Retail is an ever transforming industry. When the mall was king 15 years ago, businesses like Macy’s ruled, with huge shopping space, big inventory spend and complex supply chains. It was ripe for disruption, which duly arrived in the form of e-commerce, and the coming of internet consumption expectations. This, we have seen over and again, has heralded the death of the high street, and while this is true to some extent, it is not because consumers overwhelming prefer shopping online.
The brick & mortar model isn’t over, the retailers suffering today are in fact not providing an engaging, memorable or convenient brand experience in their channels. To do so, jargon like “omnichannel”, “unified customer experience” and “customer 360” are flung at retailers; they're told to adopt these strategies or die. While the concepts make sense, creating a repeatable, unique and joined up experience is not straightforward.
I’m curious as to which retailers actually practicing these concepts, and what lessons we can draw. Here goes.
Rituals Cosmetics takes personalization online
Critical to Rituals is that their brand purpose, which advocates for creating small moments of serenity, calm, and meaning throughout the day, is translated to the online experience.
Entering a Rituals store is a truly relaxing experience, you’re greeted by staff trained to interact with customers as if they are guests in a private spa, treating them to hand massages and tea. Upon leaving the store, customers should feel more relaxed, but they also should feel they have been offered a personal, curated experience.
Meanwhile online, Rituals leverage analytics and AI tools to personalize shopping and digital marketing campaigns - customers are after all not one-size-fits all. Additionally they gather sufficient data on customers to enable customer service to engage on a personal, one to one basis. Customers are metaphorically transported to the in-store experience, where they received personalized care. It’s the consistency of these collective experiences that is powerful.
Allbirds comfort embodies their stores
A company that prides itself on comfort and simplicity, Allbirds exploded since it first launched in 2015 as an e-commerce brand. Their packaging, web presence, branding, and the shopping experience all reflect the simplicity, lightness, and comfort of the product, their website stating: “no flashy logos, no senseless details”.
This is at the heart of what they do, and when they opened up physical stores in several US cities, they followed the script. No wholesalers, no unnecessary channel costs. Just a simple, aesthetic in-store experience reflecting the comfort of the product, but at the same time an unconventional one, like the company. The shoes are organized by style and material, and the stores are built with custom furniture designed for customer experience.
As customers entered the store, they came with three years of distinct brand experience perfectly manifested in the look and feel in the physical store, a pure distillation of everything the brand means.
Sephora puts 300 brands online and makes it look easy
The French beauty and personal care chain has been a retail staple for nearly 50 years, but with almost 300 brands across cosmetics skincare, body, fragrances and haircare, Sephora is not the most obvious retailer to translate in-store offering into a smooth online experience.
Sephora has loyal customers who enjoy the ease of shopping at their stores due to the wide range of high quality products. They built on these strengths with their app and their loyalty scheme known as the Beauty Insider Rewards program.
Their app makes accessing products easy, but is also an indispensable shopping companion. Customers can favorite products, check past purchases quickly, get rewards access, watch tutorials, and most interesting, customers can scan items in-store to compare with online products - bridging the physical to the digital.Shopping at Sephora is simple, engaging and omnichannel. The convenience of the experience boosts customer loyalty while allowing Sephora a deep understanding of their customers using data, making marketing, personal recommendations and service easier and more scalable.
H&M grows sales in-store and online
The fast fashion retailer is heavily investing in digital technology to drive growth of in-store revenue, but that doesn't mean they’re doubling down on online, instead they’re planning to open 175 net new stores in 2019. What the business is focusing on is alignment across channels.
With investments in logistics and fulfilment centers H&M is aiming to align fast delivery from online purchases to the instant gratification of an in-store purchase, making sure that shoppers’ expectations and experiences are consistent regardless of channel.
The other chunk of investment is going into technology creating frictionless experience between in-store, mobile and online payments, backed up by schemes like ‘try before you buy’ and simpler returns. These initiatives are intended to raise convenience, and to make things like returning an article of clothing as consistent digitally as to in-store.
Creating these experiences is not simple, and with pressure to be digitally omnichannel with a frictionless customer-first experience and [insert more jargon here] it is a critical time for incumbent retailers.
However, some useful patterns emerge from the case studies. It's clear that successful retailers:
- Build the in-store or online experience to reflect product branding
- Ensure consistency by focusing on values and the ideal customer experience
- Play to the existing strengths on the brand, do not reinvent them
- Connect the dots between in-store activities and online behaviours, finding ways to bridge them
- Get buy-in from the whole company; none of these initiatives are the work of one department
Every retailer will decide on a unique approach to unifying experiences and raising convenience. There is no cookie-cutter template available. However, there seem to be core principles effective in bringing these experiences together, and making customers happier and more loyal in the process.