5 Keys To Building the Store of the Future
The store of the future will allow consumers to shop how 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 Norm
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 ecommerce—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 backend and consumer-facing systems. The ecommerce 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 as equally 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 by a sales associate or to check out, 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 associate and the shopper.
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 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 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 Nobles, 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 how they want to shop: when they want, where they want, how they want in a relevant, personalized way.
Note: This article originally appeared in Website Magazine in December 2011.