Retailers still don’t get it. How many times and in how many ways do I have to rant and rave about the one enormous competitive advantage the brick-and-mortar players have over the online experience? According to a survey by Elastic Path (see chart below), brick-and-mortar retailers are blowing it. The in-store experience, which should be an opportunity is turning into a necessity for survival. The four customer experiences in the chart are pain points for online shoppers in physical stores. Furthermore, what is astounding to me is that all these points should be opportunities and competitive advantages. And how elementary: We aren’t talking about restaurants, events, dancing in the aisles, pop-up shops or a myriad of other kinds of proactive, exciting or esoteric experiences.
The Retail Fix
I mean, give me a break! It’s a no-brainer. Long checkout lines, out-of-stock inventory, long customer service wait lines and unhelpful/uninformed store associates should be easy to fix. What’s really scary: Check out how painful these points are according to consumers, versus how the retailers perceive them to be. The brick-and-mortar guys who aren’t already working to turn these points into advantages are either naïve or stupid — or both.
Exacerbating the challenge of tearing young consumers away from the internet and compelling them to come into a store is the fact that they experience none of these four pain points while shopping online. So, why should they accept any pain in the store? Over time, they will not, ushering in the “day that (the store) dies.”
- Eliminate long checkout lines by providing self-checkout options, adding more registers and cashiers, and using analytics to identify and prepare for heavier shopping times. There are also seamless payment technologies for autonomous checkout with partners like Standard Cognition and Zippin.
- One of the most frustrating pain points for shoppers is to make the trip to the store only to find that their desired product is out of stock. This is inexcusable with the tracking technologies available today. Inventory optimization is a prerequisite, and trackers like Celect, connecting with (RFID) radio frequency identification tags, can analyze and assure that the right product in the right quantity gets to the right place at the right time – at the right price. Plus, there are robots like Walmart’s Auto-S roaming the aisles checking for stock shortages.
- While customer service can also be a painful point on some online sites, the in-store experience of poor service combined with uninformed or unhelpful, or worse, lack of associates makes even an annoying online experience superior.
I have railed on and ad nauseum about the sales associate issue until I am tired of hearing myself. But the most important link in the entire value chain is the final chain in the link that touches the shopper at point of sale: the associate. This is the person who can potentially create an indelibly loyal bond. It’s the key asset of the traditional retail sector and the biggest untapped advantage over e-commerce. In fact, I have often suggested that there should be a curriculum that earns an MBA degree (a Masters in Brand Ambassadorship). In my opinion, this is not an exaggeration. We need well-trained talent as the point of contact with customers.
These ambassadors should be trained, not unlike Walmart’s virtual reality training. They should also have a device that holds information regarding product availability and as much personal information on specific customers as possible for empathetic engagement and assistance.
To close this diatribe, this is just another confirmation that the legacy, traditional retailers are not moving fast enough. These shopper pain points should have been eliminated years ago. And the chart tells us that even now as I write, a major number of retailers are not even aware of the magnitude of the problem.
This will not end well for them.