The Transformation of Retail: What We’re Seeing And What It Means


Retail is not dead. Not even close.

Brick-and-mortar stores and the in-store experience are very much alive. In fact, a recent study found that 44 percent of retail executives in Germany, Japan, the UK and the U.S. have stated that improving the in-store customer experience is the major strategic priority of their organizations. The retail industry’s fundamental transformation — led by the need for a dynamic, innovative customer experience — is exciting, and retailers relishing this opportunity to innovate and adapt are the ones thriving.

What’s Trending?

For starters, retailers no longer drive the agenda. Today’s retail landscape is all about the customer getting what they want, when they want it, through whatever sales channel is most convenient for them. With 24/7 shopping and access to countless blogs, reviews and ratings — aided by highly sophisticated search engines — customers can find anything they want from a variety of suppliers. The 24/7/365 endless aisle is here, and customers can use it effortlessly.

Moreover, the customer decision process is no longer linear. That means businesses can do more to determine what avenues customers use to buy their products. Those with a brick-and-mortar presence have a real opportunity to not only help customers complete their shopping journey in stores — but also to collect invaluable data to better understand customers and align with their needs and buying preferences.

Plus, retailers are proudly and openly adjusting their mission and vision statements to call out a purpose beyond just selling products — to make the lives of customers and their communities better. From CVS to Stitch Fix, KidBox and Gymboree, retailers are being very open about how they want the work they do to add value to the lives of customers, communities and the world at large. There is also more transparency than ever into the work companies are doing around diversity and community giving.

And the pace of technological changes means retailers’ roadmaps and strategies will benefit from 12- to 18-month review rather than setting strategies that are four to five years out, enabling them to proactively navigate ever-changing technology, customer preferences, competition and other market factors. Above all, we are seeing leaders and organizations recognize that offering a great customer experience is the key to success.

Ways to Improve the Customer Experience

This is an incredibly exciting time for retailers, with opportunities never seen before available to those with the vision, nerve and passion to truly put the customer at the center of every aspect of their organization and create great customer experience. Combining that with an honest organizational review around new and cutting-edge technologies could make the difference.

So, what are some of the things that retailers can do to improve customer experience?

  1. Make the customer the North Star. The customer should be the guiding light for every single function of the business. Ensure that every person inside your organization understands who your customers are and that they have a line of sight as to how their work contributes to meeting their product and shopping needs.

  2. Support head office staff. Make sure they understand how their work directly impacts the customer experience, and shift their work priorities to ensure that everything they do supports that end.

  3. Educate the entire organization on the customer journey. Everyone should see the customer journey as a complete, fully integrated experience across all touchpoints, and each area should be empowered to offer such great service that a customer who visits their store or website ends their journey there with a purchase.

  4. Create a shared definition of customer centricity. What does this mean for your organization? Line up all operations to support that goal.  

  5. Conduct a thorough technology review. This will help ensure your systems are set up to support customer centricity. Identify areas where upgrades — or, better yet, new cutting-edge technologies — can be introduced to make a significant change in how the company “listens” to the customer that helps it leapfrog the competition.

Enhancing CX with Innovative Technology

In my experience, retailers tend to look at what their competitors are doing to see what technologies are working for them, without considering that what is currently in place is already historical and, in many cases, on the verge of being outdated. It’s essential to have a clear vision for who your customer is, how you want to engage with them and focus on what you think your customers will need next — then find solutions that will make a significant impact. Remember that technology solutions introduced a few years ago are already outdated.

At the recent National Retail Federation’s event, we were introduced to the work of some fantastic new companies. Here are three that truly inspired me:

First, Hero is pioneering live shopping by providing retailers and customers a platform to connect live from anywhere in the world to get advice and share product information and images that help with the buying decision. This short video demonstrates conversational commerce in action.

Meanwhile, Shoptelligence is advancing style design experiences (SDX) that use their Style Discover Platform to bridge the gap and deliver style inspiration across all channels.

3D Look knows that one of the major reasons products get returned is because of incorrect fit. They have a super-cool solution for that in their body-scanning technology that removes the guessing and helps customers find a size that fits.  
Fortunately for retailers, there are many new technology companies that specialize in the retail space who have created products designed to help retailers leapfrog the competition. For more ideas on ways to enhance the experience you offer your customers, check out these award-winning innovative technologies showcased at the conference.

As you work to stay ahead of the competition, putting the customer at the center, knowing who those customers are, and engaging with them in meaningful ways will be key. By exploring and integrating new technologies and strategies, you can ensure that the customer experience you offer exceeds expectations every time.

Christina Schünemann Senior Business Consultant, Retail