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Blending Retail Series Part 3: Experiential retail 2018

· growth,2018,retail,blended retail,customer service

By Tony Giudici

In Part 1 and Part 2 of the Blending Retail Series I discussed and introduced the blended retail concept and how retail is transforming. In Part 3, I'm tackling how retailers have had to adapt and transform with the recent changes in the way customers shop. We’ve seen a shift into creating full experiences instead of just urging customers to buy, buy, buy—a trend all of us can definitely get behind. It’s no longer solely a buyer-seller relationship, but more of an exclusive club customers are joining by shopping.

Check out the following infographic for a quick overview on the top five blended retail trends for 2018 according to a July 2017 article from Asysco Legacy Transformation.

5 trends of blended retail, 2018

How many boxes were you able to check? There's a lot to take in, so I've gone through and pulled out two prevalent pieces found in all five trends for business owners to keep in mind when it comes to blending retail in 2018.

1. The Customer Experience

Feeling comfortable in your space will keep people coming back. Let’s look at Starbucks for example. Below you will see my local Starbucks in downtown Palm Springs, CA. The first image is the typical current store format, the second shows the new store branding and layout which opened and replaced the old store in January of this year.

Old versus New Starbucks exteriors

The interior also looks drastically different, with modern fixtures and updated furnishings.

Updated interior of Starbucks in Palm Springs, CA

I can say from personal experience that my quick coffee runs have turned into a welcome break from the frenzy of the day. I can’t ignore the energy, aroma and multiple brewing options being offered at the sit-down bar. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the technology too. From accumulating free drink stars, to ordering en route, Starbucks has done a terrific job with their app capabilities. You can also open your Starbucks app and have your barista scan your phone while you are seated to order your reserve brew.

Other retailers are also utilizing more meaningful personalization tactics to attract customers, as well as new technologies like beacons and consumer smartphone integrations. The use of software applications that create loyalty and incentives for customers to visit their favorite stores more often are definitely on the rise.

2. Modifying the Brick and Mortar

Another retailer that has been re-inventing their offerings and identity is Office Depot and OfficeMax. This past January they re-branded and updated their retail stores in Austin, TX under the new BizBox powered by Office Depot name. You can see the exterior store changes in the pics below.

Old Office Depot storefront compared to new BizBox from Office Depot storefront

The interior has been updated again here. Note the new more welcoming and spacious format which allows a customer an enhanced space and environment to discuss solutions with in-store experts and Business Pros.

New BizBox from Office Depot interior

This store-within-a-store concept offers an omnichannel experience to small and local business owners who are looking for marketing support, tech upgrades or operational bandwidth, CEO Gerry P. Smith said at the grand opening event. The creation of BizBox represents a large overall shift for Office Depot, which is transitioning from an “ugly” box store to a “services-led business,” Smith also said. Fourteen BizBox locations have opened around Austin, with a national roll-out forthcoming. The goal, according to Chief Retail Officer Kevin Moffit, is for BizBox to function as a one-stop shop for small businesses, in much the same way Target does for households. BizBox services include logo and website design, digital and social marketing, accounting and payroll. While Office Depot is an established company far larger than any small business, it hopes to leverage its strengths on behalf of its customers and in turn, help them grow.

We can also expect showrooms to play a bigger role online and in stores this year as they provide consumers a way to check out products, according to Ian Jarvis, head of retail at The Smart Cube, a global professional services company. He also cited Nordstrom's move to offer a showroom-only experience where no items were available as an example.

"Retailers in some sectors can replace underperforming stores and support eCommerce efforts with showrooms. A showroom, in its purest form, is a store that showcases products, but sells nothing — in the sense of providing goods to consumers," Jarvis said, adding that a showroom offers items for inspection, gives advice on products and takes orders.

The products shown and/or displayed are then shipped to the customer's home from some other location. The showroom also can serve as a customer engagement hub environment, Jarvis noted, by providing personal stylists, tailor services and even manicure appointments as well as refreshments.

The Takeaway

So what is the key to blended retail? How do we merge online and brick and mortar? Carefully. We know consumers will never shop solely online or exclusively in-stores. To reach today’s omnichannel consumer, brands will need to make a greater effort than ever before to create a consistent point of view and cohesive experience across physical and digital touch-points. When it comes to the in-store experience, as noted with Starbucks and Office Depot’s new store formats, lighting, color, scent, texture, sound and taste will all become an integral part of the competitive differentiator. These subtle nuances should be mirrored by businesses everywhere no matter what size, and become part of the branding across all vehicles and marketing.

In upcoming blogs, we will continue to highlight the latest trends and share the newest Blended Retail Experiences.

Tony Giudici is a Director of Market Development for Excelerate America, a second-stage business accelerator that helps small businesses go next-level in the digital economy. If you know of a retailer that exemplifies the New Blended Retail Experience, let him know and they could be showcased in an upcoming article. Just shoot him an email at tony.giudici@excelerateamerica.com.

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