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This article was written by Marylise Tauzia, Product Marketing and Evangelism Lead, Square Developer
We live in the age of empowered consumers. Constant and rapid technological evolution has profoundly changed how people shop and dine. Smartphones are embedded in our lives and make everything available at our fingertips. Consumers expect everything delivered to them faster than we could have imagined even just 10 years ago.
As technology — and expectations — evolve, traditional retail and restaurant models have come under pressure. In 2017 alone, 345 retailers filed for bankruptcy, and 8,600 retail locations were closed. National restaurant chains are expected to close over 600 restaurants in 2018.
But the outlook is hardly grim. With the right mindset and approach, today’s changing landscape presents incredible opportunities to shake things up.
“I certainly don’t think we’re in the midst of a retail apocalypse,” Laura Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma, told ReCode. “I do not believe that and I do not believe that Amazon is killing retailers. I believe retailers’ bad service is killing retailers.”
Indeed, new store and restaurant concepts have invigorated in-person commerce and dining out. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen businesses that started as strictly eCommerce grow into successful brick-and-mortar operations with multiple locations.
These businesses are placing the customer experience at the forefront of everything they do, and making sure to meet customers wherever they are. Some remarkable examples include Rent the Runway, Warby Parker, and ModCloth. Even Amazon has opened its own concept stores where shoppers check in via app, shop, and leave without visiting a register.
So, what’s the common thread among these brands that have managed to find brick-and-mortar success?
Simply put: They have been able to give consumers what they want, where they want it, when they want it. They make it so easy for consumers to shop with them — online and in person — that consumers keep coming back.
Let’s look at what these retailers are doing to attract and retain today’s consumers.
Reimagining the in-store experience
Most of these brands have completely rethought the in-store experience to ensure customers leave fully satisfied and eager to come back. Part of this differentiated experience includes clean, open, and modern store designs that don’t overwhelm consumers with options and make it easy to find products.
They’ve also made the checkout process smoother and faster. Floating points of sale, for instance, cut down on congestion at peak shopping times and erase the need to stand in line. This enhanced attention to the in-store experience is making a significant difference.
Making the eCommerce experience seamless
They also ensure customers can buy products by any method they prefer, whether that’s in-store or online, by investing in beautiful and easy-to-navigate eCommerce sites and intuitive mobile apps. Their catalogs are from any device and the purchase, and the purchase and returns processes are quick and easy. Wherever the consumer buys an item, the inventory updates and the item can ship immediately (and often at no cost).
Ensuring in-store transactions are as easy as online
Restaurant chains such as Panera, Shake Shack, and McDonald’s as well as independent restaurants are deploying self-service kiosks that have changed the face of quick-service food businesses.
Consumers can now come in and place their order on a user-friendly kiosk — sometimes from their table. The kiosks can remember customers’ favorite menu items and keep payment information for faster ordering and checkout.
With such technology, the options to deliver new loyalty programs and innovative services are endless. And best of all, employees who used to take orders can now focus on delivering faster and better customer service.
Many of these businesses also enable consumers to order ahead from a mobile app, be it the business’s own app or a specialized food delivery service such as Caviar. This online-to-offline availability is another example of meeting customers wherever they are.
Thinking about new ways to communicate
Finally, we are seeing new ordering and purchasing technologies emerge that leverage chatbots. Imagine placing an order at your favorite restaurant just by using your favorite chat tool like Slack or Facebook Messenger. It’s still early days, but already brands like Starbucks, Taco Bell, and Sephora are experimenting with them.
Contrary to many predictions, innovative brands are proving that in-person commerce and dining is definitely not dead. Their recent growth shows us the path to success, one that requires a strong focus on modern and unique experiences and investment in technologies that meet customers where they are and when they need your service.