Every company in the retail industry is panicking over this phrase ­– “retail apocalypse.” According to Carrie Barclay, who mediated “The Dynamics of Brick and Mortar” at the CBUS19 conference, “there were over 1,200 active malls at one point, there are 500 active malls today.” And foot traffic has decreased by 10% each consecutive year for the past 10 years. This rapid decline of brick-and-mortar locations has left retailers wondering how to survive this retail apocalypse. But, while there are thousands of store closings, there are thousands of store openings at the same time. “Altogether, the retail landscape looks less like an apocalypse and more like a retail transformation,” according to Barclay.

Big Red Rooster co-sponsored the CBUS 19 Retail Re-Thought Conference held June 5-6 in Columbus, Ohio. The conference featured a range of subject matter experts who spoke on how to stay ahead with digital innovation and customer engagement in this quickly evolving retail era. Read on for Big Red Rooster’s take on a few overarching conference themes and how to not just survive, but thrive.

Interactions as much as transactions.

Alison Embrey Medina opened the day two mainstage presentation with the overall theme of creating authentic human interactions that compliment your digital presence, and going above and beyond to create a great customer experience. Nordstrom’s new prototype called Nordstrom Local, is a 3,000 sq. ft. showroom with no inventory on the floor. The concept is an experience-driven hub offering services inclusive of personal stylists, a tailor, a juice bar, or order online and pickup curbside. Furthering this argument, featured presenter Oliver Chen from Cowen said, “Competing with Amazon means reinvesting in humanity.”

Our POV: The combination of transactional innovation and experiential innovation is what will define winning retailers  in the next decade.

The ROI of information.

How do you measure the return on a company’s information? As more investment is dedicated to big data collection and analysis, Doug Laney, Principal of Caserta, challenges if the value of a company’s data should be represented on its balance sheet. Regardless of where it’s valued, maximum value requires exposure of data internally. Retailers like Huntington, Kroger and REI are building data science teams while also investing in more self-service tools to service cross functional teams across their organizations.

Brian Seewald, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at DSW said it best – “I want associates to be on an even playing field with customers in terms of data.” DSW is now allowing its employees to join the loyalty rewards program, which generates data on employees and creates an inclusive work environment for associates. In addition, DSW is working hard to provide employees with visibility to that same data for the clients they are working with in store.

Nike has implemented this concept with its new Nike Live store, which gathers data from its app to recognize patterns within geographic boundaries. It then uses these patterns to detect themes in the community’s purchasing behavior, and merchandises its store based upon those insights. It is customized to the community. The Nike Live store associates are more aware of the consumer and make suggestions based on the individual’s need.

Our POV: In order to prevail in this ominous retail era, retailers need to infiltrate siloed data across the organization. Companies that can think differently about how to organize around data and insights will create a meaningful competitive advantage.

Employee experience powers customer experience.

The best customer experience can only be the best if the employees are on board. Having a clear vision can inspire associates to get behind your brand. However, if employees do not feel valued, how can we inspire them to make customers feel valued? Tanisha Robinson, Chief Disruption Officer of BrewDog referenced the Service Profit Chain – how you treat your people effects how you treat your customers. The age of employee appreciation is at an all-time high, and what better way to make employees feel appreciated than to make an effort to understand them? Companies have begun to recognize the importance of employee research. Best Buy recently funded an employee research project to understand its employees and their pain points, the same as it would for consumers. The first step is to understand your employees’ needs, the second step is equipping them with the proper tools to successfully do their job. The important takeaway is that, “although associates report to the CEO, they actually work for the customer,” as Theo Killion, retired CEO of Zales said during the Eminent Ex’s presentation.

Our POV: Employees play a critical role in creating a Meaningful and Human brand experience. In our quest to innovate technologically, it’s critical to not forget this fundamental first line resource.

Success is the child of audacity. The retailers that thrive are the ones that take risks – they declare daring, even shocking visions for their future. In doing so, they are the ones that set the pace for the industry – not the ones struggling to keep up. What is your audacious vision? We’d love to help you realize it.

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