Hotlist: The Retail Revolution or Evolution?

It’s no secret that customers lives, and consequently their shopping behaviours, are changing. Legacy retailers employing exclusively tried and tested methods need to get serious about innovation in order to stay relevant.

Amid further news of the downfall of high-street retailers, digital-born start-ups continue to move into bricks-and mortar spaces. These agile start-ups have an advantage over legacy retailers, they are leaner and can move quickly to adapt to new customer expectations. However it’s not all doom and gloom for traditional retailers who with the right mindset, can borrow tricks from start-ups and hold their own in a disrupted market. In this month’s Hotlist we explore the future of retail and the brands that are doing innovation right.

Customers are overwhelmed with choice, and rather than spend their time browsing endless aisles in search of the perfect product, they want to spend time engaging with brands through more experimental methods. To cater to this desire for more meaningful experiences, US department store Kohl’s teamed up with fitness community Tone It Up to host an exclusive wellness experience at the historic Barker Hangar in California. Those who didn’t attend in person were able to live-stream the workouts and workout styling tips provided by prominent fitness and wellness influencers.

Retailers that switch up their offer beyond product, to provide desirable services will win new roles in customers’ changing lives. Following the launch of Casper’s 1st trial-centric, permanent store earlier this year the mattress brand has launched ‘The Dreamery’ for tired New Yorkers. Visitors can hire sleep pods for up to 45 minutes and choose from a variety of sleep accessories provided by partner brands, from Sleepy Jones pyjamas to audio tracks from Headspace. This paid-for trial provides both a genuinely useful service for customers, while introducing both brand and partner products to people in an organic setting and hopefully driving sales. As retailers create more involved experiences in store, paid-for-retail experiences are increasingly likely as a feasible and robust model for the future.

Retail brands should take inspiration from the hospitability sector, in providing new and next-level services that cater to emerging needs. The Fairmont has employed an ‘Instagram Concierge’ at its Scottsdale Princess location to take the perfect, Instagram-worthy holiday photos of guests. This move shows guests that the hotel recognises the importance of creating enviable experiences and sharing these digitally.

But the age of social media not only creates desire to curate and capture perfect moments, as The Fairmont’s latest hire clearly illustrates, it also lets customers have their say directly to retailers. Customers want and expect their voice to be heard, and to be acknowledged as individuals. Target’s Studio Connect app facilitates real-time feedback for designers developing new projects. To eliminate lengthy feedback times, each Target designer has an account on Studio Connect, which they can use to ask selected customers anything they’re wondering about. Participants, who are broken into various subgroups, can vote on proposed products in exchange for discounts and gift cards.

Although data-driven stock-control is nothing new, Amazon Books have been curating shelves based on customer ‘star’ ratings for years now, as technology progresses more retailers are recognising the power of customer feedback in retail design. Nike uses real time feedback to adjust its Nike Live by Melrose store to NikePlus customers in the area to gain insight into LA culture and preferences. By targeting the offer to this niche local group the store has seen success, by aiming to please so such a select group. Brands that aim to please everyone can end up watering down their product and this uncontroversial approach, although it may not displease many, will excite few.

Legacy retailers need to be brave and move beyond boardroom culture to strike upon ideas that matter to customers. Only those that are prepared to fail will continue to carve out purpose in customers’ ever-changing lives.

Images courtesy of Nike, Tone It Up, Casper and The Fairmont.