If you're one of my regular readers, you may remember a post from August 2015 – "The Future Of Retail Is Digital" – in which I highlight key findings from a report on the future of retail experience. One recommendation was that retailers should begin to experiment with augmented and virtual reality technology early, so that potential use cases can be piloted in-store. Well this week, Microsoft announced a partnership with Lowe's to demonstrate the viability of Microsoft's Hololens to help Lowe's customers visualize custom kitchens.
While VR/AR is a long way from widespread market adoption (see this March 16 post by J.P. Gownder), the time needed to pilot and experiment with this technology means tech and CX teams in retailers need to be piloting use cases now in order to figure out what, if any, business impact the technology will have. (See also my comments from CES 2016).
With the winter shopping holidays now behind us, Forrester is wrapping up its annual qualitative exploration of US consumers’ perceptions of the holiday season, both for their own behavior as well as what they observed across retailers. The retail industry has seen an increase in consumer spending compared to last year — possibly due to savings from lower gas prices. Overall, we saw that consumers felt less compelled to go out and buy gifts on Black Friday itself, but they still love a good bargain. Some other insights we gathered:
Black Friday sales effectively crossed over from in-store to online. While in-store shopping dropped on Black Friday, online shopping sales rose, resulting in an overall increase in sales. Consumers were quite conscious of the fact that online deals appeared even before the Thanksgiving holiday (and therefore before Black Friday). This year, these sales also carried the “Black Friday” label — traditionally an in-store-specific event. By re-associating Black Friday with deals first and foremost, this could restore positive sentiment and downplay what has otherwise become a stressful shopping event.
Targeted outreach drives online sales — but retailers shouldn’t overdo it. A smaller number of targeted deals and offers will help reduce the overall volume of email that consumers receive. This will in turn minimize the chances of consumer recipients being overwhelmed by holiday communications.
If you follow me on Twitter or if you attended WRC at the beautiful Cavalieri hotel in Rome you’ll know that I had the privilege to moderate a panel of distinguished retailers to discuss the subject of discounting, specifically selling for less than the planned margin.
One of the event’s sponsors JDA had earlier presented data from a survey of retail leaders showing that their top foiur risk concerns included : increasing competitive threats (41%); margin erosion and cost reduction (39%); data security threats (25%), and attracting and retaining customers (24%).
Our panel, hosted by Congress sponsor and price optimisation software vendor Revionics, tackled the margin erosion issue asking: ‘How do we kick the discounting habit?’. The panellists, ranging across wholesale, fashion and apparel and general merchandise sectors, established a consensus view that discounting for its own sake, without a clear strategic goal and tactical execution, could be more damaging than beneficial to the bottom line – as was also arguably seen more recently with some of the more negative sentiment generated around Amazon Prime Day, as well as Black Friday.
They say that good things come in small packages – and it seems that those consumers who have signed up with the burgeoning wave of subscription services know this to be true. Today, whether you’re looking for fine wine or baby food, artistic inspiration or masculine essentials, you don’t have to leave your home to get – or even search for – the items yourself; the box delivered to your door may have just what you’re hoping for.
Subscription services are relatively new, but consumer awareness of and interest in the concept are growing. I recently became a customer of Stitchfix – and while I might be among just a handful of consumers who’ve actually signed up, nearly one-fifth of US online adults are interested in similar services. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that interest is particularly high among young shoppers:
Retail CIOs have always had a tough job, but digital makes it tougher. Emerging digital technologies threaten to transform retail experiences both in stores and at home. Without a good business case, CIOs at large retailers will find it hard to prepare their business to compete with small, nimble startups. My latest report highlights the potential of today's digital technologies to radically disrupt the retail industry once more. It serves as a call to CIOs to begin shaping their strategy to digitize the end-to-end customer experience and start proving the business case in time to make the investments needed.
Specialty fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff is creating a truly differentiated in-store customer experience by combining RFID tags with new technologies like digital mirrors in the changing room connected to employee mobile devices. At the NYC Rebecca Minkoff store, customers can select products from racks or a digital fashion wall and head to the dressing room, where they meet their personal fashion consultant. Once in the dressing room, a digital mirror displays all the products and sizes the customer has in the room. The customer can easily request a new size by selecting it on the mirror. The consultant delivers the new sizes to the dressing room without the customer having to redress or wander the store half-undressed. By extending what Rebecca Minkoff has already achieved, we get a glimpse of a future in-store experience that helps each customer quickly find more products that satisfy their desires.
As far as digital store initiatives go, iron-clad success stories are notoriously hard to come by. Mobile point-of-service (mPOS) is one of the few digital store technologies that has garnered the attention and investment dollars of retail executives—but the return on investment has been nonetheless elusive. Despite large-scale deployments by a number of leading players (including Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Bloomingdales, among others), key questions such as “will this drive incremental revenue?” and “which use cases deliver the most customer and retailer value?” remain. Our newly published report “The Business Case For mPOS Is Associate Enablement” answers these questions and addresses common opportunities and challenges for eBusiness leaders rolling out an mPOS program. In the report, we find that:
Consumers expect digitally-enabled associates to facilitate in-store engagement. Retailers must change their thinking and start to view mPOS as more than just a “mobile cash register.” When shoppers see a store associate armed with a mobile device, they expect to receive contextualized assistance when and where they want it. In addition to ringing up sales in aisle, your associates should be prepared to use their devices to access enterprise inventory, provide product information, and give personalized product recommendations.
Recently, I talked with the CEO and founder of reBuy about the shifting dynamics in the retail sector as a result of digitalization. The use of data has evolved to the point where data has become the enterprise’s most critical business asset in the age of the customer. The business model of reBuy reCommerce — the leading German marketplace for secondhand goods — can help CIOs understand how the intelligent use of data can significantly disrupt a market such as retail.
The case of reBuy offers interesting insights into how the wider trends of the sharing and collaborative economy affect retail. If you can buy a good-quality used product with a guarantee for half the price, many people will not buy the product new. Many consumers increasingly accept product reuse and see it as an opportunity to obtain cheaper products and reduce their environmental footprint by avoiding the production of items that wouldn’t be used efficiently. The reBuy case study highlights that:
Business technology is taking the sharing economy into new realms. The reBuy business model demonstrates that consumers are starting to push the ideas of the sharing economy deep into the retail space. CIOs in all industries must prepare for the implications that this will have for their businesses.
Standalone products are at particular risk of sharing dynamics. The example of reBuy shows that businesses that sell plain products will come under even more pressure from shifting shopping behavior, where people are increasingly satisfied with buying used goods. These businesses need to add value to those products that are not available for secondhand purchase.
Black Friday has been a constant feature in the postmortem of the 2014 UK holiday sales season. It has gradually extended its influence across the Atlantic over the years; despite having no cultural significance outside of the US (Black Friday is a sales day that traditionally follows the US Thanksgiving holiday). Retailers in France, Germany and Spain tested the waters with Black Friday promotions in 2014. But it was in the UK where Black Friday sales surged to new heights.
UK retailers who embraced Black Friday reported massive sales uplift on the day. Department store House of Fraser recorded a 125% increase in year on year sales while Very.co.uk saw orders jump 134% compared to Black Friday 2013.Yet, for most, this uplift did not translate to an overall sales increase or the holiday season.
Black Friday Has Changes The Cadence Of Holiday Sales. Black Friday has arrived in the UK with a bang, but for most eBusiness executives it hasn’t driven a massive sales uplift. Instead, it’s pulled customer purchasing forward in the holiday season, leaving like-for-like sales reasonably static.
Thanksgiving weekend has traditionally been highly lucrative for retailers, but this year saw another drop in spending specifically on Black Friday. In the meantime, online shopping continues to soar, and the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend provided consumers with deep-discount sales. In short, the weekend itself is becoming less valuable to the average consumer. But how does consumer sentiment match up with this shift in behavior? How do perceptions of the 2014 holiday season differ from those of years past and consumers’ initial expectations?
As part of our recent research efforts, we leveraged Forrester’s Technographics® 360 multimethodology research approach to gain a better understanding of consumers’ shopping habits (using our ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community) and to track online conversation and sentiment relative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday leading up to the holidays and afterwards (using NetBase aggregated social listening data).
The in-store shopping experience is increasingly being transformed into a digitally enhanced experience for both the customer and retailer. Technologies such as beacons, retail store analytics, and store fulfillment programs are rapidly changing the definition of how a retail store operates and engages with customers. While 68% of customers use a mobile device while in a store, retailers are just beginning to take an active role in that in-store digital experience.
Forrester believes that, in the future, retail stores that drive convenience, service, and relevant personalized experiences through the use of digital store technology will succeed. Why? Because today. customers show an affinity for digital store technology. In fact, 66% of luxury apparel customers are more likely to shop with a digitally-enabled associate. Those retailers who wait on the sidelines are at risk of maintaining the status quo and may only grow marginally.