The doom of traditional retailers has been written to death. The bad news of store closures became the most popular headlines. Against the headwind, few actually feel very confident to expand their brick&mortar presence. For instance,
It is said by 2018, Uniqlo will increase the total number of stores to 3502 worldwide, and in particular adding at least 100 stores in China every year.
In 2016, Decathlon opened 164 new stores globally. China is its second-biggest market after France, and by August 2017, it has around 230 stores in the country and determines to grow the number of brick&mortar, as 90% of its sales in China still come from offline.
Will their expansionary strategy work? Why not, if they can do it in the right way.
Now even a fool knows traditional retailer needs to undergo a transformation, but how? No one is exactly for certain. It has been a topic also written repeatedly with new-found fascination. Because the retail scene has changed rapidly coupled with e-commerce giants’ speedy push into offline space. Experts are shouting trends and ideas from everywhere, mostly surrounding the power of digital or AI. But unlike those e-commerce giants which can lavish money on all kinds of experiments, such as the unmanned store, fancy concept store, pop-up showroom…nowdays many retailers have to tighten the belt or live by a moderate budget. Therefore the priority of transformation investment might be a difficult choice.
Interestingly, one movement is very clear: some major international retailers at least choose to fully empower their sales associates through digital.
Then corresponding startups began to emerge.
In 2017, Mad Mobile signed Ashley Furniture, No. 1 furniture retailer in the U.S. as its major client to provide the concierge solution (See video demo below). The Concierge retail platform will enable retail store associates to have mobile access to all available products, customer data, and delivery information. Furniture shoppers will soon be able to browse an endless aisle of products that are available online and in-store, with related product recommendations while also experiencing a mobile-enhanced checkout process.
A similar startup is called Tulip Retail, Canadian background, founded in 2013. See video demo blow.
It is now attracting a string of American brands to adopt its solution.
In the UK, startup Mercaux is helping Benetton to provide sales associates with operational guidelines, real-time inventory information, cross-sell, alternatives, and full outfit suggestions in order to serve customers faster & more efficiently. It is said Benetton saw 8-14% uplift in sales within the first month after the launch.
Store associates are the key touch point with customers in a physical environment. After all, at this stage, robot associates sophisticated as human have not fully arrived for the in-store experience. So in the short run, technologies that enable staff to provide better customer service at affordable costs should be the core part of omnichannel strategies going forward. Again we are not talking about eye-opening futuristic technology here, but rather a useful tool to ease the pain of offline retailing at this moment.
Author: Cecilia Wu