Is it Friday? Why it seems like it was Friday just, oh, a year or so ago. But the weekend is here now. Get it off to a good start with a read through the BloomReach Relevance Report.
The future of retail is, well, retail
We’re long past the debate about whether brick-and-mortar stores are going to go away. They’re not. The fashionable debate now, of course, is what are physical stores going to turn into?
One theory that’s been around for awhile is that stores will become more like showrooms — smaller operations with one of everything that people can check out before ordering the item online.
Old news? Not entirely. Retail Dive has taken a deep, well, dive into the notion of showrooms and says the concept is moving into areas such as apparel, which didn’t seem like prime candidates even recently.
The piece is worth reading, as it sifts through the challenges for certain retailers and talks about missteps, including trying to go halfway with the showroom idea.
As for apparent success stories, consider the example of Zvelle, a once-online-only shoe seller, that recently expanded into jazzy brick-and-mortar stores, as reported by Retail Insider. The Canadian outlets look like a cross between an Apple store and a Virgin America cabin.
Founder Elle AyoubZadeh tells Retail Insider that having physical stores is a way to provide a unique experience while showcasing the distinctive brand. It is also a way to deliver a level of personalization that is different from online personalization.
There is no question that something has to give. Business Insider reports that the decline in traditional retail is beginning to ripple through the economy after having for years rippled through the lives of retail workers who are losing their jobs.
While many had hoped (OK, we hoped) that the loss of brick-and-mortar jobs would be cushioned by an increase in e-commerce jobs, life is not that clean and easy, they New York Times says. It’s the common story of a mismatch between job location, requirements and numbers and skills.
So, showrooms is an idea. Who else has ideas?
You there. Experience, you say? How about creating unique experiences to draw customers into brick-and-mortar stores and keep them coming back?
Well, the Dixie Outlet Mall in Canada is dipping its toe into the experience pond. The mall’s landlord has built a multipurpose area that can be used for pop-up shops, meetings and events, Retail Insider reports. Take a look, it’s better than it sounds.
The experience idea is a thing, alright, reports CNBC. Although, again, maybe harder than it sounds. Retail writer Krystina Gustafson talked to an outfit that helps retailers cook up experiences and they said that sometimes stores don’t think these things out all that well.
The key thing is to think hard about what it is you’re trying to accomplish with the experience you’re creating. Does the experience line up with that goal?
And while experience can help, it’s not the only important thing, which we all probably saw coming, right? Gustafson points out that it’s also important to have good products.
Others talk about going beyond gimmicky experiences and shooting more for a holistic kind of experience, a feel. Apple recently talked about something it’s been hinting at for some time: Making its iconic stores into community centers.
In a de facto sense, many have served that role, with shoppers just stopping in to check things out, showing up for classes or dropping in to check email on a computer that’s better than the one they have at home.
Now Apple is going all in, making some design changes (including adding live trees and conference rooms) and launching a series of classes. Oh, they’re also changing the name of the Genius Bar to the Genius Grove. We don’t really get it. It must have something to do with adding the trees.
It will be interesting to see if the the Genius Bar itself changes. If we were to be honest — and it’s something we do strive for at the BRRR — we’d have to say that most of the genius advice we’ve got at the GB boils down to, “Buy a new one.”
Alexa: The blue tie or the gray tie?
Oh great. As if we’re not judged enough on our fashion sense. Now Amazon’s Alexa is stepping up her game, Internet Retailer and others report, by keeping its eyes on us. Yes, eyes. The newest Echo, called the Echo Look (available only by invitation) comes equipped with a camera and the ability to snap a photo or take a video when asked.
Amazon says the Echo Look let’s you “see yourself from every angle with the companion app. Build a personal lookbook and share your photos,” IR reports.
Yes, you’re own little fashion assistant dishing out advice like a dear friend. (“Hey Mount Chinmore: You might want to go with the turtleneck.”)
Anyway, as Retail Dive points out, this could all be about something more than Amazon helping us with our fashion knowledge. Think of the possibilities for e-commerce, says RD. Amazon’s continuously learning machine can get to know a consumer’s likes and dislikes and, of course, Alexa can kindly offer to order up that outfit that looks simply smashing on you.
Oh, and, if Echo really is a learning system, no doubt it won’t be long before it learns the answer to that eternal question: Do these jeans make me look fat?
The answer is “no,” every single time.
Surprise: mobile is growing like crazy — OK, not a surprise
Hey, this mobile thing is really catching on.
Why, yes, we could write this item every single week, but we like to wait for some eye-popping statistic published by some reputable source.
Chuck Martin, of MobileShopTalk writes that the percentage of consumers using mobile to buy stuff has skyrocketed in the past two years. Good word, that skyrocketed. By the end of 2015, Martin writes, 73 percent of computer users had used a desktop device to make a purchase. That compared to 46 percent of consumers who had used a mobile device to buy.
The percentage who have bought with a mobile today (or when a recent survey was taken, anyway) is at 53 percent. The desktop figure is 58 percent, MobileShopTalk reports.
The figures add up to more than 100 percent, because the users are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the figures reflect reality. Consumers buy what they want the way they want. Sometimes using a mobile device makes sense. Sometimes a desktop is the way to go.
The bigger story here is that all this talk about multi-channel shopping and the move to mobile has obviously not been a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, to use the technical term. Consumers are apparently becoming more comfortable with purchasing on a phone.
In fact, the idea of being more worried about the security of a phone than the security of a desktop seems almost quaint. As shoppers have tried mobile purchasing and found it to work without harm, they are more likely to try it again.
We’ll also speculate that brands and retailers’ increased attention to the mobile experience is making a difference. In fact, the recent findings are all the more reason to continue to improve the mobile experience.
It seems consumers are ready to use their phones to buy. Why let a lousy shopping experience stop them?
You don’t sell to businesses, you sell to people
CMSWire comes to us with a cautionary tale and a reminder that B-to-B businesses need to be every bit as aware of their customers’ intent as do companies selling directly to consumers.
Anita Brearton, founder of Cabinet M, which helps businesses manage marketing technology, writes about how a marketing agency exec recently wrote to her to ask for the phone numbers of marketing technology vendors that appeared on her company’s website.
He wanted to be able to recommend some of them to his clients.
Light bulb moment: Why do some B-to-B companies make it so hard to do business with them?
Brearton goes through what might be a familiar tale. The frustration of trying to talk to the right person in an organization. They gauntlet of digital forms to fill out. The sense of starting from scratch every time you contact a business etc.
It happens all the time to consumers. And it happens to those who are shopping for products or services for the companies they work for, too. That sort of treatment isn’t going to fly anymore — not in consumer markets and not in B-to-B markets.
Consumers, whether shopping personally or for an enterprise, expect you to know them. They expect you (as a business) to understand what they want to accomplish and where they are in the continuum of figuring out the best way to accomplish that.
You’ll hear plenty in the world of digital commerce blather on about “the customer experience.” This is what they’re talking about. Making sure you understand the individual needs of a customer at a particular moment in time.
We’ve entered an era where it has to move beyond talk. As with so many things — mobile accessibility and performance, delivery options and speed, buy-online-pickup-in-store — customers are demanding it.
You know what’s inevitable? Death and taxes
Retailers can’t quite call it a day when it comes to lobbying against the idea of a federal border adjustment tax.
There was reason for celebration among those opposed to the tax earlier this week when the Trump Administration released a brief tax-alteration proposal that did not include the much-talked-about border tax.
But as the Washington Examiner points out, administration officials and House members have said there is much good about the idea, which would effectively tax imports. The Examiner says it’s possible the proposal will be back in modified form.
The Examiner says retailers would have the most to lose under the tax code modification. And The National Retail Federation and Americans for Affordable Products, which represents Wal-Mart Stores and Macy’s among many other companies, have been among the most outspoken critic of the tax plan, which echoes one of President Trump’s campaign themes.
“The plan would work by excluding exports from taxable income but preventing companies from deducting export sales from their taxable income,” the Examiner explains. “That would in effect place a tax on imports.”
That’s one ugly mudder of a pair of jeans
OK, and this, just because these Retail Dive guys kill us.
Retail Dive’s light Friday feature today looks at mud-caked jeans. Yeah, we know, they’ve been all over social media, but we don’t get out much. We actually have a pair of jeans exactly like these $400-plus guys. Ours are in the garage with the paint clothes. We’re waiting for a chance to sneak them into the washer without our significant other noticing.
They look like they could do some serious damage.
Anyway, problem solved. We’re putting them on eBay. High bid wins.
Quote of the week
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished at HSN and believe that the company is well positioned for the future. It has been an honor to work with such an inspired team over the past decade as we transformed the business to lead the future of boundary-less retail.” — HSN CEO Mindy Grossman to the Tampa Tribune regarding her move to Weight Watchers CEO.
Photo of Apple sign and shopping apps by Mike Cassidy. Photo of Echo Look courtesy of Amazon. Screenshot of muddy jeans from Nordstrom website.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.