When you’ve spent as many decades in the retail industry as I have, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can predict the future. And while I have been “mostly” right with a few of my predictions over the years, such as the rise of pop-up stores and the experiential future of the mall, I have also been humbled by my exuberance for concepts that just didn’t stick (e.g., the future of search being visual.)
So, when my colleagues in marketing suggested we look ahead to the future of the store, I was relieved to learn that they planned to invest in asking retail executives about their specific plans. And to do so, we enlisted the help of Incisiv to design, execute and compile a survey that asked 154 retail executives in North America and Europe about their specific attitudes, strategies and roadmaps for the future of their stores. After a thorough review of the results, Incisiv summarized the findings in the informative 2022 Buyers’ Guide: Unified Commerce for Stores.
I want to highlight a few of the things that most intrigued me and that will hopefully be of value to you as well.
It was very encouraging to see that when we asked retailers about the primary focus of their store strategy (beyond driving sales, of course), the number one answer was to “differentiate our brand.” Shoppers continue to tell us (with their wallets) that the store plays an important part in the vast majority of shopping journeys, and I have long felt that the stores must be considered brand ambassadors. Store experiences represent our most potent opportunity to differentiate from the online giants, and it’s heartening to see so much consensus around this strategy:
We then asked a follow-up question to identify the tactics that retailers feel are important to those strategies, and two data points jumped out at me as indicators of their intention to find new and creative ways to deliver integrated, holistic brand experiences.
First, 90% of respondents indicated that having flexibility to use store space to suit different strategies was important. Second, 73% emphasized the importance of being able to use the store to drive new services.
New formats and new services are clear indicators of new store experiences to come, and taken together with the strong consensus around scaling omnichannel experiences and better integrating digital and physical experiences, the focus on these tactics suggests a real commitment to integrated brand experiences inside the store:
Finally, we wanted to see if the retailers we surveyed were serious about their commitment to the idea of the store as brand ambassador, and so we asked them to tell us about their technology roadmaps as they related to the store experience. After all, roadmaps – far more than survey responses – are real indicators of actual strategic intent.
An impressive 83% of our survey respondents have “unified cart across channels” on their roadmaps. More than half (53%) are committed to “setting up stores in any format.” Fifty-two percent have “deliver showcase brand experiences” in their stores on their roadmaps. This is all good news, indeed.
And with 58% of respondents having “empower associates with a unified customer profile” on their roadmaps, it certainly appears that retailers are going all-in to deliver better brand experiences in their stores:
Based on these findings, I am optimistic that the store will remain a critical fixture in the shopping journeys of the future as retailers are clearly looking to capitalize on stores to help them differentiate from each other and from the online giants around the world.
Someday I may need to break out my tarot cards again, but for today, I am glad to have these inputs from real-world retail executives – and insights into their roadmaps.