The only thing certain about the future of retail is that it's going to be exciting. Here are three tips to help you get started on the future now.
We are all familiar with stories of the smart refrigerator, ordering milk and butter when needed. Jodie Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey, which allow customers to design their own shoes, sees a day when we’ll have talking closets and dressers. For instance, she said at NRF’s Big Show, a dresser might say, “I checked your calendar today and I know all the events you’ve got on. It’s going to snow, so you’re going to need closed-toe shoes.” Oh by the way, Fox said, the dresser will also have checked with the dressers and closets of others coming to the event to make sure you don’t show up in the same outfit. OK, we’ve got a ways to go before we get there. The point of Fox’s story was that data is the key to giving customers what they want. Personalization is just getting started. Data will be used in ways we’re now just starting to imagine. But until then, retailers need to use the data they have in the boldest ways possible, she said during a session called “Tailoring the 21 Century Customer Experience.” Here from Fox’s presentation with Drew Green, CEO of Indochino, which lets customers help tailor their own suits, are three takeaways: Customer experience can’t be an afterthought: When Indochino added brick-and-mortar to its online business in 2014, it focused on providing the same kind of experience in-store as online. So, “style guides” help customers through the process of sizing their suit. “We really think about our business as selling an experience as much as we’re selling a product,” he says. Data is the key to real personalization: Yes, Shoes of Prey works hard on building buyer personas and personalizing to those customer segments. But they don’t stop there, Fox says. Data can drive personalization deeper, all the way to the individual level. It starts with the persona, she says, “and then going in and making sure we’re having those one-to-one recommendations.” Think like a startup: Green says Indochino is not afraid to try new things — like opening brick-and-mortar stores. But the company also likes to do what it does well and find partners with different expertise that can help with things not in its sweet spot. Indochino works, for instance, with Chinese clothes-maker Dayang Group to make sure it can keep up with demand for custom suits. “I do think partnerships are key to success.” Fox believes in remaining nimble, though at Shoes of Prey, it resulted in a move that was the opposite of Indochino’s move. Shoes of Prey is closing its brick-and-mortar stores after finding that its customers are increasingly comfortable designing and buying their shoes online. The thing with visions of the future is that sometimes they arrive before we expect them to. That said, we can all be sure that retail and the technology powering it will continue to evolve at warp speed. There is no time like today to try to get out in front of it. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach's storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.