In an article in a local newspaper this week, area mall owners and town planning boards were looking for ways to stop the march of online commerce. One of the town planners stated that “everyone shops online now” so they needed to figure out how to draw consumers back to the malls.
“Experience” seems to be the big retail buzz word. The “town center” model– a mix of national and local retailers, restaurants and services nestled in a park-like setting with sitting and/or large common areas – is popular.
I’m all for “experiences” and when I’ve got the time, I like wandering around these town centers. But I don’t have a lot of time. Plus, online shopping has spoiled me. In less than an hour I can do research, fill up a shopping cart, enter my credit card and have something delivered the next day.
Retailers don’t seem to get that the average shopper’s expectations has changed. Instead of accepting that technology now plays a huge part in the process, they’re ignoring it, trying to create these islands of “experiences.” But I don’t care how good the experience is. Few shoppers will pay that much more no matter how pleasant the surroundings. And shoppers who dislike the shopping experience won’t be lured in with lounge chairs.
Take in-store search. Few offer it – and the ones that do perform unevenly. Larger retailers have no excuse since their inventory is readily available. The fear is that you’ll leave if an item isn’t there. But in-store search CAN work. After all, you’re most likely there because you need something NOW. If I search for something and it’s not available, an app could easily direct me to alternatives. I’d also like an in-store map, but I’ll give them a little time on that until they decide on and implement a wireless tagging system.
And what about those comparison shopping apps? Rather than offering to match the lowest price a user finds – or give them a gift card for the difference – retailers like Target are asking manufacturers to create unique bar codes for their products so users can’t do a bar code scan match. Why aren’t retailers doing their own price comparisons and either matching the price, re-tooling their mix or dropping products on which they can’t compete?
Retailers need to figure out how to leverage the things they have that online shopping doesn’t – a physical product shoppers can examine or try on and the ability to fulfill an immediate need. Maybe it’s time for a resurgence of the retail showroom, like the now defunct Service Merchandise, to address the “touch” issue. To offer the best prices, showroom operators could work as affiliates for online retailers and get a referral fee from orders placed from the showroom.
And of course, the shopping “experience.” For retailers of any size, experience is more than just a pretty place. It’s offering outstanding customer service, personal shoppers or in-store features like baby-sitting, lounge areas or coffee shops, digital receipts, accepting electronic payments… It’s really looking at your product mix, sales data and using social media to inform and keep up with trends. Retailers can’t sit around pining for the old days or slapping lipstick on a pig. Retail is a whole new world now.
Photo by Mushroom and Rooster