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How Retail Can Succeed in an Amazon World
The most successful retailers will be those who can create a seamless shopping experience among their online, mobile, social, and physical channels.
With its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon advanced yet another step toward its pursuit of retail domination. We are the Everything Store, and we are coming for your customers, the move seemed to say. So how does one stay relevant in the face of Amazon’s relentless, full-court press?
The good news: Amazon doesn’t do everything yet, and smart retailers will pick up that slack and find ways to turn it to their advantage. The trick is to marry the old and the new, and to do it proactively. Utilizing new technologies and data is critical, but so is creating enjoyable, personal, real-world experiences and touch points that will keep your customer coming back.
Here are five ways to thrive in today’s retail landscape:
1. Data: Collect it, analyze it, employ it.
A customer creates data points with every click and purchase; the retailers who can navigate and harness information at this intersection of data and consumer will reap the biggest rewards. In 2012 the New York Times reported that Target was predicting which customers might be pregnant in their second trimesters by analyzing purchases made together, such as unscented lotions, vitamin supplements, and cotton balls. With this knowledge the brand was able to target those soon-to-be parents with coupons and promotions for baby goods and related items, and they were able to do it before their competitors did, leading to a massive increase in sales and brand loyal customers.
You can gain incredible insights by responsibly analyzing consumer behaviors, locations, mobile apps and GPS, and online and in-store purchasing, to name a few. Use this data to pinpoint when and how best to reach your customers, increase the ROI of your marketing campaigns, target customers shopping at competitors, improve customer service, and predict future purchases and buying trends.
2. Turn your store into an omnichannel experience.
The lure of Amazon’s online convenience has contributed to its success, but brick-and-mortar isn’t going away just yet. People still like to go to stores to see and touch and taste and try. What has changed is the consumer’s desire to access products in multiple platforms and places. Research by Oracle found that “more personalized and connected mobile, online, and in-store experiences would increase brand loyalty and increase the likelihood to shop at a particular retailer for nearly 90% of customers.”
A typical awareness-to-purchase chain might look like this: see an item on social media, go to the store’s site to read reviews, then go try it out in-store. The most successful retailers will be those who can create a seamless shopping experience among their online, mobile, social, and physical channels. Data again plays a huge role here: analyze digital and physical consumer behaviors, location, and mobile data to craft a personalized experience for your customer. If she shows interest in a product by liking it on Instagram, have digital content and offers in place to follow up with her through other digital channels. Build cross-platform strategies via loyalty programs, which can be accessed digitally or in-store to establish brand loyalty and increase a customer’s likeliness to shop.
With so many options, customers can afford to be choosy about where and how they shop— it’s up to retailers to meet them wherever they are.
3. Make the shopping experience simple, enjoyable, and personal.
People don’t want to feel like numbers on a spreadsheet. Online shopping has increased convenience at the expense of personal connection and service, but that human interaction still matters in a big way. InMoment found in its 2017 Retail Trends Report that customer satisfaction increased 33% when there was a positive experience with staff. Moreover, 54% of all consumers (and 65% of Millennials) “value staff who are knowledgeable of products and services, recognize past purchasing patterns and needs, and are aware of loyalty membership status.”
This is an area where smaller retailers can definitely take on the Amazon behemoth. In addition to instituting online and in-store loyalty programs, encourage employees to reach out to customers to better help them and make that personal connection. Set up an online chat center that makes it fast and easy for customers to get in touch with you. Go a step further and pair customers with specific employees, so those customers have a single, trusted touch point who can answer questions and make future recommendations. Even minor touches, like enclosing a handwritten thank you note in shipped packages, can impress. Efforts like this, though small, make an impact and help you stand out in a crowded field of retailers.
4. Create content that goes beyond a product pitch.
Shoppers are savvier than ever, and they’re bombarded with ads and sales pitches. Give them a reason to get to know your brand that’s not merely pushing product. Tell interesting stories about what you offer, or highlight the creators behind your products. Invite innovators in your industry to contribute blog posts or recommendations. Write articles that give useful answers to common questions or that address trends in your industry.
This is a key part of the strategy of women’s clothing retailer M.M. LaFleur, who brought in $70M in 2017. In addition to an e-commerce site, clothing subscription service, and brick-and-mortar pop-up shops (there’s that omnichannel again), the company issues a weekly online magazine that profiles professional women and offers career and style advice. According to M.M. LaFleur’s creative director, this magazine has a sales conversion rate on par with the company’s sales emails.
Establishing yourself as an authentic voice and expert in your sector tells consumers that you’re participating in the community, not merely peddling products. Creating this trust and authority could sway a customer into your marketplace.
5. Where you can, do what Amazon does.
Like it or not, Amazon’s policies of convenience and value have become baseline expectations for many consumers. Amazon is a juggernaut, and your company may not be able to mirror all of those policies—but where possible, meet them on their level. Choose a few areas where you can offer what Amazon does, like free 2-day shipping, simple returns, customer reviews, and/or product suggestions. Show your customers that they’re getting some of the benefits that they would at Amazon, plus so much more: additional service, touchpoints, content, and a streamlined, personalized, omnichannel shopping experience.
We are in an era where the Internet is turning much of retail into faceless, nameless transactions; positive, personal interactions stand out in a customer’s mind and can turn your store into their destination. Create these moments, and you won’t just be relevant in the retail game of tomorrow—you’ll be a major player.
 “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” New York Times
 “What Brick and Mortar Retailers Can Learn from Amazon,” Oracle
 “2017 Retail Trends Report: Why Human Interaction and the In-Store Experience Still Matter,” InMoment
 “How This $70 Million Startup Transformed the Way Women Shop for Work,” Inc. Magazine