The Future of Retail — Online

future of retail

Deloitte has a new report on retail out, and it’s all about the internet. “Stores are now becoming just one part of a larger, more connected customer experience,” says Deloitte.

Pointing out that nearly half of consumers surveyed used their smartphones in stores as part of their shopping trip — to check prices at a competing shop, for example, or to read online reviews of a product before buying — Deloitte recommends that retailers bring the online experience into their stores.

Retailers, the consulting giant says, should offer wi-fi to enhance those internet-assisted shopping experiences, tablet kiosks with virtual shopping elements like lookbooks and ecommerce opportunities, sales associates who interact with customers in social media, and online communication. Why shouldn’t you be able to use a hashtag to tweet your need for a different color of that sweater from the changing room?

Deloitte doesn’t think that brick and mortar stores are going away, but they predict that in the next five years, “providing customers with a compelling brand experience will become a primary role of the store, eclipsing traditional shopping.” Traditional shopping has been increasing by just 3% a year this century, while ecommerce has increased by 20% annually. Clearly, people don’t need stores if they just want to buy things.

Deloitte was looking at major retailers. Their respondents took in $50 million to $10 billion a year. Most of them knew the changes were going on, but few were responding. Only 12% had websites that worked well on mobile devices. The majority don’t have wi-fi in their stores, let alone interactive online experiences set up for their customers. They don’t include social media savvy in hiring or training of sales associates.

Looks like an opportunity to me.

Your smaller shop, having the agility of a smaller business, can take the lead here. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my website set up for the plugged-in shopper? Of course, it has to be mobile device friendly. But have you looked at your website thinking about the visitors who are actually in your store when they access it? You might add a map of the store to your page with the map to the store. You can certainly offer the chance to post reviews and questions, as well as plenty of information on the products you have on your shelves. Walk through your shop with your site in view and see whether it enriches your shopping experience.
  • Am I taking advantage of social media opportunities? Use your store’s name as a hashtag at Twitter and G+, communicate with shoppers on their way, in the store, and after they’ve shopped, and prepare to be surprised by how much your visitors use this means of communication. Livetweet from the store as you’re putting out new merchandise. Share pictures on Facebook and welcome people who check in with Foursquare.
  • Is my company website the best source of information for my products? Now that you know your shoppers are looking up products online, wouldn’t you like them to be looking at your website? Train your sales associates to go to your website when they help customers in the shop, comparing the specs on the stereos they’re considering or finding a recipe for the pan you’re selling them. Looking at the site together encourages customers to return to it when they’re on their own. Of course, the information has to be there. If you’re looking up the data on Amazon, your customers may decide to buy at Amazon.

Major retailers are dragging their feet when it comes to integrating their stores with their online presence. It’s hard, as the classic metaphor says, to turn an ocean liner around. If your retail company is still a zippy little catamaran, you can beat them to it.

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