We took this point of view back in 2012, when we released our first Future of the Store report (not store of the future!) and tried to reimagine the utility of the store in a channel agnostic world. Subsequently we evolved our thinking to look at stores beyond a utilitarian view and focus on what actually differentiates them against other channels, the experience.
Retailers need to double down on making their stores the hub of omnichannel experiences. To be clear, this isn’t a store of the future vision, which involved putting all kinds of bells and whistles in the store with little understanding of how real customers would react and adopt technology. This is about building the store experience, customer first where technology and information need to empower, enhance and not dehumanize the store experience.
Stores need to stop being boring. “Stores as large, soulless, cookie cutter stock rooms and showrooms will give way to more immersive experiences as the physicality of the store converges with the digital experiences it enables through technologies such as NFC, iBeacon and Internet of Things. This will require reprioritization of various roles the store plays based on their format and customer engagement strategy. Retailers will experiment with new formats such as flagship and pop-up stores” – EKN Research, "The Future of Stores," 2013
There are many pathways to getting to the end state and your format, and size will dictate the capabilities you prioritize (ship from store, clienteling, VR, beacons..) but irrespective of which path you choose, there are two things that will happen. The amount of technology that you have in the store will increase and the amount of information that you have flowing through the store will increase exponentially.
There are three below the surface issues that come up when we get into execution mode:
Systems Integration: The amount of effort and cost it takes to integrate into all the existing technology in play at the stores should not be underestimated. It’s a make or break issue because, you need to safely deploy and scale chain wide and have only limited windows of opportunity to do so.
Architecture: As retailers look to put more technology in the store their integration issues will only rise. As difficult as it is, they need to consider moving to a services based architecture that can allow them to reduce their cost of integration and also be future compatible by allowing new technologies to fit easier.
Network: A poor network can significantly add friction to the in-store customer experience, be it long lines at the point of sale (POS), a shoddy and frustrating guest WiFi, or store associates struggling to get accurate inventory/order information. So understanding how much bandwidth you need and how you can optimize will become increasingly important.
Of the three, the network is perhaps the most boring and unsexiest and it is for that reason that retailers have poor line of sight into them. Retailers need to assess whether their networks can handle all the technology and data that they are pushing through their store — take this short, fun quiz to benchmark your efforts — because plans to elevate the store experience without investing in the network can be a recipe for disaster.
Gaurav Pant is SVP research at EKN Research. www.eknresearch.com.