Internet Retail Experience of Tomorrow

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Five Keys to the e-Store of the Future

The store of the future will allow consumers to shop the way they want to shop — when they want, where they want and how they want in a relevant, personalized way. Today, retailers cannot deliver on this vision due to legacy retail systems that are not nimble enough to keep up with the speed at which consumer technologies are evolving. The store of the future will eliminate this gap and achieve the “multichannel nirvana” long sought by retailers.

To get there, retailers will need to do five things:

1) Allow Relevant and Real-time to Become the Norms

Personalization is critical to the future of the store since shoppers will increasingly come to expect retailers to offer them what they want, not what the retailer wants. However, for the shopping experience to be truly personalized, it needs to be real-time and it needs to be relevant.

Specifically, real-time and relevant information about products, pricing, transaction history, inventory availability and status, loyalty program info and social graph and profile data must become the norm for both shoppers and in-store associates. Real-time means serving up data that is up to the second — not data that is a day old or even a few minutes old. Relevant means providing information that is intelligently filtered and served up in the context of where the shopper is in the cycle of interacting with the retailer’s brand.

2) Eliminate Channel Silos and Build on a Unified Technology Stack

Knocking down the walls that exist across different channels, particularly the one that exists between the two main systems in the retail ecosystem that drive commerce operations — legacy in-store systems and e-commerce — will be critical in building the store of the future. Organizational challenges are also a major obstacle, but are largely symptomatic of the technology divide. The store of the future will operate with truly integrated channels as well as be built on a unified technology stack, bringing together back-end and consumer- facing systems.

The e-commerce platform, with its natural connection to the online consumer who is increasingly shopping in physical stores, should become a natural platform for building this unified commerce management vision.

3) Build Intelligence into the System

The store of the future will be nimble and intelligent — able to adapt to shopper behavior with precision and speed. Retailers will need to build this concept into their retail operations, allowing for each channel to be optimized based on what the shopper is doing at the moment and expected to do in the future. Brick and mortar stores will be able to eliminate products that are not selling and replace them with those that are selling well or expected to sell well based on store intelligence — at the individual store level, and across stores.

They will also be able to allocate inventory smartly, making sure shelves are filled and customers are happy, as well as conduct promotions based on the new real-time and relevant norm. Online channels will be equally as intelligent and nimble, fulfilling shopper needs “in channel” as well as tying the online world to the physical world in the store.

4) Revolutionize the Consumer Experience in the Store

The key enabler of the store of the future is the engaging consumer experiences that retailers can offer in the store. Retailers not only need to ensure they are building engaging consumer experiences, but are revolutionizing the store with engaging consumer experiences — the new consumer expects it. Every retailer will have a mobile-optimized website, which will be an essential buying tool of shoppers. Retailers will need to find ways to utilize this key shopping tool effectively, such as for consumer-driven comparison shopping, experiential shopping such as the use of augmented reality, quicker checkout — including self-checkout — and for providing location-based offers and better customer service.

Retailers will also need to provide devices in the store, such as tablet kiosks, mobile point of sale (mPOS) devices, tablet clienteling and digital signage. These devices should solve real shopper challenges in innovative new ways, such as avoiding stock-outs by offering an “endless aisle” of in-store and online inventory, cutting down on the amount of time shoppers have to wait for in-store help, processing returns and refunds no matter where or how the product was originally purchased, and providing more intimate and personal one-on-one customer service between sales associates and shoppers.

5) Manage the Consumer Experience Across Digital and In-person Touch Points

The revolutionized consumer experience in the store will require brand consistency across digital and in-person touch points for the store of the future to succeed. With real-time, relevant data and integrated channels on a unified technology stack, management of the digital consumer experience will become more seamless and realistic. The in-store digital touch points — the POS system, sales associate mobile devices, and in-store consumer devices — should serve up consistent experiences to those found on the brand’s online sites, providing better customer service and reinforcing brand loyalty.

The in-person touch points or shopping experience should be equally as consistent and powerful. Sales associates should be trained on the latest digital consumer experiences, ensuring they understand the shopper’s point of view, and understand how it integrates with store operations and store policies. The store of the future will constantly manage the integrated consumer experience across digital and in-store touch points.

The Future is Now

The store of the future is not years away. The gap between retailer system readiness and consumer expectation are already being addressed by retailers like Apple, Nordstrom, House of Fraser, Tesco, Barnes and Noble, and others who are demonstrating today what the store of the future will look like. These retailers are focused on store systems that optimize existing brick and mortar stores, but also extend the store beyond its walls, allowing consumers to shop the way they want to shop: when they want, where they want, how they want in a relevant, personalized way.

About the Author: Gary Lombardo manages mobile, multichannel and social commerce product marketing for Demandware.

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1 comment

JoeV 11-15-2011 12:29 PM

You mention "consumer experience" a few times, but you seem to mainly focus on the technical side of things such as POS systems. Having valuable, unique content on the retailers website needs to be a big part of consumer experience.

I am in the SEO industry and I see first-hand how Google is moving more towards ranking sites higher if they offer valuable content to improve the consumer experience. Google is a monster in ecommerce, so this can't be ignored.

A perfect example is JCPenney. They were punished by Google for using questionable link building tactics. JCPenney, like most retailers want as much Google traffic as possible, but they took shortcuts to do it.

JCPenney was ranking for search results; “dresses”, “bedding”, “area rugs”,  “skinny jeans”, “home decor”, “comforter sets”, “furniture”, “tablecloths”, and more. Is JCPenny really known to be the go-to place for these products? No, but they were ranking at the top of Google through manipulation and they were punished.

If they would of focused on developing an amazing consumer experience for each of these product categories, they would have still been ranking for all of those search results in Google and generating millions in additional profit.

Having valuable content is a big part of the future of retailing. Imagine if JCPenney incorporated amazing content with some of the consumer experiences you mentioned. A customer could be in the area rug department and grab their phone or in-store tablet to view videos and reviews of the products. To make JCPenney the go-to place for area rugs, maybe you can take a picture of a room in your house and their website would show you what that area rug would look like in your home.

Maybe that is the consumer experience needed to attract visitors to JCPenney and make them a popular destination for area rugs... This would in turn make them dominate the search phrase in Google the right way.

Any strategy to improve consumer experience needs to include valuable content especially online.

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