Surviving the Retail Apocalypse

Story by Kristen Regine , on Nov 29, 2017 4:56 PM

Kristen Regine

Retail dies when based solely on the concept of visiting a store for a commodity item. To thrive in today’s market and emerge from the “retail apocalypse” retailers must focus on what is important to customers — the 3 Es: ease, experience, and execution. With more shoppers migrating to online purchases during the holidays and throughout the year, this approach allows stores to cash in during the holiday season and position themselves for long-term security.

Today’s consumer wants it all and wants it now. Shoppers are looking to in-store marketing and apps to make product selection easy. The Omni Channel strategy integrates all methods of shopping, which allow customers to shop where want and when they want. The key is attracting customers to visit bricks-and-mortar stores. Even online giant Amazon is recognizing this. In October, Kohl’s announced a partnership with Amazon which allows customers to return Amazon purchases in select Kohl’s stores. Beyond partnering with competitors, retailers are offering more wish lists, expediting the fulfillment of orders and being more responsive to customer reviews. With a store’s inventory and staff at the consumer’s fingertips, they are more comfortable navigating the traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

Shopping is all about the experience. Chains such as Nordstrom make stores a destination by offering curbside pickup, manicures and pedicures and restaurants. Toys ‘R’ Us plans to give children more hands on experience with its products as it emerges from bankruptcy. Target is aiming to combine the physical and digital experience of retail. The holidays are an opportunity for brands and retailers to reinvent old concepts and learn how consumers react. For example, Pop-Up shops are appearing in large cities throughout the country and are used to extend a brand and introduce new products. The Pop-Up Shop industry, valued at $50 billion in 2016 according to the American Marketing Association, offers unique services, convenience and a fun experience. Some brands experiencing recent success with this model include Organic Valley dairy products, New Form Perspective, Kylie Jenner cosmetics and Kendrick Lamar.

Retailers should pay particular attention to the Omni Channel experience. While consumers still rely on traditional store formats, the emotional experience is still an important element of holiday shopping with friends and family. One way to drive traffic into stores is to bring the technology into the store making it easier for consumers to find products. Limited time offers that utilize technologies such as websites, in-store apps and email marketing methods are key.  Stores such as Sephora and Target are utilizing these strategies for the holiday to drive in-store traffic.

Executing promotions and customer friendly policies is essential for retailers this holiday season and year-round. Many consumers search for retailers with quick and easy returns, free shipping, prime product placement in stores and free in-store pickups, all of which are highly sought during the holiday season. Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, learned from its 2016 holiday shopping season by hiring in-store “holiday helpers” to direct consumer traffic in stores, open extra registers, perform price checks and retrieve items for shoppers in line who may have forgotten something during the checkout process.

The overall retail outlook for the 2017 holiday season is bright. The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting sales will increase about four percent, from a total of $678.75 billion dollars to $688 billion, with consumers will average $967.13 in spending. Most notably, online shopping is projected to surpass in-store sales for the first time. Even with this historic shift, customers still want to see and feel items, which are stronger influencers in the consumer decision making process. Consumer behavior and spending habits have changed, but the human senses have not.

The 3 Es create a winning retail strategy for the holiday season and can secure a stable long-term outlook for retailers across the country. Retailers should tap into the mind of consumers by listening and asking questions to give the customer confidence while making a purchase, regardless of the shopping season. Putting the customer first ensures that customers from different generations get something unique from their retail relationship. 

Kristen Regine is a professor of marketing in the Johnson & Wales University College of Business at the Providence Campus.