online and learned to trust their suppliers. Retailers began offering free shipping and membership privileges along with 2-day delivery, 1-day delivery, and now in some markets 1-hour delivery. The internet is getting easier and easier to shop, but it still lacks that personal touch that many customers still look for.
Shopping online when it works the best isn’t an experience, it’s a lack of experience. It’s the purest example yet of the act of removing every possible barrier. Every piece of friction. Online retail is for most sites, endless A-B tests to reduce the chance of anything getting in the way of a sale.
It’s about a surgical operation, designed to be automatic, it’s for people who know what they want and want to get what they need without thinking. Increasingly the world of retail seems to work this way. When you want repeat order fulfilment online shopping can deliver as if by magic.
Some things never change
The one thing that will stay with us is customer service. The customer experience is critical to growing a successful retail business. Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower and not worrying about their employees.
Put your employees first, they are your front line and the ones who take care of the customers. By training them and taking care of them, they will take care of your customer better than anybody else and of course, take care of your business. Customer service can still become a competitive advantage.
The businesses who with thrive in modern retailers are those who understand the divergent nature of modern retail, who serve people quickly and efficiently.
We’ve seen how eCommerce has changed buying habits, but many retail businesses have changed little beyond adding technology at their cash registers. Modern shoppers don’t buy online or offline. They buy in the modern world. One where expectations have changed, where patience is short, where service and delivery are expected and where they either expect things to be incredibly quick or a lot of fun.
Retail continues to change, it’s time to rethink it all to maximise the experience for the modern customer.
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Businesses often forget about their culture and its impact on the customer. They suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service when they have unhappy employees.
The employee’s role is to figure out what a customer needs and help you get it, even if it’s a product their business doesn’t carry.
Too many retailers are still concerned with the ‘hard -sell’, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don’t want or need it. This doesn’t enrich the lives of the customer or the employees and they wonder why their sales are slipping.
I still believe that shopping will continue to be found in physical retail shops because it will have the nice sights and smells people like along with the sense of community. That is until they can send smells over the internet.
Mind you can now create a replica of your shop on the internet with all the sights and even better experiences but without the smells.
Yes, ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing is still alive and well for those who can embrace change and adapt to the modern world. The true successes of modern retailers are those who can make the changes to the nature of modern retail, serving people quickly and efficiently in the way they want to be served.