By Brianna Ahearn, contributing writer
A new survey about the future of the brick-and-mortar has revealed interesting data about how the “traditional” retailer will evolve, and what retailers must do to keep up with the ever-changing pace of retail. The survey, administered by EKN, was the Second Annual Future of Stores Benchmark, and was underwritten by HP, Tyco, and Xerox. The end data demonstrated how “in order to provide the expected omni-channel experience to customers, retailers need to re-train the store through four key properties including store design and branding, personalization, omni-channel hub and operations and the intelligent store.”
EKN, a research and content service, administered the survey to over 100 retailers. Garuv Pant, a Principal Analyst for EKN, says the results show that retailers need to “ramp up the experience factor” for consumers. Building on this, the emphasis must be put on “customer-centric environment that will provide a winning differentiation from the digital world.” By accomplishing this goal, brick-and-mortar retailers can offer something over an online retailer by giving a personalized experience. Retailers can accomplish this with a number of ways, including offering in-store offers using technology, engaging with customers on a more personal level, and more. One example to look at is GameStop, which is working on Augmented Reality experiences that will help bring games “alive” to shoppers in-store, as consumers visit the store with their Game Stop app open on a mobile device. Macy's is another noteworthy retailer offering personalized options for consumers, including integrating their mobile app to display custom discounts when a customer enters the store.
The key elements worth noting in the survey are the need for retailers to eschew a generic “cookie-cutter” shopping experience, and branch into flagship and pop-up stores. The survey found that 48% of respondents that are “retail leaders” plan to open flagship stores in the next 12 months. The remaining 36% are “laggards,” the survey says. For personalization, the survey found that 1/3 of respondents indicated store associates were allowed to give real-time coupons to customers, and only 15% were behind, not allowing their associates this option.
Also the subject of the survey is the “intelligent store,” which uses analytics and technology to meet consumer needs. As technology evolves with RFID, iBeacons, NFC, and more, the organization says the lines will blur between “what is the store vs. what is store technology.” The survey found that 1/3 of retail leaders plan to use mobile in-store analytics in the next 12 months. Perhaps the most important takeaway for retailers from the survey is the need to focus on a “hub of omni-channel customer engagement,” but notes that there are three significant challenges: “process integration, limited software capability, and limited inventory visibility.” EKN highlights that many retailers' “organizational muscle” may be handicapped as the retail industry changes from simply order fulfillment to a focus on engagement.