You can’t talk about retail without tripping over (or getting hit in the face with) news about Amazon and Jeff Bezos. The New York Times recently covered his pursuit of the $3 trillion retail universe by going back to the very fundamentals of retail. Brick and mortar physical locations. But this is Bezos, so you know there is a twist. Or in this case, a robot.
In his constant pursuit of refining the concept of Frictionless Commerce, Amazon is already testing “stores.” But unlike the stores of yore, Bezos envisions stores run by Artificial Intelligence. That will preclude the need for most sales associates and all checkout clerks. Whoops, millions of retail jobs could dissolve into the ether, courtesy of this technology. Maybe a fleet of robots guided by one human with a joystick will be deployed to restock shelves and fill orders. (How does one apply for that job?)
Bezos envisions stores run by Artificial Intelligence that will preclude the need for most sales associates and all checkout clerks.
With the help of cameras, sensors and AI, customers can shop Amazon Go stores, collect healthy food and walk out the door without the checkout line hassle. Amazon Fresh grocery stores will make “click and collect” more frictionless. Sensors will notify store personnel (robots?) when a customer’s car (probably driverless) is at the pickup zone to receive groceries that were ordered on-line. At Amazon Bookstores, the book store displays are more a result of algorithms, rather than the curation of an independent book store proprietor.
So, just like e-commerce, Amazon plans to flip ‘retail’ on its head too.
We represent retailers and vendors who are scratching theirs right now on what to do and how to react to the onslaught on multiple fronts by this retail behemoth.
What we say, and what we’ll tell you now, is to take a step back and think about what has made you successful to this point. What adaptations you can make? We know many independent retailers cannot afford to invest in an Amazonesque infrastructure. But, there are ways you can evolve your business if you keep your focus on the customer.
All of Amazon’s innovations – one click purchasing, free and fast shipping – have been for the benefit of the customer. You can create your own form of frictionless commerce by keeping your products competitively priced. Make transactions easy and product delivery seamless. Train your employees not only to be knowledgeable about your products, but to make real connections with your customers. This is something that cannot be programmed into a robot.
We all have a story to tell – the who/how/why that sets us apart from every other retailer. Use this story to make connections with customers – in-person and online. Consumers want to shop with stores and brands with whom they can relate. So, let your story be the invitation that provides consumers the joy of discovering your unique products and services.
While a simple “Thanks for Shopping with Us” seems like a common courtesy, truly give folk reasons to keep shopping with you. Focusing on tactics that increase engagement with customers — loyalty reward programs, an active social media presence, store “memberships” with benefits – will be the glue that provides the real stickiness to the lifetime value of your customers.
Buzz differentiates a store, especially with millennials who value the experiential as much as the ultimate transaction. Embrace shopping as a social activity and host and promote store events catering to the interests of your local community. This can be a great way to bring new customers through your front door. It allows you to showcase the occasion through your social channels. Share the results of what you “gave back” to your community.
Bolster your online presence and search rankings through relevant content marketing and thought leadership activity. These are great ways to build community, engage your customers and create trust for your brand and your store.
In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter solution. We all can’t be Amazon. But, we can all utilize its proven best practices to help tame the retail jungle. That’s applying real, not artificial, Intelligence to best position retailers for success. Let’s chat about it – we’ve got some ideas for you.