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Why retail is getting the ‘experience’ wrong

Strategist suggests retailers stop creating stores and start creating stories


Walmart is on an e-commerce acquisition spree in a bid to enhance its online capabilities, and Amazon is reportedly building an air cargo hub to house as many as 40 planes. Meanwhile, conventional retailers still grapple with omnichannel.

So, where do we go from here? How do retailers create a unique and engaging experience that builds loyalty? And, why, when headlines sound the death knell for brick-and-mortar retail, is it still one of the most important channels?

“Stop creating stores and start creating stories,” suggested retail analyst and strategist Doug Stephens during his presentation at Retail Council of Canada’s two-day Store 2017 conference in Toronto. “Engage your customers not just by what they see, but what they feel.”

Traditional retail is not adapting to meet the new reality, he said. It used to be that retailers purchased a full-page ad to tell a brand story with imagery and text to lure consumers. Now, media (online video, social media, online ads, etc.) is the direct path to purchase.

The physical store is a retailer’s most powerful measureable media, and should be viewed as a “distribution vehicle for experiences,” said Stephens. But, a retailer needs to be willing to take risks and learn to ignore traditional success metrics.

If a retailer is too concerned with sales per square feet—which Stephens labelled a “death metric”—it will prevent them from freeing up space to try something risky or give  shoppers the experiences they’re seeking.

Stephens suggested using web metrics—such as dwell time, social impressions and unique versus repeat visits—to track in-store sales and experiences. “We have the tech at our fingertips to do this. It’s there, explore it,” he said.

And, let’s not forget virtual reality—a space Stephens predicted would become more tactile as the technology becomes more sophisticated. One idea: Grocers could create cooking experiences with celebrity chefs, allowing shoppers to virtually test different products.

It’s time to innovate, said Stephens. “ Remove friction. Create delight.”

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