People will always want to shop. However, what floats their boat in terms of products may differ. A person could love cars, but couldn't care less about shoes.
The recent resurgence of physical books goes to show consumers may be influenced to move to technological alternative, but this can be reversed. Millenniums have gone nuts for LP's and even Kylie Minogue's most recent album was released on cassette, remember those??
My point is that while technologies will continue to challenge tradition, consumers do not always act as expected and there will always be some basic psychological aspects of human behaviour that will never change. A DIY fanatic will always get excited about a new drill bit and I will always want to explore a boutique in person.
Consumer behaviour and technology
There is a reason marketing experts advice brands to know their customer. If your core customer doesn't use smartphones, why develop an App they will never use? If you are trying to change your target audience and want to re-position your brand. Well, then you may have to invest in apps and on your website.
So consider your customer, are they tech savvy? If your target is luxury, they will more than likely want to try on clothing as it is an investment buy.
A final point about technology. There is an academic model called the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). There have been plenty of variations but the core point is, that for consumers to adopt technology it must fulfil two qualities:
1. Ease of use - how easy is it for them to use and access?
2. Perceived Usefulness - Why use it, whats going to make their life easier?
So think about your customers and how they will react to any new technology you plan to introduce. Can you comfortable tick the above two boxes? Will your problems be sorted through technology or do you need to think of analogue solutions?
Principles of good retail
The reality with the negative news stories about the death of the high street is that there are many other retailers seeing growth. Primark (their 9th US store set to open in Brooklyn this year) and Inditex (Owner of Zara up 7% in profits fueled by online sales) demonstrates retailer successes. Those willing to listen to consumers and move with them are doing well.
Consumers like to look at new things, be inspired and want an experience in-store. So what as a retailer can you do? While I am taking a fashion sector approach same principles apply to any retailer.
1. Staff - it is harder for small boutiques to pay high wages, but look at ways to give staff incentives to go the extra mile with customers. There are no excuses for store's with £1m+ in profits not to pay commission and reward sales staff. Some simple rules for sales training to help the experience:
a) Welcome customers and make sure it is clear you will not bother those who want to be left alone
b) Don't gossip in front of customers
c) Get off the phone (unless you are speaking to a customer)
d) Just because they don't buy today, doesn't mean they won't return tomorrow. Do not be dismissive when they leave. Negative word of mouth travels 4 times more than positive!
e) If it is not in stock, can you order it in? Do you have an alternative? Never just say, sorry we don't have that in a Medium. Offer a similar product. If a customer has come to buy you have the edge to convert with a bit of inspiration.
f) Be a problem solver- if they don't know what to put with a jacket or suit, suggest some options (if asked).
2. Stock - Listen to your customers and keep track of what sells. The buying process is the foundation of your business. What sizes and colours are most popular, can you rotate brands and get exclusives pieces? This is where technology can help. Can you link up Point-of-Sales to analysis software? Or even track stock via Excel to monitor popular items.
If it is not selling, put it on sale. Never hang on to stock that is not working. You may think it will sell eventually, but customers will get tired seeing the same item and you will give a negative impression of your store. The old trick is to have a 'last chance to buy rail' to clear such peices.
It is OK to change up your brands to move with your customer base. Over time your location may see changing fortunes- can you react?
3. In-store experience - Keep your store clean, remove fading posters, remove clutter, make sure the store flows. If you are worried that you need to have all the sizes out, have a very neat sign up inviting customers to ask for sizes. State you have more sizes to customers when they come in.
When considering the in-store experience, the 5 senses are a useful tool:
a) Smell - it can be a candle, diffuser a plug-in etc. A pleasant smell really helps to keep
customers browsing. Certain smells like chocolate, release positive endorphins.
b) Sound - as with smell have music that ties in with your stores brand. Not too loud but creates an atmosphere. If you sell rockabilly/50's vintage I would expect some Elvis. In a high-end formal dress space, classical or easy listening Jazz.
c) Sight - use merchanding to give outfit ideas. Showcase new brands and move collections around. Be reactive to the environment - unexpected rain, pull umbrella to the front of the store. Finally, make sure fixtures and fitting's tie to your brand aesthetic. Clashing colours and too much decoration can drive customer out.
d) Touch - never put customers off touching clothes. Clothing by its nature is tactile. Nothing wrong with protecting some items behind glass, or having jumpers in clear bags, but have something on display which can be touched to prompt customers to ask for further help. Samples always help.
e) Taste - now you can't eat cardigans, well you can try but can't imagine it will do you much good! However, think about how you can play to that sense. Something else to consider is refreshments for customers who spend a long time when shopping. Can you team up with a local producer to feature their goods on certain days, or make space for a coffee shop area? There is a trend towards hybrid stores can you partner up with neighbouring retailers?
The bridge to online
Moving to e-comm channels may not suit your customer base. However, having some sort of online presence is useful and should be a complement to your store. Social media such as Facebook & Instagram are a free way to test the waters. It is a nice way to feature new products and engage with customers. There is nothing stopping you taking a payment via PayPal, or over the phone from customers who come across you via social media.
The next step is having a website. It doesn't have to be time-consuming. Plenty of affordable methods to design your own site. Just make sure it is in keeping with your brand image and tells customers a story about your store. At least make sure there are contact details and directions. Once a quarter re-fresh images and give a seasonal update.
As your confidence grows, start to consider the use of turnkey e-comm solutions such as Shopify. You will have to develop logistics with couriers, packaging etc. It will take time to get sales, but consumers are becoming more familiar with retailers going online, especially if you stock your own brand goods. Why not appeal to a wider audience?
Another alternative is using online intermediaries such as Amazon, eBay, Esty, Not of the Highstreet, Farfetch, Lyst etc. These intermediaries, for a fee, can be a platform for customers to find you and provide secure payment.
Finally, we are going cashless. You don't have to use traditional POS systems. Paypal, iZettle etc are offering digital means to take payment. The cost of managing cash and the risk of theft is making these solutions more attractive. Also, consider, if you happen to be in a location that attracts Chinese tourists, having Alipay terminals. China has a cashless society, so many tourists prefer to use digital payments when travelling.
What the internet has done for customers is provide options. Because of that poor customer service, grotty shops and tired products is punishing retailers who are not innovating and grasping the theatre of retail. Customers expect more. Yes, higher rents have made online retail more appealing but customers are no fools.
If there are two shops side by side, one has friendly informed salespeople, clean, unique brands, creative displays, strong in-store experience it will get repeat visitors and Instagram followers. If the other doesn't evolve and make their store appealing, customers will look for online alternatives.
You may argue that discounted retailers are basic in their layout. But their success is in understanding that their target customers like quirky special deals and value for money. So what, if gym socks are beside baked beans. It is clear in their marketing what they offer and we flock to these stores. There is an element of theatre and surprise. Plus these retailers get the power of location.
It may be something you will need to consider. If you have a few stores or even one if the location is experiencing reduced footfall, can you move or increase sales via online?
Theatre and retail is nothing new
Providing an experience instore and finding the right location is nothing new. It is the foundation of retail, but somehow we lost our way. However, there are plenty of great emerging retailers and brands happy to innovate and listen to their customers and trends.