How to survive today’s fractured retail landscape

  • Posted on April 17, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Survive fractured retail landscape

Today’s retailers manage a byzantine retail landscape that requires a business model complicated enough to overwhelm the most ardent strategist. Physical stores. Online shopping. Apps. Fulfillment centers, both aggregated and local. Customer preferences and retail’s traditional razor-thin margins.

That’s complex.

Here’s a three-step approach we’ve designed to help retailers build a cohesive strategy to stand up to today’s chaotic market forces and prepare them to respond confidently to whatever comes next. As North America Retail Lead for Avanade X, I have seen it work repeatedly. The secret: dig deep into each step. No superficial or quick answers are allowed.

Step one: Determine the nucleus of your brand. For example, will your brand primarily emphasize an online or in-person experiences?

  • Physical: An example of a typical physical store nucleus is a furniture store. A customer may browse styles of chairs online but likely will want to come in to actually try out the chair before purchasing. If physical stores are your nucleus, identify every touchpoint your customers encounter when shopping with you and anchor them to your stores. For example, are the chairs on your website available in your stores? Will a first-time customer at your store recognize it because your physical signage resembles your online look and feel?
  • Online: If your brand is built around an online nucleus, the online customer experience becomes where you place your attention and investment. You may limit your exposure in brick-and-mortar stores or repurpose retail locations to act as local fulfillment centers or multi-use work/retail spaces to maximize their value, as Saks Fifth Avenue does with its co-working spaces.
  • Combo: You may even opt for a combination nucleus, as Apple has with its robust online presence paired with its successful physical stores. If so, alignment between the two becomes paramount. See step 3.

Step two: Focus on your customers and employees. At Avanade X, we call this “mindset,” A mindset is the combination of factors we call Persona, Context and Intent. A person’s mindset is central to the customer and employee experiences that will set you apart for success or doom you to failure. If you know how people arrive at your retail environment and their corresponding mindset, you can create the optimal experience to keep them returning. For example:

  • If they are coming through the front door of a physical store, are they coming to browse or to return an item purchased online? Do they know what they want, or will they ask for help? If 100 different people arrive at your store on a given day with different intentions, how can you make sure you exceed the expectations of each one?
  • If coming through one of your digital channels, are your customers looking for a large selection and fast delivery, or are they more interested in a curated experience that values personalized attention? Are they clicking through, searching for inspiration? If so, how can you snag their attention?
  • Wherever they meet customers, are your employees equipped to handle a wide range of mindsets in a welcoming and helpful manner? Is your workplace culture supportive, empowering employees and encouraging them to support one another? Or are there frustrations that must be addressed?

Step three: Align every aspect of your operation. As with the steps above, this is where we work together to take everything we have learned, combine it with your company’s business objectives, and ensure every aspect of your retail operations is aligned with the nucleus and prepared to provide confident and inspiring customer experiences for every mindset your employees encounter.

  • Is there a seamless look and feel to both your online and physical presence?
  • Suppose your app provides a store location for a particular product. Is your inventory system powerful enough to ensure the item is easily located when the customer arrives to pick it up?
  • Do you have a system to rapidly recognize repeat customers so you can thank or even reward them for doing business with you again?
  • Are your employees empowered to handle typical customer frustrations so that your customer will recommend your stores to family and friends? Do they feel satisfied with their jobs or are there frustrations that must be addressed before they build up?

This is inspiring work. Every day I see the results – retailers ready to confidently take on some of the most complicated market dynamics out there because they are equipped with the level of deep knowledge they can use to steer through the current business cycle. And the next.

Retail is cyclical. What’s your best prediction for what’s next, and how can retailers prepare? Let me know in the comments.

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