Ten Tips for Remaining Relevant
Amazon’s frequent number-one ranking in customer satisfaction surveys is a constant reminder of how the Internet and mobile devices have redefined what consumers deem retail excellence. Being able to physically touch a product, speak face-to-face with a knowledgeable sales associate and walk out the door with a purchase is less important to people than it once was.
Faced with unprecedented choice and 24/7 access to massive amounts of product information, consumers are changing not only how they shop, but how they value a particular retailer. In this rapidly evolving world, consumers may favor retailers not only because they are convenient and consistently deliver value, but because they support a favorite cause, or provide an experience they can easily share with friends online. This yearning for a deeper connection and meaning has retailers re-evaluating their relevance in the marketplace.
“You have to be constantly vigilant about knowing what the consumer is looking for and bringing it to them in a relevant way,” said Mark Bryden, who has been overseeing the design of a prototype for a new generation of lucy stores since being appointed president of the brand 90 days ago by VF Corp’s Outdoor & Action Sports Coalition.
With this in mind, OIA has compiled the following tips to help you stay relevant:
- Embrace technology: Whether it’s iPads, smartphones or mobile payment systems, technology will continue to reshape retailing. To remain relevant, independent retailers like Fontana Sports and River Sports Outfitters are upgrading their e-commerce sites to provide customers a real-time view of inventory. In a few weeks, VF Corp. expects to launch an iPhone app and Android-enabled app specifically geared to give consumers the capability to view system-wide inventory, upload and review product details through 2D and 3D scanning, as well as make a purchase. About 42 percent of retailers surveyed recently by Motorola Solutions said they are currently piloting or starting trials of mobile POS solutions in the next 36 months.
- Use the cloud: Take advantage of the cloud to be able to adopt technology faster without saddling your company with highly perishable and expensive legacy systems.
- Offer an experience: Expand your product offering to include experiences such as live music, art, coffee, adventure travel, classes, training or other relevant activities. It’s no coincidence that New Balance calls its concept stores in Boston, New York and the Pentagon “Experience” stores. The company’s Experience store in New York City features a two-lane running track along its perimeter and a glass-enclosed area where employees assemble running shoes onsite. Eastern Mountain Sports has given its climbing school a prime spot in its destination store formats, while REI’s recent prototypes feature glass-enclosed meeting rooms that can host visiting speakers and local community groups. Ping pong tables occupy a prominent place on the floor of Portland’s Lizard Lounge, which also displays works from local artists and regularly hosts live music performances.
- Curate: Some experts believe consumers are becoming fatigued by the limitless choices and information they find online. Retailers who help consumers navigate this maze of decision-making with thoughtfully curated collections of truly special products will be rewarded.
- Raise the bar for customer service: Strengthen your commitment to customer service. Last year Cabela’s paid to put most of its outfitters through two weeks of training, which represented a commitment of 500,000 hours of staff time.
- Define your brand: In today’s world of endless choices, retailers must stand for something if they want to stand out. This means not only being an expert on outdoor products, but on outdoor recreation, conservation and volunteer opportunities in their communities. Outdoor specialty retailers can also build their brand around sustainability and adventure travel. In 2011, REI facilitated 3.35 million hours of work by nearly 570,000 volunteers on nearly 26,000 miles of trails. Mountain Gear and Rock Creek Outfitters have built robust online businesses by sponsoring climbing and trail running events that draw participants from across the country and even the world.
- Get people outdoors: Help customers learn about, prepare for and participate in new outdoor activities. Open an equipment rental operation, organize a trip to a local sledding hill, teach some inner city students to slackline, or secure the kayaking concession at a local park. While this may require laying out $10,000 or more for liability insurance plus staff time, such investments, like advertising, pay off over time by creating energy, inspiring people to go outdoors and building trust in your community.
- Leverage social media: Hone your use of social media to develop a greater intimacy with customers and adapt to the growing importance of social commerce.
- Create a sense of scarcity: Continue to evolve the level of in-store visual merchandising and frequently refresh product presentation to create a sense of scarcity and urgency. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance has been arranging smaller, more frequent deliveries to constantly revolve core basics through their stores, keep a fresh look that trains customers to return, and increase inventory turnover.
- Offer a robust loyalty rewards program: Sport Chalet has enrolled more than 1.5 million customers in its Action Pass program since November 2008. These customers now account for half its annual sales and are a gold mine for market research and feedback.