The new retail is quietly and surely taking shape before our eyes. New stores are getting smaller while big stores are moving into city centers to open smaller outlets in great locations. Supply-chain disruption is leading to new logistical solutions; innovation-driven advances in payment systems are giving merchants and their customers access to an expanded array of payment options; and physical brick-and-mortar stores are merging with their digital online platforms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all more tolerant of change and many of us have adapted to the new consumer reality. Retailers have discovered new ways to reach out to consumers and manage their businesses. Now that both the young and the old have embraced digital shopping, stores have learned to accommodate a different traffic flow, including in-store and outdoor pickup of online orders. Global warming, too, will forever impact the way we do business and customers are already rewarding stores taking measures to reduce their carbon emissions.
Change can be good. It can lead to innovative ways of dealing with some age-old problems. Fortunately, consumers seem to welcome innovation and have demonstrated by their behavior over the past two years that they will accept change. In today’s world, undertaking a digital transformation is no longer optional. Every Independent retailer knows that they must continue to re-examine their traditional ways of doing business and implement changes to keep up with the new forms of competition.
TECHNOLOGY IS DRIVING THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
As technology keeps pushing the boundaries of what is possible, consumer expectations will continue to rise. They want retailers to deliver the kind of inventive, exciting, and personalized experiences that make them say WOW! Many retailers have been focusing on creating a unified customer experience through an omnichannel approach. And with good reason. Research has shown that companies offering consistent service quality across multiple channels retain almost 90 percent of their customers, while those that don’t are only able to retain about a third.
So far, shoppers have been able to easily distinguish between the different channels and touch points, such as e-commerce versus in-store, but technology has started to blur the boundaries between the online and offline world. This “phygital” approach offers a more personalized and engaging shopping experience, where the physical channels are enriched by digital technology and the digital channels are augmented to become more human.
SUCCEEDING IN AN EVER-CHANGING RETAIL ENVIRONMENT
When the future is unknown, agility is crucial. Fortunately, agility has always been a particular strength of Independent retailers. Because customers expect to shop when they want, where they want, you need to perfect your execution at every touch point. Agility equals resilience — giving you a big competitive edge and a powerful survival skill.
The basics, at which Independent retailers have always excelled, remain at the heart of retail. Listening to your customers and finding ways to continuously offer better quality, value and convenience is as important as ever – and the way to differentiate your business from the competition so that it does not become a commodity. Data is the key to knowing and understanding your customers, building customer profiles and enhancing your product offering.
Online shoppers tend to rely on recognized brand names as an assurance of quality. You can use this preoccupation with “brand trust” to your advantage by instilling trust in your store brand. This will help you sell your products, whether a name brand or not. Delivering reliable, trustworthy products and services fosters loyalty and customers who are so confident in your products and services that they will happily recommend you to their family and friends. Plus, “social proofing” your brand with positive customer reviews is an excellent way to attract new business. Despite the much-vaunted convenience of online shopping, the glut of choice in the online marketplace can be overwhelming. Many consumers would welcome help making a purchasing decision. Sharing your product knowledge and expert advice gives customers the confidence to buy from you instead of an online competitor.
Your team remains a precious asset even in a digital universe. Keep your people engaged by making them feel valued, challenged, supported and fulfilled. Offer meaningful employee development and recognize and reward excellence. Make training part of your culture and create a fun work environment. When you keep your people happy and empowered, your customers will be happy too and want to do repeat business with you.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the future is uncertain and not necessarily a continuation of the past. What has made you successful thus far – your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your agility – will continue to serve you well as you pivot when needed and make the required changes in a timely fashion. If you need help, be sure to reach out to our Cantrex team, who is here to help your business continuously evolve no matter what the future of retail holds.
Jeannine Ghaleb is President and COO of Cantrex Nationwide, which represents Canadian Members of Nationwide Marketing Group