During the holidays, I stopped by the mall and browsed a favorite store. I walked in to find the walls bare, shelves and racks nearly empty and signs declaring, “Everything Must Go!” I hadn’t shopped in this store in over a year, but I still felt like I was losing a friend. We’re less than two weeks into 2017 and several retailers have already announced plans to close stores. Some, like Macy’s, are downsizing the number of locations. Others, like The Limited, are closing all stores and placing their bets on the Web.
Store closures will likely continue as consumer behavior shifts toward the Web and mobile devices and retailers seek new ways to attract and engage in-store shoppers. The store isn’t dead, but it has outlived its usefulness and is long overdue for a revamp.
Digital commerce may be the only thing that can save the retail store.
Some store closures are inevitable. Populations migrate from urban centers to suburban neighborhoods to rural communities, moving away from certain stores. Consumer tastes shift as fashion and food evolves and new trends emerge. Retail brands that can’t adapt face irrelevance.
Savvy retailers combine the reach and relevance of digital commerce with the tactile convenience of the retail store. They deploy multichannel strategies and techniques aimed, not only at bridging online to offline, but also at aligning each channel to wants, needs and expectations along the customer journey.
Those strategies and technique include enabling customers to:
- Browse, search, sort and shop online based on online and in-store availability
- Reserve online and visit the store to touch, feel, try-on and complete the purchase
- Buy online, pick-up in-store with digital notifications, defined process and location
- Buy online, return in-store or vice-versa with no fees or penalties (e.g., restocking fee)
- Buy in-store for delivery to the store or to home with no additional shipping fee
- Place custom or bulk orders, schedule in-store services or consultations online
- Track order status regardless of shopping channel or fulfillment method
These strategies and techniques enable retailers to deliver a customer-centric shopping experience, tailored to how customers want to buy, not how the brand wants to sell. They can also deliver critical insight into what, when and how customers buy, which can drive optimization and innovation. For instance, brands that enable multichannel techniques have better visibility into cross-channel sales, inventory and returns. They can spot and focus on underperforming merchandise, out-of-stocks or hot items. That insight can help them tailor marketing campaigns, content and offers.
Applying this insight to business decisions requires change management across functions, at headquarters, distribution centers and in-store. It means redrafting sales policies and retraining everyone—from marketing, store operations and supply chain leaders to front-line sales associates and call center employees—to stop viewing the Web as the problem and start looking at it as part of the solution. If the Web is where consumers choose to shop and buy, it’s essential to retail store success.
Of course, store associates have to be compensated for their role in online sales, whether they’re helping a customer who ultimately buys online or fulfilling a click-and-collect order in the store. But, they also have a responsibility to make that in-store experience as efficient and fulfilling as the Web. If the store and digital channels become parts of a seamless, frictionless shopping experience, then consumers can realize the benefits of both. But, if retailers continue to put the store and Web at odds, the Web will win—at least until it is replaced by another channel, like IoT.