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6 strategies stores can utilize for a competitive advantage

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The retail industry relies on physical retail, make sure you get it right

Physical retail is all about the experience, and the value of getting the experience right. Many times it only takes one thing in the experience to completely turn a customer off. Customers know that they have options in the market, and they don’t mind exploring them. Customers don’t just love brands because of the products, or quality, they shop because of the experience they get in stores.

Aligning the business strategy with the idea of the in-store experience is table stakes in today’s market. To create the stand-out experiences that customers are looking for, retailers need to differentiate. Many retailers already have the right tools, but they’re not using them in the right way, which leaves potential on the table. 

Tulip hosted a webinar featuring Forrester, where guest speaker Brendan Witcher, VP Principal Analyst shared Forrester’s 6E strategy that retailers can use to make their stores a competitive advantage.

Engage customers

Today’s consumers are more digitally savvy and channel-agnostic than ever before. The future of retail relies on a proactive strategy to engage customers. But, there is no silver bullet. Every customer is unique and has a set of constantly changing needs. Every customer journey is situational all of the way down to the channel a shopper chooses. In order to strategize effectively, retailers need to look at the hard data of how customers are buying and find ways to support a variety of needs. 

The digital transformation of the store needs to happen in an additive way. Implementing technologies in-store that can also be used across channels is a great way to create an immersive and elevated experience for customers. AR/VR, automated checkout, live chat, video calls, and in-store interactive experiences and displays are all effective options to engage with customers. 

Live chat and video calls provide a way for online shoppers to get access to in-store expertise whenever they need. Customers want to engage with associates that can provide in-depth knowledge and specifics on products, rather than asking their questions to a call-center worker who may have never even seen it. Taking proactive steps to engage with your customers based on their needs helps provide the immersive experience they expect from you.

Emulate e-commerce

E-commerce is often thought of as more efficient, more personal, and overall easier than shopping in-store. Emulating that same experience is key when taking the brick-and-mortar to the next level. Before being able to emulate the e-commerce experience, we need to understand why customers shop in-store. They want to touch and feel products, get knowledgeable answers to their questions, and take their purchase home same-day. On top of fulfilling these desires, retailers need to make the experience as efficient and personal as online shopping. 

It all starts with your associates.

With all these new expectations, the role of the associate is becoming increasingly complex. When you create experiences in-store, the associates are asked to go above and beyond just stocking shelves or pointing to a rack. It’s critical that they aren’t left behind when it comes to in-store tech. To truly add value to the experience, associates need to have access to the same information as customers and more. 

This is especially true for stores with embedded retail, like Ulta in Target, where customers expect associates to be experts on every product. Things like endless aisle technology can help associates to showcase the full breadth of product offerings, without having to remember every detail. They can tell the story of any product, regardless of where the inventory is located, and help the customer find exactly what they’re looking for. In this way, they can emulate the efficiency and availability of e-commerce, while still providing the human connection.

Expand impact

When thinking about your impact, you need to think about more than just how initiatives will help the store, but rather the brand as a whole. Successful store strategies positively impact enterprise-wide initiatives. Many retailers look at initiatives like membership programs, QR codes, and other value-add services. But the top priority for retailers is personalization, and with the majority of sales happening in the physical environment, the in-store experience needs to be considered more. 

The purchases customers make are really personal— the instrument you play, the mattress you sleep on, the shoes you wear to exercise— and their shopping experience should be too. The ability to personalize the in-store experience is far easier to accomplish through associates than through self-service in-store technologies. Associates must be as digitally connected as today’s consumers are to each other in order to differentiate the brand and create an immersive, personal experience to customers.

 Mobile clienteling— think digitized black books on a mobile device— amplifies store associate’s ability to personalize the shopping experience to each customer. Store associates need to be equipped to tailor the shopper’s in-store experiences based on a holistic, omnichannel view of them, including prior purchases, preferences, local trends, and product recommendations. Proactive, individual outreach by associates can inspire online customers to come back to the store, or make cross-channel purchases. Having one centralized outreach platform makes this practice accessible company-wide for a unified brand experience.

Empower associates

The current labor market demonstrates that retailers cannot afford to have associates that feel like they don’t matter. 

Associates need to be armed with tools to best serve today’s digitally savvy consumer. When retailers empower and support their associates, they help create an environment primed for associates to succeed. 

Technical innovations like cloud computing, digital mobility, endless aisle, and appointments ease the burden associates feel from their expanding omnichannel responsibilities.

Digital mobility, in particular, is a huge support to associates on the floor, specifically when discussing the POS. 

Next-gen, mobile POS systems are paramount in the modern retail ecosystem. They offer store associates flexibility and support when it comes to being guides for an omnichannel customer journey. Mobile POS systems allow associates to be by the customers’ side from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave. When associates can move freely with your shoppers, they are able to focus on creating a great customer experience rather than battling with store logistics. 

When discussing omnichannel strategies, associates can play a key role in driving traffic to the store. Waiting for customers to walk in used to be enough, but now associates need to be proactive in drawing them in. Appointments, once exclusively used for beauty counters, are a great resource for retailers across the industry. Larger purchases like outdoor equipment, appliances, and furniture often require physical inspection before purchase and associates can help arrange those visits. Appointments empower associates to bring customers in the door and forecast their sales.

Execute operations

The future of stores is focused on the customer experience and is designed for omnichannel operations. But, in-store operations are often a huge pain point for retailers. 

While practices like BOPIS, curbside pick-up, ship-to/from-store, and same-day delivery are innovative ways to provide a differentiated customer experience, they can be very taxing for the associates supporting them. 

Stores are not built to be warehouses or distribution centers, so managing operations with technology is imperative to keeping chaos at bay in an omnichannel world. 

Associates need to be able to easily and efficiently manage their responsibilities on the sales floor alongside this newer element of distributing merchandise. Effectively managing distribution means being able to track orders, complete packing workflows, and manage inventory— while making it all appear invisible to your customer. 

Being able to do this from one device is critical to maintaining efficient operations. Not having to jump between devices and systems from floor selling to store fulfillment eases the complexity of the multifaceted role of the associate. Maintaining the proper balance between customer convenience and ease of associate usability keeps the store running smoothly.

Enable insights

Retailers need to understand what’s happening in their business if they’re going to survive. 

Taking action in today’s retail environment cannot be driven by Monday morning KPIs. Instead, you need real-time insights that can be assessed & acted on in the moment.. As the environment gets increasingly complex, the need to shift focus to the most critical tasks becomes more and more important. 

For example, store teams need to focus less on the mundane tasks and more on the customers and strategies that build the business. Using next-gen tech optimizes operations while providing valuable insights for the organization, helping to pinpoint exactly where that focus should land. 

Labor is among the top cost-drivers of profit & loss. To be competitive, retailers must drive towards finding and maximizing the ROI of their associates. There is a two-fold approach to doing this: coaching associates to success, and ensuring the most is being made of every labor hour. 

Store managers are a key resource, and yet, their talent and expertise is generally spent pouring over reports, instead of on the floor. Performance planning technology automates reporting and interprets the data, so store managers can see at a glance what they need to do to boost productivity. Once your managers can step out from behind a desk and onto the floor, they can then act as the leaders and coaches you need them to be. 

Building systems of efficiency on the sales floor are critical for getting the most out of every labor hour. Optimizing staff scheduling is important to creating these systems, but manual scheduling is often unstable as it’s prone to human error, not to mention the hours of time it eats up. But, with Intelligent staff scheduling, AI puts store performance first, and analyzes the best way to achieve sales targets with your staffing mix. These technologies save managers time and ensure retailers get the most from their labor budgets.

Physical retail drives the vast majority of sales for the industry, making in-store excellence both a competitive weapon and critical component for success.

Our webinar with Forrester VP Analyst Brendan Witcher, Forrester on the New Retail Imperative: Utilizing Stores As A Competitive Advantage shares valuable research and insights on today’s omnichannel customer journey and what it takes to get brick and mortar right. Watch now!

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