The Store of the Future, Today

As digital continues to touch every step of the customer shopping journey, the lines are more blurred than ever between online, mobile, stores and the real world. Today's reality is that most retail customers are constantly connected, know what they want and have expectations that they should get it immediately from any channel at any time. Digital business transformation no longer drives e-commerce alone but touches all channels and is the glue to bring unified commerce to fruition. The right digital approach can move more people back into the store, provider stronger connections to customers and increase market basket, in turn driving increased revenue and loyalty.

According to 2015 research from Samsung, 71 percent of consumers still visit physical stores before or after making a purchase online and 90 percent of retail transactions still occur in store. It is imperative for retailers to pay attention to the new generations entering both the workforce and the consumer class. Every generation is embracing mobile, interactive devices and social connectivity in-store at various levels of engagement to improve their shopping experience — all looking for the brand connection throughout the journey engaging as they wish.

The most sophisticated retailers are ensuring their digital business transformation strategies are geared toward enabling customers to engage and convert in any channel in order to provide the customer with a unique branded experience. They are changing the way they think about omnichannel shoppers and what the shopping behavior means for the overall business versus by channel. Few retailers today are able to offer a truly seamless unified commerce experience to the customer. This is largely due to operational and systematic silos, lack of a unified view of customer data, and unaligned go-to-market strategies by channel.

Progressive retailers need to lay the foundation for the store of the future today, beginning with removing the silos and applying the "glue" to integrate across enterprise systems and operational areas. They also need to add innovation where it has the greatest impact on customer engagement; create a unique branded experience based on customer journeys; and gain a deep understanding of what's expected and what's next through customer analytics. Retailers must create a strong customer–centric approach to capture new customers and retain their loyal shoppers with a unique, branded and lifestyle experience. Removing silos, reorganizing operations, empowering store? talent and adding innovation to support change are all requirements for success.

The rewards include higher brand equity with revenue growth, stronger customer loyalty, increased? market share and a truly unique experience that will differentiate and boost the brand. The top five things a retailer needs to do right now to drive a unique unified customer experience and deliver the store of the future today are:

1) Develop mobile solutions to move people
Delivering a mobile solution that moves people is all about relevance, knowledge and engagement. Mobile engagement needs to deliver a personalized physical shopping journey for smartphone or wearable technology users; to equip stores with interactive tablet/wearables for engagement; and to implement micro-marketing for the in-the-moment needs or interests of the shopper. It's about empowering the store staff with tools to provide the best customer service, whether that's product knowledge, locating product, or offering recommendations to encourage customers to purchase. ?It's about empowering your customers with tools to engage at the level they require when they want to, virtual experiences, instant gratification, social? sharing and frictionless payments — turning the store into a fully interactive shopping experience.

2 ) Drive personalization with power
Today, consumers are not coming to brick-and-mortar stores for the selection or prices – they can usually find better alternatives to both online. They are coming for the brand experience. In order to power-up personalization and services, retailers need to equip store associates with the tools to easily recognize and develop a relationship with each shopper. Whether greeting customers as they enter your store, providing personalized services or communications, tailoring push promotions based on their style/purchases or providing product and brand knowledge, personalization promotes customer loyalty and increased sales when meaningful and relevant to the shopping experience. And depending on your brand, you may want to introduce gamification to appeal to customers' sense of progression, status and competition.

3) Leverage loyalty people love
As retailers learn more about customer behavior and preferences across all channels, the days of just offering an "earn and burn" program are over. Retailers need to recognize what a particular shopper values most, with an offer that is relevant to them at the time they receive it. Loyalty programs that people love are expanding to incorporate non-purchase interactions, such as special services or acknowledgement, invitations, special services or community benefits. Listening to the customer and understanding what's important will provide the platform for a successful loyalty program that customers will love.

4) Bring brick-to-click social strategies to life
Retailers need to lead, facilitate, participate and constantly listen in on all forms of social media. But the power of social networking goes far beyond sharing purchases but about sharing knowledge that is relevant. Increasingly, social media helps shape customers' decisions and even tastes. Retailers should integrate social exchanges and sharing throughout the shopping journey and provide honest and relevant data about the brand and products. "Listen" to the customers and incorporate their suggestions and desires into services and value offers. Streamlining and enabling purchases as soon as a potential customer shows interest, with "one click" transactions to convert browsers to shoppers straight from social platforms is just one example. Loyal customers and employees can be the greatest brand ambassadors when they are empowered to share experience, knowledge and lifestyle.

5) Forge a frictionless shopping journey
As consumers are increasingly shopping from their desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices, retailers must engage with customers across all technology and channels in order to offer a unique unified customer experience. Many of today's customers already expect retailers to provide consistency across all touch points, with integrated promotions, return policies, etc. Retailers face greater pressure to find and deliver products from and to anywhere, at any time. The emergence of payment options whether chip & pin, mobile wallets or frictionless mobile payments allows both customers and store associates to check out at any point during the shopping journey. It also empowers conversation and a more personalized engagement during decision-making activities rather than at the end of the visit when many times it is too late.

Robin Copland is the vice president of retail for ThoughtWorks and has a progressive 27-year career in the retail industry. He started on the retail sales floor and then moved on to buying, merchandising and planning roles. In 1999, Copland transferred to the technology advisory side of retail and has been helping retailers leverage technology to get ahead ever since.

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