Half of shopping malls in the United States will either close down or suffer steep decline in the next few years, according to one industry analyst. Though brick and mortar sales are down only five percent since 2015, the closure of many anchor tenants has significantly impacted shopping malls.
Brick-and-mortar is making a comeback, but many retailers struggle to drive sales. In these precarious times, both established and new retail players need to focus on customer needs. Today’s fickle customers don’t want aisle after aisle of redundant merchandise; they want to be a part of a brand experience.
Here are three strategies retailers can pursue to reorient around the customer and regain wallet share from e-tailers and other new competitors in the retail business.
Invest in the right technology
According to Think with Google, customers who shop in-store and online have a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those who buy using only one channel. That stunning stat demonstrates why brick-and-mortar retailers need to pursue an omnichannel strategy.
Companies such as Under Armour and Disney have already made moves to create an integrated offline and online experience. Disney Retail, for example, created a new division that combines its retail and e-commerce capabilities.
Providing an omnichannel experience, however, isn’t just about having a mobile app or a responsive website. Boosting value and providing a seamless end-to-end customer experience is key.
One interesting example comes from Crate & Barrel. The company overhauled its popular registry program so that customers could fluidly start or finish the process in-store, in-app or online. Similarly, Starbucks saw a revenue increase of 12 percent after launching its mobile ordering service, with over 21 percent of total U.S. Starbucks transactions completed through the app.
As these examples show, investing in technologies that bridge offline and online experiences can provide a significant competitive advantage. The physical store offers a unique tangible experience of the thrill of the hunt—a profound moment of discovery that can be enhanced by the right technology.
Understand customer habits
According to emerging behavioural science, shoppers are more intuitive than conscious and analytical. While a disruptive new service such as Amazon Prime has the power to jolt customers out of old habits, the everyday decisions of most consumers are based on what worked in the past. Customers are creatures of habit.
Insight into customer habits can help companies drive sales by providing insight on which products to offer next. For example, Sephora’s Beauty Insider is a portal that allows customers to enter details such as their skin tone and makeup preferences—information the company uses to send relevant and personalized offers to shoppers.
Sephora’s strategy uses transactional data to understand and reinforce customer habits. To gain a more complete understanding of shopping habits, companies should also engage customers in a two-way conversation. Talking to shoppers directly reveals why they do what they do. This type of insight uncovers unmet needs, which can help companies deliver products and services that will either change or reinforce long-standing habits.
Prioritize customer engagement, not customer service
An engaged customer is a profitable one. According to research from Gallup, “a customer who is fully engaged represents an average 23 percent premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth compared with the average customer.”
To fully engage their customers, some retailers now use a mix of in-person and digital experiences. For example, several large retailers use beacons to send personalized messages to customer’s phones within a certain vicinity. This type of technology can go beyond a generic greeting from a customer service rep, offering time-sensitive and relevant discounts to customers.
Others brands are pursuing experiential retailing. Home audio brand Sonos, for instance, recently opened a “listening boutique” store, where customers can experience the company’s innovative products in person.
According to the company, customer insight helped shape major elements of the store. “Sonos, we’ve learned, is a product that you learn about best in somebody’s home,” revealed Dmitri Siegel, VP of global brand at Sonos. “That’s why we ended on this design of having these little houses that you would go into.”
The store offers the same sense of comfort you’d get from visiting a friend’s place. By creating a process that an e-tailer could never replicate, Sonos has created an intimate and useful engagement point that customers will remember.
Making retail relevant again
While many brick-and-mortar stores are struggling, they do have a unique advantage over pure play e-commerce: the ability to engage customers offline and online. But as companies invest in new technologies and pursue an omnichannel strategy, they need to ensure that the retail experience is enhanced, not diminished.
In addition, retailers need to stop viewing the shopping space—the physical store—as merely as a place to distribute products. Rather, stores are now opportunities to provide unique and compelling experiences to customers.
In this experience-driven era of doing business, companies need to engage with shoppers for ongoing feedback. The retailers that infuse shopper intelligence to their strategy will emerge as winners of this $5 trillion industry.