By  on June 1, 2012

Brick-and-mortar retailers can survive the digital era by incorporating aspects of reaching consumers online as an avenue to drive both in-store and Web sales. It is crucial to involve the vendor community and tap the assets they are developing, too.

That’s the takeaway from a panel lead by Jo Horgan, founder and chief executive officer of Mecca Cosmetica, along with Louis Desazars, ceo of Nars Cosmetics, and Wendy Liebmann, ceo of WSL Strategic Retail.

Horgan inspired discussion, asking how retailers can avoid becoming the dinosaurs of the Aughts, especially in markets where ordering online is not only easier but sometimes less expensive.

“Retail is no longer real estate,” suggested Liebmann. “What we are hearing is that if all we do is focus on the physical store, we will not engage customers. We have to build a different level of relationships and engagements.”

Desazars said, “Makeup is the perfect category to do that because it is visual and playful. I am amazed by the energy and the power of makeup as a category to engage customers.”

That visual aspect was a key component of a successful Nars program at Mecca, he said, which helped consumers find fresh new beauty looks that were brought to life by makeup artists in the stores. Horgan added that the makeup artistry was something “tangible” in the stores. “It allowed us to pull new customers into store and focus on our expertise artistry. And as a result we did over 2,000 applications that month and the average basket was $280.” Artistry, she noted, has become a key driver of her business that gets shoppers into stores — 20 percent of the business is through events and applications focusing on artistry.

Liebmann used her expertise in other categories to deliver ideas for merging the digital and in-store experiences. She showed a German fish market that pumped in a “sound shower” to evoke the feeling of the sea. “We’ve distanced ourselves from sense of immediacy in the stores, where we’re so afraid people are going to spritz us so don’t make us too smelly, and yet it’s such an asset that we have in beauty,” she suggested. “That kind of multidimensional level of engagement is what the store has to be about. Otherwise I don’t really have to go to the store anymore,” she said.

“This notion of it’s either online or in the store, it’s the old speak, it’s not relevant anymore,” she continued. “It has to be one driving the other. Digital allows us to have that conversation all the time.”

Horgan added, “As a retailer, yes, we absolutely have to look at the whole digital arena, but to the other point, to make actual stores relevant we have to be so much sharper in what we do and take the assets that we can use online and really bring them alive off line, in store.”

Liebmann also noted many consumers research online first then go for the experience. “For every dollar spent online, the people who go online to research, spend $4 in the store,” she said. She mentioned what she called the elephant in the room — Amazon and how the digital giant is now opening stores. “It’s comforting to know they need stores,” Horgan said jokingly.

Whether digital is a panacea or not, the experts agreed the goal is to try everything in engaging the shopper. Desazars said, “You have to try, and if it doesn’t work, you pull the plug. That’s the great thing about digital, you have to keep trying.”

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