How In-Store Retailers Can Make Their Customers’ Holidays Merry Again

Contributed by Justin Jones and Ashley Welch of Somersault Innovation

As the bells have begun ringing in this holiday season, in-store retailers are likewise wringing their hands: will this holiday season make or break them? With the bankruptcies and/or multiple store closures this year by seemingly untouchable brands such as Toys R Us, J Crew, Macy’s, Payless Shoes Source, Gymboree, True Religion, Ann Taylor, Michael Kors, and so on, we can begin to appreciate why the stakes are so high.

What’s Happening to Retail?

The National Retail Federation forecasts a healthy 3.6% to 4% growth in sales this holiday season, but the slice of pumpkin pie taken by online sales will get bigger, exceeding $100 Billion for the first time. It’s easy to solve this problem by relying on a time-tested problem-solving method: pointing fingers – it’s Amazon’s fault!  But this misses the larger question we should all be asking ourselves, which is, “What’s the purpose of in-store retail?”

The National Retail Federation forecasts a healthy 3.6% to 4% growth in sales this holiday season, but the slice of pumpkin pie taken by online sales will get bigger, exceeding $100 Billion for the first time.

Since the construction of the first shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota in 1956, we’ve viewed in-store retail in a mechanistic way. We built large shopping centers, containing the most popular retail brands, with sprawling parking and easy access for the largest population centers. We hired cheap labor—especially during the holidays—to accommodate the largest number of shoppers in the most efficient, cost-effective way. In short, we’ve created retail factories built for efficiency. Today, customers expect far more from their point-of-sale experience than this. That’s why in-store retail is dying.

What Can We Do?

When it comes to efficiency, in-store retail will never be able to compete with the click of a mouse and free shipping. If in-store retail is only about access, distribution and cost, it’s a wonder all shopping malls haven’t closed already. And, instead of shouting Bah-Humbug! Let’s all shout good riddance instead. After all, why would we hold on to our in-store shopping memories of holidays-past when the reality was—it mostly sucked! Who misses getting jostled about by stress-out shoppers clamoring for the last Hatchimal, or the frustrating indifference of underpaid, clueless store clerks who don’t have the time or knowledge to answer our questions?

However, while online shopping has freed us all from the constraints of efficiency, it opens the door to a wonderland of opportunity, both for shoppers and for retailers. In their book, The Second Machine Age, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson discuss human capabilities that can’t be replicated by machines. These include new idea creation and complex communication. And that’s all customers really want this year: comfort and joy.

My Comfort and Joy Experience

With efficiency off the table, consumers have very high expectations of an in-store experience, whether they realize it or not. Take, for example, the last time I bought a pair of prescription glasses. I went to a fancy-shmancy boutique. Why? I wanted to look good, and I don’t trust my own sense of style. I wanted expert advice and confidence in my decision and my appearance. I walked in the store and met Cathy. After some introductory conversation, I gave Cathy some vague and poorly articulated ideas of what I thought I wanted, and, without hesitation, she gave me three frames—and only three frames—to try on. The whole time I was talking, Cathy was studying my face and mannerisms. With each frame I tried, she told me why she thought they were a fit for me: for my face and my personality. Each frame was a very different style that I would NEVER have chosen for myself. I loved them all, and, yep, I loved Cathy.

I went with a pair, which were way more expensive than I had planned for (and I didn’t care). Then, I bought the most expensive type of lens to go with them because they would both reduce glare from the computer screen I spend much of my day with and they would appear completely invisible to others. Both qualities were points of value Cathy distilled from our casual conversation. I walked out of the store having spent over a thousand dollars—more than I’d ever spent on glasses—and feeling great about myself, about Cathy and about my comfort and joy customer experience.

Create a “Cathy Moment”

We all strive for our “Cathy moments.” And, whether we realize it or not, that’s what shoppers really want this holiday season. They want someone who connects with them personally, who can navigate a conversation (complex communication) to get to know them and to know what they value, and who can give them new ideas that will delight them and those for whom they’re shopping. So, what’s the purpose of in-store retail? It’s creating moments of comfort and joy for customers. Make creating these moments the purpose of your in-store retail strategy this season and beyond, and you’ll be on the path to a Merry 2018.

Justin Jones and Ashley Welch co-founded Somersault Innovation, a Design Thinking consulting firm providing a unique approach to sales development. They are the authors of Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue. For more information, please visit, www.somersaultinnovation.com.

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