Reshaping Retail for the Future
A blend of digital and human for a forever changed customer
The pandemic has changed the way we live. Consumers have started purchasing heavily online and plan to continue to do so. What we purchase and what we care about when we purchase has also fundamentally changed. Two groups of needs emerge: safety, reassurance, convenience and low touch on one side, human connection, sense of belonging, meaning and personal touch on the other side.
Big retailers like Zara, H&M and Microsoft are closing hundreds of physical stores to focus on digital commerce. I believe that is not enough. The tremendous changes in habits, values, beliefs and behaviors that this pandemic brings offer the opportunity to work beyond the mere moving of traffic from physical to digital channels, and truly transform the retail system. It is time to reconsider the roles of digital and physical channels, to restructure organizations and processes, to strategically design the collaboration between technology and humans and to rethink experiences and customer engagement.
Where the purchase happens is not that important anymore, because every piece of branded media is now a store: we can shop from an Instagram post, a gaming app or a conversation with a brand advisor directly from a Google Search and Maps or a digital lookbook. The whole notion of productivity must be reconsidered, and measures of success redefined.
Five ideas to tackle change at a systemic level and build retail for the future
I can see five areas in which to focus, invest and experiment to craft a new retail system that can not only survive but thrive in a post-pandemic world.
1. Improve Listening and Analytic Capabilities, reorganizing for Enterprise Agility.
We don’t know our customers anymore, as I mentioned in a deep dive a few weeks ago. Needs and behaviors are changing at an unprecedented pace and unevenly across geographies, making legacy data of little use. The pandemic is forcing a change in habits, a reconsideration of priorities and a redefinition of value. Uncertainty raises anxiety and heighten the need for social connection, human relationships, feeling part of a community. A more conscious consumerism emerges and concerns for sustainability and social responsibility gain weight in the decision-making process.
Depth and speed of learning must increase. A highly tuned demand-sensing capability, that incorporates company and external data, will help generate the key insights that are needed to reevaluate product portfolios and service offers. Investments are required in AI driven customer data platforms, business analytic tools, activation capabilities and human capital able to respond to insights with aesthetic intelligence.
Agility is a key organizational capability required to respond in a fast and timely manner, bringing new ideas and solutions to market within months, getting feedback and continuing to test and iterate. A different governance is needed, together with leaner while still disciplined business processes and employees encouraged to use creativity when facing new situations. Being constantly tuned in with the world and responding with empathy and a touch of boldness is what will make organizations succeed during and post pandemic.
2. Humanize Digital Commerce and Create Seamless Experiences
How to build a relationship with customers that shop digitally? Eliminating points of friction in the online experience is important, of course, but relationship building is still the key to customer retention and loyalty. Customer engagement and personal approach are what makes the difference. Digital shopping needs to get less transactional and more human, personal, emotional and playful.
Focus on enhancing the product discovery and the product experience using now readily available top-quality image, video and immersive technology to show the product in its most intricate, differentiating details and bring it to life for the customer. Test ways to understand the customer purchase intent and tailor the experience to it ? AI driven startups that play in this space are gaining traction, despite needing more work to prove success. Intertwine access to expert advice and human interaction to encourage the creation of a mutually valuable relationship. Add playfulness to the mix, experimenting with gaming, AR and VR.
Explore and intensify conversational commerce, clienteling, virtual appointments and livestream shopping, because they will become an integral part of the new retail system, a system that uses technology to facilitate human connections and create seamless experiences across space and time.
3. Transform Points of Sale into Points of Experience
We don’t need hundreds of cookie-cutter stores. We need fewer stores with a soul.
Safety constraints and change in customer needs constitute an invaluable opportunity to fully rethink the role of the physical store in the retail ecosystem. Back to the drawing board to design stores with a purpose, a distinct point of view, where more intimate and personalized experiences can take place. Stores that encourage not only product discovery, but also customer participation and engagement into something that matters. Points of action, of learning, of social connection, of experimentation and exercise of the imagination. Spaces that feel alive, lighter in cost and more flexible to adapt to changing needs.
Digitally and locally connected physical stores conceived to support digital commerce sales by building active communities, acquiring new customers through inspiring real-life experiences that move hearts and minds. Think Alo Yoga Sanctuary, as an example: stores where customers will want to go to rather than having to be pushed to.
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