By  on June 13, 2018

Retail is a complicated business. But in a landscape that’s comprised of picky consumers, sweltering competition and high-stakes strategies, finding one’s footing is more than a simple matter of playing catch-up. Instead, it requires c-level executives in many cases to admit defeat — or at least confusion — regarding digital advancements and instilling positive change management in order for once siloed departments to work in the same sandbox, without issue.Complicated, yes. Impossible, no. It’s these evolutions in the market that are inspiring new solutions. This year, WWD’s Retail 20/20: The New Store Experience event, being held today in New York City, focuses on the factors shaking up the retail market while showcasing insights from thought leaders inside the industry as well as how to navigate change.From breaking the old rules of retail to the retail renaissance, speakers David Olsen, chief executive officer of Cos Bar, and Rati Levesque, chief merchant of The Real Real will examine how the landscape has shifted.“The biggest change is that retail is now 100 percent driven by the customer and the experience they need and want. They drive the conversation on digital and social channels, and it is important as a retailer to be constantly listening and innovating to exceed their needs. It's what has made retailers successful in the past, but now laser focus is required,” Olsen explained.The future for retail is bright — if it permits itself to shine. And while wiping the slate clean might not be easy, survival and success go down easier than bankruptcy. Karla Gallardo, chief executive officer and cofounder of Cuyana plans to take a hard look at the future of retail during her presentation with this in mind.Retail would be nigh without the heavily coveted — and courted — consumer. Keeping the shopper experience at the center of business operations and plans is crucial for not only devising brand loyalty, but also general success. With an influx of data comes the necessity to crunch increasingly large sets of it — quickly.“[Retail locations need to] unlock the power of analytics and digital platforms to deliver anticipatory and personalized experiences. This is much easier for vertically integrated retailers, but more challenging for brands that are intermediated,” said Elana Gorbatyuk, senior vice president of strategy at Sid Lee, an international creative agency that counts the North Face, Honda and Samsung Galaxy among its clients. “As an intermediated brand, it’s important to work on creating ways to share data and co-develop programs with a people-first approach, not a systems-first approach.” Gorbatyuk will be discussing how to break tradition to curate purposeful retail experiences during the conference.It’s one thing to draw in a consumer; it’s entirely different to keep them engaged. To do this, brands and retailers need to deliver unique and inspiring omnichannel experiences aimed at bringing to life its general ethos, but also concentrating on the customer.Summit speaker Matt Corey, chief marketing officer of PGA Tour Superstore, said, “The current challenge for retailers is whether or not they truly know their customers, and what their customers want from them — in a seamless omnichannel experience, in a bricks-and-mortar environment that has ‘experiences’ they cannot get when shopping online[…]Retailers have to be tireless about wondering if they are delivering the best possible overall shopping experience for their audiences, period. They have to continue to ask questions and talk to their customers. And they have to think about experiences that their customers don't even know they want yet.”Fred Gerantabee, global vice president of digital innovation at Coty Inc., echoed Corey's sentiments. "I believe that the continued rise of the experiential store and the rise of integrated services between retail and e-commerce are where we’re seeing the most growth. The desire to bring behavior over from e-commerce (product selection, recommendations, cross-selling, same-day delivery) is strong, as the line between physical and digital shopping experiences has all but nearly dissolved. Consumers over the last 15 years have become accustomed to the online shopping experience, and it can be a letdown if their visits to a brick and mortar store is anything less." Gerantabee will be further discussing the merging between the physical and online worlds for the sake of the shopper experience in his talk during the summit.Experiential retail is becoming the new “omnichannel” strategic mind-set. And for good reason. As Generation Z matures and gains more spending power, their penchant for engaging in unique branding opportunities will swell, too. For Jose Castro, senior vice president of fashion and lifestyle licensing and global fashion collaborations at Nickelodeon, experiential retail serves as a “third screen,” the topic that he will explore during his talk at Retail 20/20.“We [Nickelodeon] consider retail our third screen meaning that retail is the platform we use to take our characters and stories and transform them into tactile, sensory experiences that cement the audience’s bond to our brand,” Castro explained. “To help us get to scale very quickly, we partnered with JoJo Siwa, a social influencer, who had 90 million views when we met her and now she has over 1.2 billion. JoJo is emerging as a multi-platform powerhouse brand who spans on-air and in-person appearances […] We have developed products inspired by the things she likes to wear and make for herself which fans can pick up at a variety of different retailers globally.”Keeping the consumer at the center of all business strategies — even those that seem unrelated on the surface — is imperative, despite the challenges in deploying new software and processes that will enforce such a change.A basic feature update like improving search functionality will do wonders, Gorbatyuk explained, “Thoughtful navigation that delights and adds emotional peaks or removes friction points [are crucial]. Over-investing in navigation and way-finding increases memorable experiences in stores that translate to repeat visits and increased positive word-of-mouth and sharing. Amazon Go, Recipease in London, as well as The Line are good examples.”For Olsen, tapping a suite of technologies to enhance consumer experiences has been key. “Cos Bar has implemented new technologies like Stella Connect and RetailNext that drive our ability to better understand our customer and gives us the information we need to acknowledge and reward our staff for providing the best customer experience,” he said. “The customer is always right, you can't be everything to everyone, and your people are everything. Know your customer and focus on their needs, and make sure that you have the best staff in place to ensure they deliver on the promise of providing the best luxury beauty shopping experience.”To furnish enhanced consumers experiences, retailers and brands would be best to not ignore the competition, but instead, compare best practices and where the others are winning. Developing a hyper-awareness of strategies, methodologies, and technological advancements, merchants will find themselves less and less in the game of catch-up and instead in a proactive position to flex creative approaches to product — and perhaps most importantly — brand experiences.More from WWD:AI, Visual Search and Retail's Next Big StepTop Takeaways from WWD's Retail 20/20: The New Store ExperienceDebunking Retail's Silver Bullets

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