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What is the role of the shop in modern retail?

I have been exploring some of the key themes that will be discussed at the Retail Week CX Summit and Awards in London next week. It’s one of the biggest annual events for those involved in retail in the UK and offers a great chance to hear what people are saying and thinking about the industry.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

What is the role of the shop in modern retail?

One of the main discussion topics is “the role of the shop going forward.” This sounds like an unusual discussion topic for a retail conference. Retailers have shops – isn’t that what they do? But of course in the modern omnichannel environment there are now many ways of shopping.

Online retail websites, online-only retailers, apps that enhance the shopping experience, are all changing the way that customers relate to retail as an experience. In addition, all these additional channels – plus social networks – are creating an environment in which there are many ways to engage with retailers.

But in addition to these channels facilitating more customer engagement, there is a change in the way that customers behave – the journey they take with a retailer is different and this involves communication at many different stages in the relationship. This is entirely different to earlier models of retail where the customer might only consider communicating with the brand after a purchase has been made.

But what is particularly interesting in my view about the role of the shop in future is how many customers are now finding that they prefer to shop online. The stores are open 24/7, they are never out of stock, delivery is free, and because the retailer knows who you are and what you like (and dislike) they can offer recommendations and deals that are personalised just for you.

This is very different to the anonymous experience of walking into a shop. The retail employees do not walk up to customers and offer recommendations based on past shopping history and many customers are now finding this lack of personalisation a big downside in the in-store experience. Who would have thought that customers would be saying that they find the online shopping experience to be more personal?

I think that if shops want to remain relevant in an omnichannel environment then retail brands need to think long and hard about how they can personalise the experience for customers. Not every customer will want to hand over their identity on entering a shop, but I believe that many of them will if they can see how much it improves the in-store experience. However, this process of “logging in” at a store needs to be handled in a friction-free seamless way for it to not feel clunky or annoying to the customer.

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