Of course there are a plethora of theories out there on how you can turn around an ailing retail brand. And if you are not a game changer you can always hire one. Supposedly! However for me having led retail chains, I view this new era as a bit of a monopoly game, always moving on the board, looking for new assets and strategies to gain an advantage.
Whether the game changing strategy is virtual reality, leveraging artificial intelligence, cracking the code on big data. Or perhaps mobile, social media, increased spending in digital marketing, developing a new customer experience or improving your current service standards. But does your retail brand have the ability to be a game changer?
Not All Change Is Game Changing
When the leadership at the top has a revolving door, I wonder how serious the board and shareholders are about rebuilding their brand. In fact most strategies never have a chance to really take root because the business and the boards are too distressed and are making the wrong decisions. We continue to see a number of reinventions that don’t get anywhere, sometimes because they fail others because management has run out of cash.
The problem is that every retailer large, midsize and those with a single store foot prints are all faced with the same challenges.
#1 the consumer is in the driver seat, the retailer is not.
#2 marketing, merchandising and for that matter retail operations have been turned inside out.
#3 if your brand is not in the number one or two market share position, you are vulnerable.
#4 strategies have a shorter life span, unless you are an unconventional company, you risks are increasing daily.
#5 if your advisors haven’t led a successful retail brand that is still in business, who are your listening to?
#6 the consumer and for that matter employees are looking to work for and shop from socially responsible corporations.
#7 stop looking for a magic bullet, you would be surprised what it is really going to take to win over the next decade.
Can Anyone Lead A Retailer To Success?
There is a whole industry of retail speakers, trainers, futurists and advisors who hold a position of beliefs on how to recover from and avoid further competitive turmoil.
I have no problem with them as long as they are authentic and my only bias is that they have led a retail business as a CEO, President or Exec VP.
Why am I biased? Because experience is everything!
There are as many ideas out there as there are retailers.
Most of the concepts from my view are borrowed, rehashed or hybrids genuinely new ideas to keep customers engaged and in the stores don’t have enough to them.
Quite often I find that digital visuals, phone charging stations, espresso machines are all nice but they are a bit of fad that doesn’t last long.
Especially, if you can’t make a great espresso! Success today also seems to be a bit of a mystic event coupled with technology and service that doesn’t always have a lot of training (consistency) behind it.
The beginning of the Retail Apocalypse
When I ask people to tell me the most significant event that took place in 2007? They all answer the financial crash. They are right, it was a big deal to say the least. However, what was the most significant change that leaped e-commerce with the likes of Amazon and Ali Baba? Answer; the smartphone! For the first time consumers were free to roam, listen to music, read email, browse, do searches and shop.
The Consumer Is In Charge – Live With It – Or Should I Say, Learn From It Faster!
It’s very interesting most consumers all want the next generation of smartphone technology in their hands. They may not swap out their old smartphone right away, however when the opportunity presents itself they will. That same consumer participates on social media, most participate on at least 2-3 of them on average others suggest that the numbers higher. This level of technological change has created expectations of continual renewal in customer experience, the likes of which no one can catch up to in the retail store environment.
What Is Game Changing?
We’ve all heard the term “game changing” and it is used in many references.
But what does it mean in retail?
And is it achievable?
Is there anyone that can dare deliver that kind of retail experience?
You can if you can develop a higher level of unconventional leadership in your culture!
Is Technology The Real Retail Rescue?
I guess it could be. If you believe that virtual reality is going to play a major role in the retail experience. Once again the problem is VR’s application and suitability without inconveniencing consumers to wear visors is unrealistic. This also becomes an expensive venture and how do you apply it to large store foot prints? Perhaps if we lived in the cartoon character world of the Jetsons we could do a lot more. That kind of future is still a long way off. I am convinced that technology will be a major player in retail store environment. The problem is that for a retailer like myself that’s use to delivering a higher level of customer experience, technology has yet to meet my expectations.
Welcome to the New Consumer Reality
Even the best of store designs can get outdated rather quickly. What use to last 3-5 years may only have a shelf-life of 6-12 months. If you’re not refreshing it and making it feel new, you are already old. You will have to rethink wall mounted merchandising and minimize it. If you can change colours, images, videos on the walls accompanied by sound and scent then you own the experience. Bring your stores to life and you bring your business results to life.
So What Would be Game Changing in a Retail Store Environment Today?
Imagine being able to change the look of the store, the messages, scent and sounds with the push of a button. All of a sudden the new marketing and merchandising campaigns are launched along with the new script your employees need to follow. That would be game changing. This too may be unrealistic or is it? Store designers and for that matter executives need to break away from the fixture, paint and carpet world. However the concept isn’t unrealistic it is actually very deliverable because most of the ideas have been used except not in a manner that all are engaged at the same time to create a live experience.
Theatre of The Mind
It’s an old marketing term, you don’t hear too often. The concept is simple project a message and environment that imprints a memorable idea or concept in the minds of consumers. Think about the convergence of digital images that are displayed in the background of a theatre stage and how it draws the observer during a show. It can inspire and motivate their emotions during that scene. In essence it is a very powerful stage and light show. Retailers can do the same for a lot less and recreate new scenes with lighting and digital videos playing against walls to create the brand story. Consumers will be as engaged as your story is creative. Just as they are at the theatre to see the story unfold, and review your product and service. The store experience needs to create the mood your customer base is looking for.
Can Your Brand Be A Game Changer?
Game changing is a perception, delivered by the leaders who are the creators and inventors of the experience. If your business model needs a physical store then it needs to be more important and your online presence is only an extension of the brand. That’s the part that many retailers are missing in this game board. Perhaps as retailers we need to start with our own perceptions of that coveted retail experience and change that first. I hear about it a lot from retail experts but I don’t see it or feel it in stores. It should start with the four walls and be worked into the middle of the floor where your staff are engaged/acting their parts out with you customers talking about your product and demonstrating their sincerity in wanting to serve with the intent to retain customers.
If you want game changing strategies, stop chasing what you can’t deliver and focus on what can be done both physically and fiscally. Create the story, develop the characters, design the stage and prepare the customer for scene one act one. Continue to build the story from there.
My name is George Minakakis I am the CEO of Inception Retail Group. I lead the changes everyone else just talks about.
Look for my new book; The Great Transition – The Emergence of Unconventional Leadership