RETAIL IS DEAD – LONG LIVE RETAIL
Traditional retail is not dying it is simply evolving.
Those who cite the successful switch of traditional catalogue business models to e-commerce as the beginning of a vast trend towards the end of bricks and mortar do so at their peril. Some products are indeed very well adapted to the digital switch, and have done so rapidly. Others will remain firmly analog. Most will end up somewhere in the middle.
What we have to realize is that it is not retail that has changed per se. Rather, it is the consumer's path to purchase that has changed. The consumer has never been so accessible as he or she is today - voluntarily allowing brands to get to know any number of likes, dislikes, habits and patterns in a quest for the ultimate shopping experience. Smart operators are adapting to the changing consumer and we have yet to test the bounds of creativity that the new paradigm will bring to bear.
Marketers and agencies alike must also modify their perception of retail. It used to be that a marketer would divide tactics between awareness generating media campaigns (that were largely consumed at home or in transit) and call-to-action, or promotional campaigns (largely focused at the point of purchase). Slowly over time, we have downsized tactics in each of these two realms and have added a myriad of additional, micro touch-points occurring throughout any given consumer's day. Information has become mobile and the connected consumer can be reached 24/7.
With the advent of targeted technologies, we no longer reach out to a generalized profile that we apply to a mass group of generic consumers. We can now target individuals, according to their individual choices and preferences. This ability to focus on the individual has lead to our capacity to recognize the consumer when he or she is in research mode, shopper mode, consumption mode, evangelist mode etc. We are no longer shouting one broad brand message from the rooftops. We are now whispering a series of specialized messages into individual ear buds and the consequences to retail marketing is significant.
Case in point: I was in a home renovation retail outlet recently, shopping for a cabinet for my garage. I had seen ads for several brand names that inspired confidence, so I generally knew the quality I was looking for. My on-line search the previous evening had already allowed me to focus on the two retailers that had products that met my criteria. My mobile device directed me to the nearest retail outlet. In-store, a customer service agent was able to show me the model in question and answer a few of my questions using information printed on point of purchase materials integrated in the display. He then referred me to a mobile version of their on-line ordering system and encouraged me to complete my purchase and benefit from free shipping to my home address, which I eventually did from the parking lot of the competing store after comparing models (saving me a return trip to the first store). Digital purists will focus on the end transaction, which was technically made on line, as proof that e-commerce has taken over retail. The shopper process, however, tells us a different, more intricate story.
We are entering the next phase of retail marketing and it is very exciting. Those who embrace that change will be rewarded. Today, retail planning goes way beyond the traditional thinking of what takes place three feet from the shelf. It now requires a playbook of creative actions that follow the consumer's decision-making process and it integrates notions of brand awareness, education, promotion, sales and retention. It is multi media, interactive and adaptive. While it sounds complicated, it doesn't have to be. A solid plan, clear objectives and a good idea of the appropriate voice to give your brand will ensure that all those moving parts work in harmony. The good news is that creative and production costs are highly accessible and allow for adjustments along the way when required.
Apologies to the prognosticators of doom, but retail is not only alive, it's only just getting started!
Dan Nielsen is President of Attitude Marketing
Agency specialized in Path to Purchase marketing, content and digital.