Surviving the retail apocalypse

Retail dies when based solely on the concept of visiting a store for a commodity item. To thrive in today’s market and emerge from the “retail apocalypse,” retailers must focus on what is important to customers – the three E’s: ease, experience and execution. With more shoppers migrating to online purchases during the holidays and throughout the year, this approach allows stores to cash in during the holiday season and position themselves for long-term security.

Shoppers are looking to in-store marketing and apps to make product selection easy. The omnichannel strategy integrates all methods of shopping, which allows customers to shop where and when they want. The key is attracting customers to visit bricks-and-mortar stores. Even online giant Amazon is recognizing this. In October, Kohl’s announced a partnership with Amazon that allows customers to return Amazon purchases in select Kohl’s stores. Beyond partnering with competitors, retailers are offering more wish lists, expediting the fulfillment of orders and being more responsive to customer reviews.

Chains such as Nordstrom make stores a destination by offering curbside pickup, manicures and pedicures, and restaurants. Toys R Us plans to give children more hands-on experience with its products as it emerges from bankruptcy. Target is aiming to combine the physical and digital experience of retail. The holidays are an opportunity for brands and retailers to reinvent old concepts and learn how consumers react. For example, pop-up shops are appearing in large cities throughout the country and are used to extend a brand and introduce new products. The pop-up shop industry, valued at $50 billion in 2016 according to the American Marketing Association, offers unique services, convenience and a fun experience.

While consumers still rely on traditional store formats, the emotional experience is still an important element of holiday shopping with friends and family. One way to drive traffic into stores is to bring the technology into the store. Limited-time offers that utilize technologies such as websites, in-store apps and email marketing methods are key.

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Executing promotions and customer-friendly policies is essential for retailers this holiday season and year-round. Many consumers search for retailers with quick and easy returns, free shipping, prime product placement in stores and free in-store pickups. Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, learned from its 2016 holiday shopping season by hiring in-store “holiday helpers” to direct consumer traffic in stores, open extra registers, perform price checks and retrieve items for shoppers in line who may have forgotten something during the checkout process.

The overall retail outlook for the 2017 holiday season is bright. The National Retail Federation is predicting sales will increase between 3.6-4 percent for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion in 2016. Most notably, online shopping is projected to surpass in-store sales for the first time. Even with this historic shift, customers still want to see and feel items, which are stronger influencers in the consumer decision-making process.

The three E’s create a winning retail strategy for the holiday season and can secure a stable, long-term outlook for retailers across the country. Retailers should tap into the mind of consumers by listening and asking questions to give the customer confidence while making a purchase.

Kristen Regine is a professor of marketing in the Johnson & Wales University College of Business at the Providence campus.

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