“The future of retail is online” is a phrase you'll hear less and less these days.
Well, retailers and consumers are waking up to the fact that retail is not an experience that only exists either online or off, but an omnichannel experience that exists across physical brick-and-mortar stores, computers, tablets, apps, and mobile devices. And big players in the retail arena have made moves to disrupt the industry while they and consumers benefit.
From Clicks to Bricks
If you thought Amazon was going to destroy the brick-and-mortar experience, think again. In fact, even Amazon has started opening physical locations. Amazon’s move from digital “etail” only to bricks-and-mortar retail started with real, physical bookstores and has grown to add convenience stores to the list with its Amazon Go locations. But of course, there is a digital caveat: there are no lines or checkouts, simply grab what you need from the store and Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology (yes, that’s what it’s called) will do the rest.
Here are three other retailers that are disrupting the industry by offering a little something different at their brick-and-mortar locations.
Launched exclusively as an online retailer in 2007, Bonobos is an apparel store specializing in men’s clothing. What first started as a men’s pants store with the purpose of creating tailored designs that eliminated “khaki diaper butt” has now turned into a multi-million dollar company with multiple SKUs. As the brand expanded to include shirts, suits and more, the demand for customers to “try before they buy” emerged and the company made a drastic decision to expand beyond the ecommerce vail. Today the company has multiple “Guideshop” locations around the United States, over 60 stores where customers can try on multiple products sold by the company. The only catch: you don’t walk out of the store shopping bag in hand. You’ve got to wait for your custom items to be shipped to you. The good news: once you go once to find the right fit, the company stores your information and you can now happily shop online knowing that you’ll have the perfect fit coming your way.
2. Sam’s Club
The U.S. big box retailer Sam’s Club was recently coined by Forbes to be the most “courageous retailer of them all.” They’re taking a similar approach to Amazon in that they’re making shopping easier, more automated and hassle-free while still maintaining the retail space environment. Here are a few ways they explain how their new concept,Sam’s Club Now (along with a handy app) is changing the way people shop:
Smart shopping lists: Sam’s developed intuitive technology that combines machine learning and purchase data to auto-fill a member’s shopping list. They can easily add or remove things, and as items are scanned the list will automatically update and move the item to their mobile basket.
Wayfinding and navigation: Gone are the days of wondering where something is in the store. Using voice search capabilities combined with new wayfinding and navigation features, a map will pop up and take members right to what they need.
Augmented reality: Sam’s promises to bring items to life in the store by sharing new ways to use them. Through smartphone scanning, they plan to work to integrate stories that highlight cool features, including how items are sourced. Imagine scanning your organix coffee purchase only to be met by a video of the actual grower explaining what sets their brand apart.
One-hour Club Pickup: Using the app, members can now place and pickup an order within the hour at Sam’s Club Now.
3. Foot Locker
Apparel and footwear retailer Foot Locker kicked off a completely new retail experience for their customers not long ago. And they’ve seen a great response globally. Kambiz Hemati, Footlocker's VP of global retail design, said the objective is to “make the store more experiential… We want to make our stores more a part of the communities.” To keep customers coming through the doors, local chapters have started holding events, hiring DJs and immersing themselves in the “sneaker culture” that many of their customers return to experience again and again. After adopting this model at certain locations, Foot Locker saw sales up in those markets. Just another way retailers are adapting to offer something their customers are looking for, which is at its heart: an experience. In some cases, that experience is convenience (see Amazon and Sams) and in others that experience is social and cultural in nature.
What About Small Businesses?
So what does disruption mean for small businesses? Small business owners can’t exactly launch an app or create an experience quite like Amazon and other big brands; however, they can learn from these disruptors to tweak their own retail model and stay relevant.
Small businesses can find ways to innovate by using third party apps and taking advantage of the latest technologies, many of which can be integrated into their point of sale systems. Think customer loyalty and rewards programs, online ordering, tap to pay and more.
They can also take a cue from the Foot Lockers of the world and do what many successful small retailers are doing: offering an experience in their retail space through holding events, strategic partnerships with other businesses and more. Experience-driven consumer culture, similar to the Foot Locker model, is something that any store can do - big or small.
The important thing for small businesses is that they stay nimble and continue to adapt their retail model to what their customers want.
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