The “war on retail” is a popular crisis-invoking phrase, but in fact, the retail landscape is far from crisis. Retail is vibrant and growing; new brands are emerging and known brands are reinventing themselves to meet today’s consumer shopping habits.
Coming out of the National Retail Federation’s biggest show (NRF), I have put down a few thoughts about the opportunity retail communicators have to capitalize on this momentum to drive traffic, create loyalty and increase engagement with consumers.
Human Touch – Retail Comes Full Circle:
Retail is coming full circle: native ecommerce brands are moving to physical stores to give customers an in-store experience. Turns out, consumers want to touch the product and interact with what they’re purchasing. Interactive dressing rooms, virtual shopper guides and beauty kiosks that can show you what a favorite shade of lipstick looks like on your face, are becoming the new normal in physical retail. But it’s not just set-it-and-forget-it. Success requires a robust internal communications engagement program that sets a strategy on how to pump up salespeople and make them passionate brand ambassadors, especially those salespeople who are product specialists. When brands then also couple this strategy with compelling stories that tell people about their optimal shopping experience, they increase sales and create loyal fans.
Technology – Whenever and Wherever
Voice automation continues to build momentum and was a much-discussed topic throughout the NRF show. Enabling brands and consumers to interact, discover, research, and buy products or services via artificial intelligence (AI) is technology that all communicators can leverage across the customer journey. An influx in voice-assisted commerce gives consumers the flexibility and convenience to shop whenever and wherever, which in turn gives brands the opportunity to interact with consumers whenever and wherever. Brands can even preemptively prompt customers to begin a path to purchase, such as voice technology that can detect a cough and suggest purchasing cough drops or a box of green tea. For maximum engagement, communicators can customize AI to their own products and share them with consumers through voice devices.
Personalization – Experience is Paramount
Consumers – especially millennials – are focused on an incredibly personalized experience versus simply the product itself. If they can shoot hoops while shopping for workout apparel, the fun of playing their favorite sport inevitably converts to dollars and, in the long run, creates brand loyalty. Similarly, if someone can meet their favorite influencer in a local cosmetics store, they might bring friends along for a cool shopping trip while, in the process “voting with their wallet” and sharing their customized experience on social media. Communicators do well to foster the kinds of stories about how their product or service experience sets their brand apart.
Retail will continue to evolve, but it is still ultimately about solving a customer problem at the right time and at the right place. The quest for a “frictionless” path to purchase, and the desire for personalization and human interaction, puts an even greater emphasis on the need for nimble, creative and authentic communications across all points of the customer journey.