Many experts have been contemplating the future course of the traditional retail industry. Many believe that the traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ store will eventually play a minor role in the shopping journey and the shopping experience will be centered around the online store. According to conventional wisdom, customers will lose their appetite for visiting stores and will depend on e-commerce sites to buy clothes, gadgets, and ultimately, almost everything.
Is retail changing? Yes, certainly! Is brick & mortar going away? No, and here’s why:
While Amazon has dominated online shopping and redefined retail in so many ways, there are other brands like Bonobos, a relatively new retailer in men’s apparel, that are offering new paradigms that include brick & mortar stores and emphasize the difference that store associates can make. The fundamental idea that Bonobos rides upon is what marketers refer to as ‘Consutainment’. The term comes from a combination of ‘consumer’ and ‘entertainment’ and refers to a retail world focused on consumer convenience, consumption, and entertainment.
Bonobos is redefining retail by leveraging mobile technology and store workers to change the shopping experience in ways that delight customers. By integrating online and physical, Bonobos delivers a winning customer solution to shopping. Their omnichannel retail approach is not new. But Bonobos’ deeper understanding of the consumers’ mindset and buying behavior combined with their amazing tech-savvy store associates take omnichannel to a whole new level.
Pants to closet
Bonobos started with a very simple idea – helping people find pants that fit. Starting with an online-only model, they realized great success. What started as an experiment, a single store in Manhattan, turned into a certainty that people still wanted to try things on, that people appreciated style advice, and lastly, that people enjoyed being taken care of and pampered. Over the years, Bonobos shifted its focus from just pants to the entire closet. The endeavor of the company has always been to delight its customers, but now empowered associates are part of that formula.
No more doubts, no more lugging
While shopping can be fun, it can also take precious time and drain your energy. You might have visited several stores, purchased different merchandise along the way, carried all sorts of bags and still be unsure you’re buying the right wardrobe. Bonobos does away with this perfunctory endurance by ‘doing your shopping for you’. While the company helps you in other ways too, the two most striking features of its retail model are that it lets you feel confident you are choosing the perfect items and then takes care of shipping it to your direct address. No buyer’s remorse, no need to lug the merchandise around.
An interesting article on the web prophesied that marketers would develop personal concierges for their customers. It is astonishing to see how this prediction is shaping up so unerringly in the world of retail.
Consumer-facing retailers are now coming up with personal assistants to help customers browse through the products, try them out and finally purchase them. The store associates or ‘Guides’, as Bonobos calls them, help in tracking the customer preferences and product availability. In fact, Guides are the cornerstones of Bonobos’ business strategy. They are the reason why customers come to their stores to shop. Walk into any Bonobos store and you will find the Guides providing a one-to-one intimate experience to their clients. The hustle and bustle of a traditional store is simply not there.
Visitors to any of Bonobos’ stores can book a one-hour appointment with a ‘Guide’ to try as many or a few products that they wish to buy. In that sense, the store offers a journey experience, more than just being a destination for the potential visitor.
Importance of Guides
There are more than 16 million store associates in the United States. Making them more effective and valuable can make a huge difference in the retail industry. These workers cannot dictate terms to their customers since it is the customer who will always make the final product decisions. But they can become trusted advisors, storytellers, and beacons of knowledge. They can add value to delight customers and keep them returning to the stores.
Bonobos partnered with Tulip to empower their associates with the latest mobile technology to improve their business. Tulip’s mobile solution gives Bonobos associates the freedom to walk around with the customers, knowing they have access to everything they need at their fingertips – customer information, product information, an endless aisle online, preferences, order history, etc. This enables the associates to spend more time shoulder-to-shoulder with the customers, helping them with selecting the perfect styles, colors, sizes, etc. The associate becomes a “Guide”, paving the way for a stronger bond between worker and customer.
Bonobos, with the help of Tulip, empowers its sales associates in many ways. The Guides already know their customers’ shopping preferences, history, etc., and can make a rough estimation of what products the customers are likely to buy. Armed with this information, the Guides can easily reach that part of the store which houses the ‘right’ products and assist customers more effectively. When it’s time to checkout, they can transact right in the aisle. The Guide elevates the level of service and drives more sales. At Bonobos, the associate is not your typical store worker, but a valued business partner.
Technology and its role at Bonobos
Prior to Tulip, the sales associates used laptops and desktops anchored at the front desk to access merchandise information and POS. Merchandisers from HQ provided the associates with PDF files, images, and other material to assist them in their jobs. Printouts of products had to be taken by the associates for demonstration purposes and the whole process was time-consuming.
During stocking of new merchandise, associates had to upload store images so that their headquarters could get real-time information. This process added turmoil to the efforts and countless minutes to the clock, leaving less time for the Guides to actually service and sell.
Using Tulip’s mobile solution, the store associates now get real-time information on not just the products but also the customer data. Armed with Tulip-enabled iPads, they are better able to do their jobs and relate to their customers. Gone are the days when the associates are anchored to a POS or needed to log in to eCommerce sites to get what they need – an unpleasant experience for the client and the associate.
However, now store associates are finally empowered with the tools they need. All the information they need is readily available and they no longer need to disrupt the customer engagement by having to check inventory or checkout at the front desk.
The new Tulip solution was A/B tested in four stores and needless to say, the results were extremely encouraging for the managers, merchandising, marketing and technology teams. The company saw higher satisfaction scores, a 12% increase in Average Order Value, and a 4.7% increase in Units Sold per Transaction. Best of all, store data is now periodically fed into the central database and Business Intelligence System for understanding the customer, the associate and the business.
Segmenting the associates
While implementing Tulip’s mobile solution, Bonobos was clear that its sales associates needed to be graded according to their skills, learnability, and performance. The top sellers and learners were the first to be introduced to this new technology. This set of people became the evangelists of this platform and later taught it to the next level of associates.
Bonobos implemented the Tulip solution in Jan 2016 with four stores and expanded to all the stores by April 2016. While implementing this solution, Bonobos also took care of the security and privacy issues of the platform. It was necessary for the Guides to appreciate the fact that the customer information was critical to not just them but also the entire company.
In the end, stores do really matter, and associates matter more.
Every industry transforms and innovators emerge. Bonobos is one of those innovators and an early adopter of technology. This online pure-play that earlier sold just pants has demonstrated to the entire retail industry that online and offline retail shopping models not only need to co-exist, but they need to leverage the strengths of each channel. Done right, the models complement each other… one plus one can equal three.
Over the years, while Bonobos has deepened its product inventory, it has also attempted to solve the fundamental problem of how customers searched for their products and how they decided on what to buy. During its journey, Bonobos has discovered that its Guides are the levers of its business model. Personal experiences of the customer are a great deal in the modern retail world and that is why Bonobos pays such detail to that experience, from in-store advice to the convenience of shipping customers’ products right to their doorsteps. From a philosophical change perspective, 2018 will see a lot of “re-invented” retail stores come into being. These stores will enhance the shopping experience of customers because of uniquely crafted products, services and “experiences”. Bonobos is one such ‘uniquely handcrafted’ retail experience. Implementation of the latest mobile technology and mobile apps to deliver a superior customer shopping experience has helped them raise customer satisfaction and grow sales.