The trillions of dollars of stimulus money now being injected into the economy, along with savings shoppers have built up during lockdown, are creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for retailers. There is tremendous pent-up demand for true, physical, communal shopping experiences fueled by stimulus dollars. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to surge between 6.5% and 8.2% to as much as $4.33 trillion this year.
If you're not planning to roll out the red carpet — or rather just unlock the doors of your store — I believe you're making a huge mistake. Consumers have spent the past year learning that buying online can be easier, safer, fast enough and even pleasant.
It's crucial to prepare by creating compelling and memorable in-store experiences to remind shoppers that retail is a great place to shop. It’s the most fun. It’s the most social. It’s the most memorable. You have to remind them that what you can do in physical retail cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
A Shared Experience
On one level, that can mean simply making an effort to support the social aspect of retail. While online shopping is by definition a solitary act, retail can and should be a shared experience. Consumers desperately want to do fun things with their family and friends again. Take a close look at what you're doing to attract and market to groups that want to get out and shop together.
Examine your store from the vantage point of group shoppers, particularly younger consumers who are more likely to group shop. Give them ways to share experiences, along with reasons to do so. That could be as simple as an incentive rewarding people for group shopping. Execute flash sales shared through social channels, particularly those you cultivate with influencers and user-generated content. And crucially, network with fellow retailers by providing referrals and perks to each other to maximize the value of a full day’s shopping experience.
Anything you do to make your store visually memorable and delightful can pay huge dividends. Particularly for Gen Z shoppers, making visits Instagrammable moments, or something people want to see and share, can not only bring more customers in and reward them for coming to your store, but it will also help those customers align your brand with their personal brand in a meaningful way.
It's also key to enhance service levels and reduce the amount of product so people don't feel cramped. Technical solutions can provide salespeople with access to customer histories and product information, facilitating better, more human conversations about your brand and products. A well-designed digital interactive can not only replace product with an endless aisle, but it can also transfer the customer's choices to their mobile phone for later browsing and purchase.
The point is that you as a retailer shouldn't care where an item is purchased, as long as it comes from you. We have placed so much focus on omnichannel marketing, but much of this was designed to funnel shoppers into the store to complete a transaction. In today’s marketplace, you should be indifferent to the channel where the purchase was made, provided it’s your channel. Omnichannel now really means omnidirectional.
We've all spent the past year getting used to having stuff shipped to our homes, so if your customer has a great experience with a salesperson and you make it very simple for them to order products a day or two later and have them shipped to their house (perhaps after sharing it with some friends or showing it to her partner or family), you still made that sale. And you also created an intimate moment with your brand in a way that's only possible in a live space.
Customers want to get out and live in the sun again, and you need to make sure they feel welcomed when doing so. That means thanking them for coming back, connecting with them as human beings and sharing honest and exciting opportunities to connect with your brand. It also means ensuring that, wherever and whenever they want to — in-store, online or on their phones — they can continue their relationship with you.
Your Physical Space
Another great way to leverage physical spaces is to cross-promote with nearby retailers. People are craving compelling experiences, so why doesn't a jeweler offer customers a coupon for a nearby restaurant, and that restaurant offer a gift card for a nearby clothing store with each meal? Now is the time to capitalize on the fact that people will be hopefully be coming out soon. When you enhance your experience with somebody else's, the combined value can be far superior to what either of you could offer alone.
All of these things — supporting the social aspect of shopping, valuing the human connections available in physical space, creating delightful and shareable in-store experiences, leveraging technology to create a memorable experience, connecting that experience to the customer's mobile device, and extending that experience to nearby retailers — are about one simple objective: ensuring the experience customers have when they finally return to shopping is a positive one.
Now is the time to invest boldly in your in-store experience to make sure you're ready to capitalize on the inevitable surge in retail shopping in the months to come. Where people gather, there will be commerce. Make your store the place where they want to gather. Give them reasons to come in and an experience they haven't had before, and they will seek out opportunities to return.
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