“Digical” refers to the increasingly busy intersection of digital technology and the physical shopping experience…where many retailers are beginning to set up shop in an attempt to ward off internet retail poachers and stymie industry trends such as showrooming.
Back in 1981 when ONJ’s song first hit the airwaves and Weird Al’s career was on the rise the world was a much different place. This is especially true in the retail world. You had a store, people showed up and either bought things or didn’t. The customer experience was limited to interaction with sales associates, stocked or un-stocked shelves, quality of products, and maybe a call center to handle complaints or catalog orders if you had one.
The Internet we know and love today was far from being the game-changing shopping source it is now, and the first backpack-version of the “mobile” phone – not that you could have done anything more than make a call with it – wasn’t even commercially available until 1983. There was no social media. Word-of-mouth recommendations came from people actually talking to each other. Computers were nothing more than glorified word processors and the notion of laptops and tablets were things of science fiction fantasy.
It was a simpler time. Store owners were in control of their own destiny back then. Customers in many cases, if they didn’t like the experience, had very few (if no) other options, forcing them to be loyal simply by default.
Today’s technology has turned the tables in favor of the modern consumer. They are no longer bound to a geographic location and can shop from anywhere at any time with little to no penalty for switching from one brand to another. Customers can shop in multiple places at once and look up product reviews, inventory, and competitor prices all while strolling down the aisles of your store with a smartphone.
Retail stores – especially apparel focused ones – are in a difficult situation. With clothing, customers still want the opportunity to try items on, feel fabrics, and examine quality of workmanship in person. So, how do you meet the needs of these consumers?
By getting digical?
That’s the route some retail stores are taking, which reminds me of an April Wall Street Journal article, “Custom Sports Gear, Same Day,” by Karen Johnson. The article talks about a Canadian sporting goods store, Sport Chek, that is bringing the perks, fun, and ease of online ordering to the in-store experience by filling its stores with kiosks, gadgets, and interactive displays.
A more recent Internet Retailer article by Zak Stambor demonstrates that Sport Chek isn’t the only chain looking to enhance its store experience with online shopping features. Staples recently announced the launch of two new “omnichannel stores” that are planned to help connect the dots between the office supply chain’s various company touch points. The stores – much smaller than the typical Staples store – are outfitted with kiosks that enable customers to check inventories and purchase online. And store associates are also armed with tablets to offer more product details and close out orders right in the aisle way for customers.
And then there’s the award-winning House of Fraser, which won the Shopow Insight Solution of the Year honors at the RetailWeek Technology Awards in London on June 19th for its work using ForeSee predictive customer experience analytics. The UK retailer opened a stockless shop in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2011 where customers use iPads, computers and interactive screens to place orders for home delivery or store pick up. I believe this is the most innovative example of how a retailer can seize control of the potentially threatening showrooming dynamic and extend the brand beyond the four-walls of a physical high-street shop.
These are all unique examples of how forward-looking retailers will win the battle to keep loyal shoppers in their stores. But will they work in the long run for every retailing brand?
The answer is…it depends. If company leaders simply decide to jump on the in-store technology bandwagon – making large capital investments along the way – WITHOUT taking time to listen to the voice of customer, they may be headed down the wrong path. If they did measure beforehand, they are at least starting out on the right foot. The trick now, for the examples mentioned above, is to continuously measure in-store experiences so they can better adapt to the changing customer expectations. I get the sense there will soon be an escalating arms race among retailers to bring the latest shiny new digital technology into the stores – and when it comes waging this cross-channel battle, alignment with the needs and desires of the customer is vital for success.
I would really like to hear other examples companies going digical. If you know of any leave a comment below. If nothing else, how many of you have the ONJ song stuck in your head right now? Me too.