A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
As we look at retail today, one might learn from what took place decades ago. In the early 1900s we had the newest invention--the silent movie--threatening to replace theater. In the 1930s, the success of radio was the threat to movie houses who by then had sound. Then in the 1950s, television was the threat to radio and movies. Yet, today, we still have theatre, radio, television and movies. What’s changed isn't their existence, but the experience.
Sound and visual quality today is at its best. Why? Because it evolved over time through new technology and consumer demand. And not all at once. Color television was invented decades before the consumer wanted it. The same was true with stereo sound and 3D TV.
So why the history lesson? Because we can learn from our mistakes and successes. In the 50s, movie houses gave customers free dishes to get them to come to the movies rather than sitting home on a Saturday night watching television. Through the evolution of “hit radio” stations and the enormous competition, radio station managers learned to create exciting promotions, one more exciting than the last to lure listeners to their station. The point is, each time there was a change to the business model and the companies felt threatened, creative people used their heads and pursued the next step of their evolution.
In many ways, that is what retail is going through today. At a time where there is too much choice, too much “sameness” and too much noise attempting to attract customers, retailers need to step back, take a breath and look at the whole picture.
THE BENEFIT OF TECHNOLOGY
The internet is not the enemy, but another step in our shopping evolution. E-commerce companies must find new and innovative ways to compete with their competition. Free shipping alone won’t keep them in the customer’s minds because it's becoming common.
Retailers need to invest in omnichannel technology, but not all at once. First, no retailer could afford it, but more importantly, today’s technology will be very different from tomorrow’s technology. For now, focus on the basics, like making sure you have a great website and store app. Moreover, do not use one against the other as some retailers do. For example, customers should not be penalized for receiving an offer usable only online when the customer prefers shopping in store or the other way around. Make sure the customer can pick up the item in the store if ordered online. Assist the customer at the store with the help of a well-trained, courteous associate to order something online when needed, and have it shipped to their home.
The good news is many retailers are doing just that, and it’s working. That too is becoming part of today’s retail evolution. And that’s not all. How many articles have been written about all the excessive mall space we have and how many malls will have to close? There is some truth to that, but mall developers are also looking at their next step: mall evolution. Just recently, a new “Mega Mall,” that will be 6.2 million square feet, was preliminarily approved to be built in Florida. New concepts? Yes. Technology? Of course. But what was the greatest contribution? Creativity. This mall will include hotels, office buildings, restaurants and amusement parks. The design looks like something out of Star Trek.
So, what’s next? Retailers, with the help of today's technology, must find creative ways of attracting the customer to their website, mobile app or store. Most importantly, through technology and creativity, make the online and in store browsing and shopping experience fun, engaging, and enjoyable. Technology offers a lot of opportunities, but it will be the retailer’s creativity along with that technology that provides today’s customer with the new evolving shopping experience.
We are long past offering customers free dishes, but there are always new ideas, programs and promotions. As with all evolution, some retailers won't survive and new ones will emerge. A phrase that came from Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory: “Survival of the fittest.” Be different, be daring, be creative and not only will you survive, you'll have fun in today's world of retail evolution and achieve great success!