We recently came across an article worth sharing that was written by Jamey Bainer, who shares her observations on how retail isn’t dying, but instead what retailers are unknowingly doing that has contributed to their decline. Enjoy the read!
POST WRITTEN BY
Strategy & Planning Director at PACIFIC Digital Group, providing customer-driven digital brand solutions.
I recently co-led some roundtable sessions at a retail-focused marketing conference, with the express intention of investigating whether the “death of retail” storyline is overblown or, in fact, true. What I found was a little of both.
The reality, according to the marketers I spoke with, is that a lot of retail brands are chasing after the next bright, shiny thing — most folks were quick to point out they never want to hear the words “machine learning” or “blockchain” again — while neglecting to capitalize on and optimize the assets they currently own. The frustrations these marketers candidly shared with me were consistent across a variety of verticals: C-suite execs blinded by outmoded tactics, leaving their teams with no resources to address poor user experiences, dysfunctional e-commerce platforms, and siloed marketing departments burying their company’s brand equity in a sea of disconnected messages.
It’s not all bleak, though. I also had the chance to talk to some forward-thinking companies that are taking advantage of the retail industry’s cognitive dissonance to drive massive growth while their competitors are lagging behind. For companies that want to follow their good example, here is a summary of what most of the competition is doing wrong and how you can beat them.
Observation 1: Everyone is obsessed with voice search, but they still aren’t getting web search right.
Voice search is definitely the hottest topic in the industry right now, but most of the brands tripping over themselves to be bleeding edge on voice search wouldn’t even show up today in web-based search results related to their products, industry or, in some cases, even their brand name.
The cure: Look, voice search is definitely something we all need to be paying attention to. But if you’re serious about voice optimization, then you need to start with a less sexy priority: traditional web search. As it turns out, the things you can do today to improve your visibility in paid and organic searches are the same things that can enhance your share of the voice search landscape.
Develop useful product descriptions. Utilize bullets and numbered lists. Break up long text blocks into digestible bits. Apply structured data markup (i.e., Schema.org) to your content. Not only does Google reward these formats when selecting which site shows up as the featured answer, but it will also make your content easier for personal voice assistants to fetch and read out.
Observation 2: Omnichannel isn’t a buzzword; it’s a total myth.
Retailers still love to talk up omnichannel, but in reality, the teams managing digital and e-commerce are often at war with those responsible for in-store retail. One senior marketing exec actually told me, “I know I’m supposed to care about the stores, but I don’t. I hope they all close down. Maybe then I’ll actually get the budget I need to do digital right.”
The cure: It’s your customers, not you, who decide when, how and where they want to shop, including at your physical store. This is the exact reason Amazon started opening brick-and-mortar stores when many retailers are shutting theirs down. If servicing the physical store purchase funnel is important to the behemoth tech company everyone is afraid of, shouldn’t it be good enough for you?
Stop relying on a barren store locator, and build out a true digital presence at the local level that can drive internet shoppers to your stores or local shoppers to your e-commerce engine. Humanize the consumer journey, and let your customers decide how to browse and buy your products.
Store details like hours and address are no-brainers, but your geo-funnel pages should also include rich content related to products, promotions, customer reviews, brand storytelling and locally relevant content. For example, if you’re an outdoor apparel retailer, include some information about local trails and points of interest near the store location. People do a lot of non-branded searches for products in close proximity to their location. Do you really want to stay invisible to these customers because you didn’t bother to build out a decent geo-funnel?
Observation 3: Everyone dumps their budget into brand marketing and slashes their digital line items.
The only thing more shocking than learning the supposedly omnichannel-obsessed retailers couldn’t care less about brick-and-mortar stores was the discovery that they don’t care about digital or e-commerce either. We talked to a number of marketers managing digital efforts for some of the biggest apparel, cosmetics and consumer goods companies in the game, and they all had the same bleak stories to tell. Execs who lack innovation are dumping all their budgets into brand campaigns and leaving their digital teams no resources to bring more people to their websites, deliver better user experiences or keep customers engaged between purchases.
The cure: You’re not wrong to believe your brand promise is central to your success, but if you’re dumping everything you’ve got into promotional tactics and not building out the connected digital systems that can sustain your brand stories across more sophisticated purchase journeys, then you will have a really hard time sustaining growth.
Leading brands like REI have created digital ecosystems to accommodate these more complex and customer-driven purchase journeys. REI’s ability to leverage this coordinated digital approach allows them to:
- be omnipresent when their customers are seeking answers to product-related questions
- tell great stories that align with the types of experiences their customers seek out in the world
- build a real connection between their inspirational messages and in-store experiences
- expand your focus from one specific channel or tactic, and help your teams build a more integrated approach to accommodate today’s customer journey.
In summary, I found that retail is not dead. Like most industries, it’s being convulsed by a series of disruptions and technological innovations. The companies best positioned to prosper in this shifting landscape are the ones keeping their customers at the center of everything they do. As for the ones that are still 10 years behind in their thinking on digital integration? Well, R.I.P.