We got incredible feedback from last month’s article about retail stores closing. Our list of 20 retailers shuttering doors en masse might be just the tip of the iceberg. We have an inkling we’ll be seeing headlines about closures for years to come.
Although it’s important to remember that e-commerce makes up just 7.7%1 of all retail sales, it’s a percentage that is growing. The changing landscape of retail seems to be tripping everybody up these days. The most blatant scapegoat is Amazon, which accounted for 43%2 of online sales in 2016.
But there is more to this story.
What we’re hearing is that brands are reacting to this situation by directing budgets to direct-to-consumer efforts. Cutting out the middleman sounds like a good plan, right? But brands can’t go it alone. They need their retailers as much as their retailers need them. Why? Because that is still where the bulk of the revenue comes from, meaning brick and mortar is engrained in the buying process for most shoppers.
How can brands support retailers in this time of uncertainty?
1. Jointly meet customers wherever they are in the omni-channel path to purchase
For a long time, omni-channel was just an industry buzzword to throw around. Brands and retailers thought they could address it by simply having a presence in both the physical and digital world. If you build it, they will come.
We know that shoppers are visiting more channels than ever in their path to purchase. But that path is fluid rather than static. Consumers don’t even know what their next move is. Sometimes they may not intentionally be on the path until something compels them to take out their credit card.
In order to keep customers on your path, each of these channels has to meet the customers’ expectations better than ever. This means being present, relevant and responsive on your website, store, social networks and app. And here is where there is crossover between brands and retailers.
It’s time for brands and retailers to start working together to share data about each of their channels. Understanding that customers are present on all of these channels throughout the path to purchase is the first step. One customer may bounce between a brand’s website for information, a brand’s Facebook page to ask a question, a retailer site to check out reviews, and a store to see and touch the product. The next customer’s path could look dramatically different.
If brands and retailers can learn to share data between these channels, everyone wins.
2. Share Customer Opinion Data
If retailers are to prevail, they need to play the long game. The Harvard Business Review examined the financial data of 37 U.S. retailers and found that those who are continuing to succeed have focused on operational improvements instead of short term profits3. Opening stores in new markets can only affect growth for so long.
Brands can support this long game by helping retailers understand what makes customers buy that brand’s products. Brands get product feedback in many forms: surveys, product testing, focus groups, and product reviews.
Sharing information about what drives consumers to the brand and its products help retailers make better purchasing decisions. Secondly, better insight into your customer opinions can arm retail salespeople in your channels with powerful selling information. Now a salesperson can say, “this is what many consumers who purchased this product are saying.”
One way brands can achieve this is by using a product review aggregation service that shows them consumer buying trends by product and category. This information can be shared with the retail channels.
3. Help Them Buy for Their Target Market
Specialty retail believes they tailor their inventory to a different market than big box retailers. Again, supplying product information about what the consumers have purchased, what they liked about the shopping experiences and what they didn’t like will help both specialty and the large retailers.
Customer review data can compare your offering to other brands carried by the retailer, which improves a retail buyer’s understanding of categories, and increases your share of retailer’s open-to-buy dollars due to this new relationship. This partnership could improve sales and inventory turns.
4. Get Them Trained (The Last 3.5 Feet)
The founder of Channel Signal is also the founder of Experticity, formerly known as 3point5. Three and a half feet is the distance between a retail salesperson and the customer. And too often that three and a half feet is not bridged to make the sale.
This is why sales training is critical to the success of both a brand and the retailer. Consumers have done online research through the website, social media, product reviews and are now going to a retail store to see, touch and talk about the product. The consumer has cash in his pocket, is educated, has narrowed down the choices and is open to being sold. Brands and retail must join together to make sure that consumer leaves the store happy and with a new product.
Brands can help retailers get the training they need by signing up for programs such as Experticity, which helps with product training. Brands can then share consumer opinion research with retailers and their salesforces to further empower the floor conversation.
Advice from Our Readers
“Retailers need to go back to basics and introduce good old fashion customer service to maintain repeat visits that equals dollars in the till. Bricks and mortar retailers can provide quality service, build face to face relationships. Also customers still love to touch, smell, feel product and enjoy the in store theatre/entertainment which online shopping can not provide at this point of time. Back to Basics to survive”
“The face of retail is changing and this is just the beginning. Companies offering both online and offline must integrate to offer the best products with an exemplary customer experience.”
“Great read. How hard is it for the traditional [bricks] and mortar retailers to realise you don’t do online at the expense of offline. That is what they are doing, pillaging offline stores to feed online. End result store closures and ultimately customers lost to [the] brand. Customers want and need to webroom and showroom and to not have that integrated ability is the death of a brand.”
“[…] My [advice] for retailers (and entrepreneurs in general) would be about being relevant and authentic. Relevant to your Customer and authentic from from your personal Story. From my experience I know that small and big multinational businesses don’t know their customer! They think they do, but at the end of the line they don’t. I have met Retail managers who think that you can run a store only from the head office sitting behind their desks. They did not even go to the store to meet the customer and speak to the store manager. To learn, see and interact.”
“Stores need to become relevant to the consumer. Even ‘the giants’ can make a turn around. Relocation, re-inventing, accommodation need to be considered to address changing neighborhoods.”
- Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 3rd Quarter 2016, U.S. Census Bureau News, November 17, 2016
- Amazon accounts for $43 of US online retail sales, Business Insider, February 3, 2017
- Curing the Addiction to Growth, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2017