Retail is one of the most exciting and cutting-edge industries out there. I've been involved with the retail industry for the past 20 years and one of the things I love the most about this industry is that it is constantly evolving, which can be both a blessing and a curse for those trying to make a profit.
In this article, I'll explore some of the latest trends I’ve observed from a few brands who are really pushing the boundaries in retail, as well as some of my personal experiences as a consumer. I'll also be diving deeper into the world of SaaS retail management and ecommerce software—what’s changed, and what is now available for small and medium retailers to get ahead of the bigger players.
Interactive, Immersive Retail Experiences
My daughters love American Girl—a popular doll store for young girls and boys which matches the doll's look with the child's features: hair length and color, freckles, glasses, etc. This is a fantastic customer experience for both the adults, and the kids. In their multi-story retail store in NYC and some other US Cities, you can spend hundreds of dollars on outfits and accessories for the doll and your child, lunch at the cafe, even haircuts and high teas!
But after a recent visit to San Diego, I was more than impressed with two new interactive retail experiences that I discovered: Distroller and Doob.
Distroller—another doll brand—takes interactivity to a whole new level.
The company has created an entire backstory for their set of Neonate baby dolls, with a visit to their retail store akin to entering a fantasy world. The actual purchase of the doll is just one part of the narrative; you don’t just "buy" a doll, you "adopt" it, with a full adoption process (complete with adoption papers) creating a magical sense of ceremony.
The staff (who call themselves nurses) are reminiscent of characters in a children’s theatre show, acting out the story, and engaging the children. Dolls are treated like real newborn babies—the nurses cut the umbilical cord, check their eyes, their heartbeats, and prescribe appropriate medicine.
Their website aptly describes their in-store experience:
Distroller allows every child to enter a world full of unforgettable experiences. Everything we do is meant to be memorable, unique and fun! We create products, designs and concepts based on the philosophy of recognizing the extraordinary in the ordinary, where all “species” are welcome, having fun is the only required course of action and that you must stay on that course forever and ever.
Who hasn’t dreamed of a mini-me figurine or doll? But don’t just stop at one for yourself, why not get the whole family involved? Family portraits have been around for years—could the next big thing be 3D family portraits?
Doob is a tech company founded in Germany that lets you create 3D replicas printed and customized to look exactly like... you! With retail storefronts across the US and Japan, their store isn’t just transactional. Instead, you’re met with an immersive and fully interactive experience when creating your figurine: you step into their full body 3D scanner, work your pose, then view and approve your images on a screen before they’re sent off to be 3D-printed at a production center. Your 3D replica or family portrait is delivered to your door in 2-3 weeks.
These are just two examples, but we’re beginning to see greater numbers of innovative, out-of-the-box customer experiences like this. Combined with the huge advances in ecommerce technology, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality, consumer expectations are being propelled to new heights. But while creating amazing experiences for your customers is extremely important, there's another side to retailing that goes beyond the store.
Retail success in 2019 means that your product must be wherever your customers are. This is tougher than it sounds. To explain, let’s take a look at a recent experience I had:
- My son rides motocross and at one of his recent events, I noticed there was a pop-up store selling motorbike parts. They were using an iPad with Apple Pay as their point of sale system.
- In the last race, my son’s rear brakes failed, but instead of visiting the pop-up store to replace them, I jumped onto my mobile and ordered the parts from the store's webshop.
- The following morning, I continued shopping on my laptop for the remaining parts, electing to collect them from the retailer’s shop so that I could try on a new helmet for myself.
This experience is not uncommon. These days the majority of consumers are multi-channel consumers, expecting to locate, try, and buy products from a variety of locations and channels: in-store, at an event or trade show pop-up, via an ecommerce store, an app, marketplaces like eBay, Catch and Amazon, and on social media.
Although technology now allows retailers to surface their products in each of these locations, many retailers are still not doing so. But selling your products where your customers are shopping is only half of the problem.
The other half is the ongoing management of these activities. Of the retailers who are selling in multiple channels, how many have all their sales channels linked and are using a single database? How many have automated the listing of products to each channel rather than doing it manually? How many have visibility of inventory real-time across each of these sales channels? To run a successful, seamless retail operation in today's world, you need to be able to easily and efficiently list products, with inventory levels updating in real-time across all channels to avoid selling into negative stock. At the same time, you need your system to automatically re-order when stock levels of each SKU (product line) fall below the designated PAR (re-order) level, which is being modified constantly by the AI (machine learning) of your platform.
The technology and tools that can do this are likely only available for the bigger players in retail, right? Wrong.
As a Small Retailer, How Can You Out-Manoeuvre the Global Giants?
Here's where it starts to become interesting for smaller retailers.
For some time now, global and large-scale retailers have had access to enterprise solutions such as Demandware (now Salesforce Commerce Cloud), Magento (now part of Adobe) and Hybris (part of the SAP Commerce Solution). These platforms can cost hundreds of thousands (even millions) of dollars to implement properly. As a big business with old legacy systems in POS, Inventory, CRM and ERP, it's difficult and incredibly expensive to implement a truly seamless experience for the customer across all sales channels. The global retailers are well on the way to achieving this, but most are not there yet.
Enter SaaS platforms. These can be a god-send to smaller retailers, enabling them to sell across multiple sales channels, for an affordable monthly fee. Though customers still tend to have a preferred shopping channel, they're purchasing goods from a wider range of channels, making it essential for a retailer to offer their stock as widely as possible.
The underlying challenge for small-to-medium retailers in multi-channel selling is to ensure that the costs of doing business do not increase exponentially, and automation is a key part of this. Automatically listing your products across POS, ecommerce, and marketplaces will save substantial time and people power, and maintaining inventory levels across all of these sales channels should also be automated to avoid manual work, inaccuracies, and costly errors.
As a single store or even multi-store retailer, SaaS retail management software now exists that allows you to sell everywhere, manage everything, and automate key parts of the process. The advantage of this technology is that it provides functionality close to some of the enterprise-grade solutions while remaining relatively inexpensive.
The other advantage for small-to-medium retailers is that you can move much more quickly than the larger national and global retailers, who tend to have more legacy systems to deal with. These exciting retail management SaaS platforms provide an almost level playing field for small-to-medium retailers to outmanoeuvre the larger players.
By all means, continue to invest in great customer experiences, but don’t get left behind with what SaaS retail management technology enables you to deliver for your customer, and your bottom line.
Join our mailing list.
The latest blog posts, retail news and resources delivered direct to your inbox.