If you’re in retail at the moment, you may be panicking a little. Things are changing—a lot and very quickly.
The latest reports show China rapidly outpacing the US in retail sales for the first time in recorded history. Amazon is now opening brick-and-mortar stores as is a whole slue of other formerly online-only shops. And a variety of mid-sized retailers are hugely upping their digital game by offering things like augmented reality apps and/or crazy A.I.-powered facial recognition loyalty programs. Because of these successive waves of disorienting change, a lot of retailers are understandably confused or nervous or just uncertain of what to do next.
But take a breath. There’s no need for worry. At TopRight, we tend to keep our heads down and keep on with the fight. We’ve seen it all. You can tie yourself up in knots over fears of what’s coming down the pike—or you can take a sober look at yourself and do a critical reassessment. We do this kind of reevaluation for clients all the time, and it’s always enlightening.
Over the past few years, we’ve come across three factors that can mean the difference between success and failure in the contemporary retail space. As time has gone on, these three things have only become more critical. None of them have much to do with keeping up with the latest fashions—they have everything to do with remaining grounded enough to withstand inevitable waves of disruption. So take a look at our critical success factors and see how you stack up.
“After all, you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” Warren Buffet
If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, should you start offering apps and VR experiences right away? If you’re online only at the moment, should you immediately set up a corner shop somewhere? And what about omnichannel, should we all get into that?
And did Gillette make the right choice getting into cultural politics with that ad? What about Nike—is it important to take some kind of political stance on something?
The short answer to all this is that it doesn’t matter. Online and offline shopping will be around for a long time to come, so do either or both as you see fit. Taking a stand on an issue may help you, or it may harm you, but do as you like. It will always be hard to say how it will turn out.
So, then, what does matter? Whether what you do has congruity with who and what you are as a brand. Look hard at your story, think about who you are, and act appropriately. Maintain congruousness and total alignment. In how you channel, market, and present your services and products, everything about your brand should be fully aligned and absolutely radiant with clarity. It’s your story that matters, not your app or your political stance.
But if an A.I.-powered app happens to fit your brand story, then go for it. Just make sure it’s you!
In the end, no one knows what the future will really look like.
At the moment it’s fashionable to say, for instance, that the skies will one day be filled with delivery drones as we zoom around in electric cars and wear hyperspeed internet connections in our bodies or implanted in our heads. But the truth is always more complicated and unpredictable than our personal fantasies. The future may not look like that at all.
My point? All we know right now is that brick-and-mortar stores are not going away, nor is digital or hi-tech marketing, and that the two are converging evermore. So emphasizing one over the other is the only mistake you can really make here. The future is a hybrid, and what it looks like exactly no one can predict. People will always like to buy online, but they will never give up window shopping at their favorite store. So whether you have a real shop or an online store or some omnichannel situation, you will have to persevere in this hybrid space for the foreseeable future. Plan accordingly.
And take heart in the idea that whatever you think the future will look like it almost certainly won’t look anything like that. Just be prepared to discover new tools, new ways of contacting your customers, new ways of being, and acquire only that which suits your brand story.
More important than anything else is the human touch. I wrote a piece last week about feelings in marketing and whether they matter. For customers, they absolutely do. Shopping is not a purely rational undertaking, it’s in fact mostly emotion. The retailers who reach out to their customers in the most human, most personable way possible and make real connections are those that will remain successful as we greet our hybrid future. There are plenty of ways to go about this. You can do what Patagonia did and make strong purpose and integrity central to your brand. Or you can found a charity. Or you can remain local and swear off digital marketing altogether (we don’t recommend that last one—unless it aligns with your brand story of course!) The choice is yours.
What matters most is how we use these new digital gadgets of ours—and I have to say I’m often disappointed with what brands choose to do with them. As with any tool, digital marketing can be used for good or evil. Too often brands choose evil—filling up your computer screen, iPhone, and inbox with millions of irrelevant ads. This misses the point and the power of these new tools altogether. They are here to help you establish a real and personal relationship with individual customers and then expand that audience. Whether its through Bluecore or Virtual Artist, this new tech of ours needs to be used in a brand new way, a way that emphasizes our humanity and our common needs and allows the human touch to prevail. Anything less is a huge mistake—not to mention costly.
For a more in-depth look at how to transform your strategy, clarify your story, and implement the proper practices into your systems, sign up to our email list and pick up a copy of my book Marketing, Interrupted.