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Rethinking Retail: Reinvention Required, Even Without Silver Bullets or Magic Wands

For several years, "innovation" has been one of the hottest topics in retail. With so much change and disruption taking place all around, it's easy to see why retailers have been so eager to find silver bullet solutions to their in-store traffic and market share woes.

We have seen numerous heritage brands completely rethink their brick-and-mortar strategy. Macy's, in a series of several highly publicized maneuvers, divested itself of significant brick-and-mortar real estate, revised store formats to include a new off-price/discount format and made investments towards becoming an omni-channel business to the core.

Along the way, we saw many other businesses from every corner of the retail industry attempt to follow suit. At a minimum, we have seen many invest in new technology to try to keep pace with constantly shifting shopper expectations.

A 2016 survey from Accenture found that 88% of retailers were focusing on "getting leaner" in order to free up funds needed to reinvest in growth. About half (52%) indicated that their businesses were "investing in innovation in order to gain a competitive advantage."

Innovation versus Reinvention

We've seen several brands, like Rebecca Minkoff and Sephora, successfully leverage investments in "stores of the future" and innovation centers. However, far more brands are struggling to remain relevant with shoppers. This year, nearly 8,500 stores will shutter – a four-fold jump from 2016, according to Credit Suisse.  And no format is safe: while traditional department stores have certainly seen their share of challenges, many specialty retailers have also been forced to completely rethink their business models.

This makes me believe that that there is a significant gap between retailers' eagerness to embrace new technologies and their ability to convert those investments into experiences that draw – and keep – shoppers inside their stores. Despite their best efforts, most retailers have failed to fully capitalize on all that innovation has to offer.

Perhaps one reason for the struggle is that many retailers I talk to view innovation as a destination, rather than a journey. And I have come to believe that most retailers should be looking beyond investing in innovation "for innovation's sake." I believe that retail's new destination must be reinvention.

But don't get me wrong: retail certainly needs to embrace innovation in order to keep pace with constant evolution and disruption. However, I think it's time to think bigger than innovation. I think the time has come to embrace the idea of reinventing the store experience.

Reinvention 101: No Magic Wands

Consider this advice from author and consultant Bill Scott, which he shared via LinkedIn : "Just as magicians put themselves under pressure to reinvent their performances, [retailers] must constantly strive to reinvent retail through innovation. Just as magicians constantly amaze their audiences, retailers must constantly amaze their customers..."

Simply deploying new technology in the store to momentarily capture shoppers' fleeting attention is just not enough. Instead, retailers must rethink the entire experience. They must be willing to re-evaluate their brand promise. They must redefine the role their stores can play in helping to realize that promise for shoppers. And ultimately retailers must rethink what types of store experiences they want to deliver.

Reinvention, I realize, is much — very much — easier said than done. Where does one even begin this daunting journey? While there are certainly no magic wands or silver bullets, the journey to reinvention must, in my opinion, always start with the customer.

Getting inside shoppers' heads — understanding what they want, need and expect — is the only way to discover the right path. Customer insights are the key to understanding if – and how much – your store experiences, need to change.

Talk is Cheap...

But I get it. Talk is cheap, and dispensing simple platitudes like "understand your customers" is nowhere near enough. Reinvention is difficult, and reinvention is risky. Small steps are much easier – and much less risky.

So, to help retailers understand the many steps to true store reinvention, Aptos has partnered with the editors of Retail Touchpoints. Together, we have canvassed an expansive list of thought leaders to help us investigate the reinvention journey. After extensive research, we have developed a robust library of insights and recommendations for those considering experience reinvention.

Our mission is to help uncover, document, and share what leading thinkers believe are the keys to modern brick-and-mortar success. As we progress, we will publish a collection of assets that we hope will help guide retailers on their journey to reinvention.

...but Real Help is on the Way

To begin, we have created a tactical checklist that outlines the top considerations and to-dos for retail executives considering reinvention. Our checklist encompasses much of the reinvention journey, from brand evaluation to consumer behavior to technology.  As you tackle each item on the checklist, you will get one step closer to achieving total store experience reinvention.

As you begin reinventing the store experience, it will quickly become important to think about how you measure store performance. Old metrics like comp store sales will no longer be good enough. To help you explore and evaluate new ways of measuring store performance, we have also compiled a new listicle entitled, "7 KPIs to Measure Modern Store Performance."

We hope these first two assets help you get started on your own reinvention journey. In the coming weeks, we will be releasing many more resources designed to support your journey in a meaningful and actionable way. We will even be producing a podcast series that I am excited to be hosting. So be on the lookout for these soon.

We sincerely hope these assets add value to your process, and I hope to hear from you as you travel the road to experience reinvention.