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Retail is far from dead.

That’s the key message I heard at the CX Exchange Retail 2018, an intimate, invite-only conference for business executives in retail. Despite the talk in media about the so-called retail apocalypse, many speakers at the conference reiterated that the industry is alive and well. To win the business of consumers, however, companies need to invest in continuously improving the experience of their customers.

Here are three of my top takeaways.

Focus on growth now.

Gene Lunger, executive vice president of retail operations from Ashley HomeStore, challenged the notion that retail is in decline. He told the audience that now is a good time for companies in the industry to pursue growth. Citing a Deloitte paper, Lunger said that the industry’s “apocalypse” is, in fact, a renaissance—an opportunity for retailers to listen and deliver more value to customers.

With stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us shuttering, there is plenty of square footage space available to other retailers to expand into now. Lunger described this as an opportunity to expand brick-and-mortar locations with the right strategy and at a lower cost than before. While physical stores aren’t dead, they need to provide a memorable experience in order to deliver ROI for the company, said Lunger.

Get closer to your employees.

Several speakers spoke about the importance of employee engagement and employee experience. For instance, Erik Hendrikson, director of retail at Legoland, said employees help highlight where the customer experience can be improved. Frontline staff interact with Legoland guests all day, so they are a good source of insight on what’s working and what’s not.

Antonio Zaccheo, VP of store operations from Sunglasshut North America, Luxottica, made a similar point, saying that sufficient support and training can boost employee engagement and ultimately sales. Zaccheo emphasized the importance of listening to employees since not everyone is motivated in the same way.

Fail fast and forward.

Embracing technology is key to survival in retail, according to many speakers, including Sunglasshut’s Zaccheo. That said, to keep up with the evolving needs of customers, retail companies also need to move faster. Lunger said taking smart risks is critical. As things change quickly, retail companies need to experiment to help customers take the path of least resistance. Doing so requires trying new things and failing fast to learn.

As companies experiment with new technologies and processes, they should focus on solving problems customers have, said Chris Hansen, director of user experience from TGI Fridays. To get internal buy-in for new initiatives, CX professionals need to connect solutions to customer pain points with corporate KPIs that those initiatives will address. Hansen encouraged his fellow retail exec peers to measure and test everything.

Great CX begins with a deep understanding of customers

The CX Exchange Retail reiterates the undeniable role of customer experience in driving growth in retail today. As Liquidation Channel’s Alex Paez-Gerstenhaber said during her presentation, customer experience should be a strategic priority. By initiating CX from the top, companies can ensure various business units are working towards the same goal of enhancing every touchpoint in the customer journey.

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Photo credit: The CX Exchange Retail 

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