Escaping Retail Irrelevance: How The Container Store Is Transforming Its Customer Journey

Liz Dominguez
Managing Editor
The container store panel
Panelists during "Shift Happens: Choose Remarkable or Irrelevance Produced by MarketDial"; Credit: RIS News

Differentiation in today’s chaotic and must-be-everywhere-all-at-once commerce environment is difficult to nail down. From tapping into new customer journeys to transforming a business through its culture, brands today need to offer a unique value proposition. 

Gretchen Ganc, EVP of strategy and analytics at the Container Store, recently spoke with Steve Dennis, president and founder of SageBerry Consulting LLC, on the topic of staying relevant in the retail space. 

With so much change happening over the last two decades, Dennis said convenience has been redefined, and therefore business practices must shift in order to remain competitive. 

“We’ve gone through two decades of disruption, eroding key elements of scarcity that drove competitive advantage,” said Dennis during NRF’s Big Show session, “Shift Happens: Choose Remarkable or Irrelevance Produced by MarketDial.” 

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“Inexpensive options are no longer scarce. While economic headwinds are putting downward pressure on prices, we still have discounters,” Dennis added.

Fears of a retail apocalypse are unfounded, he said. It’s the unremarkable retailers, however, that are either dead or dying. “How do we break through the noise and differentiate ourselves? To be merely very good is often ignored,” he said.

Transformative Change at all Levels

To answer, Ganc said it’s about alignment of purpose — at the store level, at the customer level, at the employee level. This means keeping a pulse on what consumers are doing to be able to tailor to every one of them. Delivering great service also cascades from employee retention and care.

“We have to hire the right people. It’s around creating energy to keep them engaged and having fun,” she said. “I can walk into some stores and never see an employee. Our expectations for our stores are very different. Our employees are the heartbeat of our organization.”

Relevancy is directly tied to becoming memorable, added Dennis. And not just with Instagrammable moments, he emphasized. Companies must leap forward in what consumers expect and the competition is doing. This means being unique, amplifying “the wow,” and really making a difference to the customer. 

[Learn More: The Container Store Launches New Loyalty Program and Mobile App]

“This is about this idea that we need to be one brand even though we operate on many channels,” said Dennis. 

Putting a Plan in Place

Preston Custom Living Space; Credit: The Container Store
Preston Custom Living Space; Credit: The Container Store

The Container Store has been acting far more aggressively in the last several years than it has in the past, said Ganc. It has embarked on the path toward transformed customer experiences, being more strategic about its merchandising and how consumers traverse stores. 

As part of this renewed focus, the company tapped a new chief merchandising officer, Stacey Shively, in November, as well as promoted Dhriti Saha from CIO to chief operating officer, to expand The Container Store’s Custom Spaces and push the boundary on organization past just closet spaces.

It also includes a refresh of all of its 95 stores, featuring the company’s Custom Spaces Studio with more vibrant colors, bold graphics, products that can now be purchased in-store, and more.

“We’re doing all the analysis around what products we are going to put in, and then what we are going to get out of it,” said Ganc. “We are also bringing in some employees from surrounding stores so they can point out what’s working and what’s not.”

Ganc said the company is implementing a test-and-learn approach to better understand what the opportunities and challenges are, tapping MarketDial's technology for support. “There's a culture to try and it's okay to not get it right. We don’t celebrate what's wrong, but we recognize it’s only going to get better and better.”

So what can brands take away from The Container Store’s customer journey and merchandising transformation?

Overall, differentiation needs to be radical, said Dennis. “Disruption continues at an accelerating rate, and so having to aim higher and move faster is really paramount. Not many retailers have a budget for experimentation or testing and learning. The sitting back and waiting is causing retailers to fall back further behind.”

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