From Instagram-ready stores to the challenge of retail personalization: Eight things we learned at Future Stores 2018

June 25, 2018

Fresh back from this year's Future Stores conference in Seattle, here are eight of the key discussions from the week.

Let us know if you agree!

1. The market is laser-focused on retail operations

Delegates that attended last year’s show will have noticed one clear change; the topic of conversation has this year narrowed dramatically to focus in on retail operations. In 2018, building engaging retail experiences is about finding better ways to operate more effectively at a store level, and build closer relationships with store teams.

Ruth Crowley, Vice President of Customer Experience Design at Lowe’s quantified the opportunity, suggesting that a general lack of store associate engagement was costing the U.S retail industry $500m in lost sales annually.

2. Consider the employee experience in the same way you would the customer experience

During Concrete’s panel discussion, both Melissa Calhoun, Senior Manager for Store Operations at Justice, and Retail Strategy Consultant Tiff Liao, made clear the need to understand the “employee experience” and engage with store associates as soon as possible when deploying new technologies or implementing process changes.

Understanding the employee experience, and how store teams work, is the first step to creating buy-in (and ultimately adoption) for any change. Mercedes Roling, Director of Store Customer Experience at Macy’s, went a step further to suggest that success could be better guaranteed through a process of co-creation with store teams. “Don’t go into sessions trying to justify your projects. Be open to ideas from the store floor,” she said.

We've covered this topic in more detail here.

3. Make your stores Instagram-ready

There was a time when the sole role of the Visual Merchandiser was to create beautiful, visually appealing spaces that compelled shoppers to buy. Today, Visual Merchandisers and Store Designers are also thinking about how the physical store can aid brand growth across digital channels. In particular, making stores “Instagram-ready”.

If retail brands can encourage consumers to share in-store photos and experiences, they can benefit enormously from the power of social media to amplify their brand.

Sugarfina has made the most of this idea, creating a ‘signature’ wall, comprising a floor-to-ceiling display of paper roses. The wall has been so successful that SugarFina’s Co-Founder, Rosie O’Neill, estimated that it appeared in at least 20% of all in-store photos posted to Instagram.

4. Be creative in your training and staff education

Turning your store associates into true brand ambassadors requires careful onboarding and continuous training. However, when it comes to store associate training – one size doesn’t fit all.

Different stores have very different dynamics. Large stores operate differently to small stores, as do urban stores and suburban stores.

Mercedes Roling, Director of Store Customer Experience at Macy’s shared a few tips, including using real-life store associates in your training materials. “Associates are more engaged when they see their peers in training materials,” she explained. “Also, inspire them to adapt their training for their own people. They know their teams better than you [head office].”

5. Be prepared to fail

Securing investment to experiment and test new ideas can be challenging if the financial benefits are unknown. Be prepared to build thorough ROI models for your store operations initiatives and help senior management to understand both the productivity gains, and any peripheral benefits – such as a reduction in associate attrition.

However, even a solid ROI doesn’t guarantee success.

“Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t”, explained Srinivasan Rajamanickam, Senior Director of Technology Strategy at Tapestry. “Building a cultural readiness to accept failure is important”.

6. Not everyone wants greater personalization

For years the industry has obsessed over finding ways to build greater personalization.

Finding new and innovative ways to engage with consumers can certainly drive greater brand loyalty; but it’s not for everyone.

“Some [consumers] want a high-touch experience, others never want to talk to a human being. It’s hard to pull both of those off at once,” warned Brian Gill, Senior Vice President of Technology at Nordstrom.

Using data to better understand your customers and predict their behaviours will be key to tailoring a retail experience that meets an individual’s exact requirements.

7. Don’t forget what makes you special, even as you scale.

When luxury candy retailer Sugarfina was starting out, its Co-Founder Rosie O’Neill would include a handwritten thank-you note in every online order. She vowed that it was something that the brand would always do, even as they scaled.

Today, Sugarfina still includes a handwritten note in every order. In fact, employees have to pass a handwriting test when they join!

“It shows attention to detail, has a human touch, and it only adds 11 cents to the cost of an order”, explained O’Neill.

8. We need new ways to measure store performance

The traditional KPIs assigned to stores are long overdue an overhaul.

Today’s flagships stores have a dual role; to both sell product and to act as a brand destination.

The former is easy to measure, it’s how stores have always been performance managed. But how do you place value on the brand experience as consumers hop between channels?

Experiential spaces will attract consumers, and build brand loyalty, but we now need better ways to associate that value at the digital checkout. This is something we've covered in the past.

A great show - the Concrete team will be back again next year. Until then, let us know if you agree with the trends we heard!

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