Why your retail is sucking and what you need to do – asap.
Uncomfortable truth time. Most retail sucks. Said it! Most retail today is stuck in the past with retailers living a lie, believing that “consumers” need stuff and if they stand there long enough with stuff on the shelves, someone will buy it. Oh, and same goes for restaurants.
Put the gun down, let’s break this apart.
Typical, traditional retail brick and mortar is a concept. We’ll call it retail 1.0. The idea, though around for a long time, is simply posed as a place where people (retailers) have previously purchased products with the goal to sell a part of the whole again to an end user they perceive to need those goods.
These retailers buy from any number of sources, sometimes directly from manufacturers, often a middle wholesaler and at times from a central buying group with the intent to sell a portion of the products to the end user.
No matter what, it’s all the same — someone else is determining what goods are accessible to the retailer and the retailer grabs what suits their clientele and pays up front to put it on the shelf — to stock it. The consumer is then told it’s here (the promotion), now come buy it (the call to action!).
Here is the first issue with retail 1.0. Retailers still believe that the product is the stuff on the shelves. They believe that’s what people actually want and so the activities of retail — all the actions that get the product in and out the door — are centric around finding product, stocking, tracking, placing on the shelf, beautifying the store and arrangements of products, promoting the stuff and assisting the consumer in getting it out the door. Job done. Retailer now exhausted.
But, whoa wait. What if people — consumers — don’t really need anything but sustenance; love, air food and water? What if the treadmill of getting off the sofa and heading across town to purchase that thing is the most tedious, grudge-worthy waste of time in anyone’s day? And, what if there were an alternative? Such as:
A. not buying that thing or
B. purchasing that thing from the internet and having it shipped
Well guess what? Both alternatives are real. And both alternatives are obliterating retail at such a rate that the retail landscape is in cardiac arrest.
Aging demographics are concluding that their fixed income future is uncertain so to remain practical they are just going without at the same time their millennial newcomers have concluded that there is only so much squeeze in their shrinking incomes, space in their tiny apartments and only so much they can carry on their bicycle anyway so they are saying no or turning their spending toward experiences.
When people actually need stuff, “consumers” are concluding that most retail is so practical and boring that the cost of shipping from online purchasing is worth it so that they can stay on the couch and hit continue on their PS3 — and by the way the cost of shipping is shrinking due to lower fuel costs.
But, but, but — it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are successes
In fact, there are entire categories of successes. You see them everyday. You likely participate in them, get excited about them or are even jealous of their magic. But wait, it’s not magic, they are just awesome. Really though, they see the light of retail 2.0.
The successful retailers today know what people want and they know what the product really is. Successful retailers are more conscious of providing what their audiences desire than sourcing deals on products they can get their hands on. They look out, rather than in. Are gracious, rather than selfish.
What retailer 2.0 knows is that the real product is not the goods. Don’t get me wrong, the goods have gotta be good, but it’s not what people get off the couch for. Audiences desire more emotional relationships and respond to offerings that fulfil challenges and needs in their life such as cutting through complexity, offers of a sense of well being or richer lifestyle, fulfilment of the desire to belong, be understood or understand one’s self. The feeling that they have done a good thing, helped someone or had a mutual respectful exchange of needs is fuel. Deep stuff huh? Yep.
In action though it’s really clear. Take your awesome little coffee shop around the corner. If you don’t go to one, start now and if you don’t want to than we can’t help you.
That little shop likely makes dam good hand massaged, locally roasted, fair trade organic earth loving black goodness. It has to. But that’s not why folks fall in love with the place and return multiple times a day. People go because the place remembers them. Oh, and the other customers remember them too. The place inspires and hosts conversations. The place introduces ideas such as new music, fresh style, emerging trends, learnings about coffee and techniques, likely hosts events, fun evenings, workshops, cool singers, artists and — hold on — rich culture.
How do you sell culture you ask? Where’s the return on that? Don’t worry — provide rich culture and people will reimburse you by purchasing practically anything you have in stock just to feel as though they have rewarded your effort so that we can all do this again. A fair exchange.
So let’s review. I create an enjoyable environment for people to engage in a rich culture, I hire nice staff to build relationships, remember names, start conversations, play great music, introduce new ideas, invite art and source and offer inspiring goods and this is what the product actually is? Yes.
Today’s successful retailers are selling a new emotional idea and have changed the model. They offer among many rich emotional ideas:
Curation and filtering – cutting through the complex world to offer keen eye and style of the owners and staff
Inspiration and education – beautiful idea displays and uses of the products, workshops and demonstrations
Lifestyle and entertainment – music, dinners, evening gatherings
Relationship and belonging – social recognition and sharing, mutual respect and reliance, association, club or group
Emotional fulfilment and Self identity – personal satisfaction and altruism, feeling like the place is part of who I am
And though the structure in which they do this feels to some degree the same as the old, it won’t be long until 2.1 brings a whole new infrastructure and re-arrangement of place.
For example, look at the subtle changes in retailing; displays, signage, POS systems and the placement of the cash area. Where cash registers/checkouts used to dominate the entrance/exit areas, payment areas are now shrinking and falling toward the centre or rear, allowing for more flexible event and social spaces, lounges, culture room and inspiration. POS itself is becoming streamlined and if you squint just right, are almost gone, soon to be replaced by transparent transaction systems.
The new emotional offering means a critical reduction or shift in the practical mindset toward the emotional side of the brain. Price cards are disappearing and are replaced by education and inspiration. References to prices, returns, warrantees, specials and sales are wiped away so as to not kill the emotional buzz of the lifestyle visitor — keeping them from shifting from emotional Me, to practical Mr. Wallet.
Keeping you from thinking about your wallet means you can dream, loose track of time and not connect your cheap ass practical side of your brain to the fun self indulging experiential brain you are listening to.
As successful retailers continue to see the gains from creating positive enriching experiences, building cultures around their brands and programming new ways to fulfil the deep emotional product, we’ll see a complete re-imagining of the retail space.
Can’t buy that online
So hopefully we can all now agree that the product people really want is emotional. We see it everyday and know how dam compelling it can be. The beauty of this emotional product is that for now you simply can’t buy it online. Sure, you can still get most of anything retail 2.0 offers in a practical material product sense. In fact, most 2.0 retailers offer their goods online and do a remarkable job of hosting their culture in that space too. But it’s not the same.
The audience wants the emotional — they want it from a physical place with real staff and like minded others with whom they can feel like a tribe. The key is that audiences only have so much disposable income to blow on stuff so the goods they acquire through the emotional purchase will supersede desire for any practical needs based acquisition.
Retail 2.0 is here, healthy and eating your lunch. The choice is yours as a retailer — understand the emotional product and cultivate it or fight your way to the bottom along with failing commodity price based retailers and online discounters.