Retailers, the Train for the Future Is Leaving the Station. Are You On It?

As I waited for my turn, I was amazed at how busy the mall was. This was one of Vancouver’s biggest malls, and it was brimming with people despite the COVID-19 restrictions. Everyone was wearing a mask and maintaining their distance from each other. It reminded me that the death of retail had been greatly exaggerated. 

Nonetheless, retail is changing. At that moment, my name was called up by the Apple store employee, and I entered the store. I was interested in buying an iPad, but I had a few questions that a sales rep could cheerfully answer. After a few minutes, I walked out with my new iPad and a head full of ideas.

Apple is one of the best examples of how retailers need to adjust post-pandemic. They made it easier for people to pick up their orders from their nearest store, and they also added appointments for people like me who want to browse or need specific help. The process for booking these appointments is simple, and the experience is flawless.

COVID-19 has stabbed physical retailers near the heart. We all saw stores that were closed or going out of business. At the same time, online sales went through the roof. 

Some people expect physical sales to become less relevant over time, but I actually think the opposite is true. Physical stores will be an even bigger component in a retailer’s strategy, but it won’t be quite the same store from the past.

Here are 3 opportunities that retailers need to think about.

1. Physical stores as experiences

We can easily buy things online, but there are some things that we can only experience in-person. Physical stores should become more focused on delivering an experience rather than just letting people browse through shelves. 

Apple and Microsoft do this quite well, and I think we will see other stores adopt this model. You will go to the Nike store to hang out, attend events and connect with the brand on top of picking up online orders.

2. Enabling consumers to buy

We all do our research before we buy products. In some cases, we may know even more than the sales rep in front of us. Instead of fighting this, sales reps within stores should switch their mindset to enabling the consumer to buy rather than selling to them.

The sales rep within the Apple Store — if they are even called that — answered my questions and made sure that I had everything I needed. She wasn’t trying to sell me anything and instead was merely focused on helping me in my shopping experience. 

3. Data & technology should be invisible

Apple can offer order pickup, appointments, and more because they have a good grasp of their technology. When I showed up, they had my information, my Apple account, and anything relevant. Everything was seamless.

Retailers need to think about using their data and technology to make the switch between online and offline invisible. You’re not going from one channel to another, but you’re bouncing back between them without any issues. 

Retail isn’t dying, but it is changing. Retailers with strong brands will come out even stronger after this pandemic. Consumers don’t just want to buy the cheapest goods. They want experiences and brands that they can recognize. Are you going to be on the train before it leaves?

One more thing before you go! Do you know how to get more insights out of your data? 

All companies are sitting on a goldmine of data that they haven't fully explored. It's not about technology or capturing more data. The key is to learn how to make the most of your current data and convert it into actionable insights. This is the main idea behind my first book, The Data Miage: Why Companies Fail to Actually Use Their Data

I'm excited to announce the release of the book through all major retailers. If you're interested, you can download the first chapter for free using the form below. You'll learn what the best data-driven companies do differently and how to make sure you're playing the right data game.