TUCSON, Ariz. — What the in-store experience means is becoming less clear as what defines a store continues to change.
Thus, the question of “What’s in store” was the theme driving the series of panels and talks taking place during this year’s annual Global Retailing Conference, which kicked off Thursday at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa. The University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing’s conference brings together about 450 executives from fashion, retail, tech and academia in addition to students for a two-day think tank on the industry’s future.
A diverse panel of executives ranging from HSNi Inc. chief executive officer and director Mindy Grossman to Tractor Supply ceo Greg Sandfort talked strategy of how they’re improving their respective shopping experiences.
“We try to create a little theater inside the store,” Sandfort said, adding that idea goes back to his days working at Federated Department Stores.
Tractor Supply, which sells agriculture and livestock supplies, serves a consumer base that tends to reside outside of large cities or suburban communities and they actually enjoy traveling the 15 or 20 miles to come to one of the company’s stores, Sandfort said.
The company in October launched a buy online, pick up in store program to make trips more efficient for customers.
“It’s one channel; there’s not multiple channels anymore,” Sandfort said.”
For HSNi, which is comprised of its Home Shopping network and five catalogue businesses, the company’s now doing a lot of work to get into the physical retail business. How it thinks about that strategy differs from perhaps how executives may have viewed that channel in the past.
“We’re not opening a store; we’re opening a destination,” Grossman said.
She pointed to the Ballard Designs home decor business, which has a design studio at the center of its store allowing for thousands of customization options and monogramming. There are also classes that take place there.
“You have to think about how do you make it a…community? How do you use theater? How do you really understand what is going to excite your consumer?” she said.
“The key for us is mobile is our flagship,” Grossman went on to say. “It is the first device we look at in the morning.…We think of everything mobile first even though we have a huge content generation machine [in HSN].”
To get to that place of being what Grossman said is platform agnostic and audience centric, a lot will rest on how well companies are able to personalize the experience. HSNi works very closely with IBM’s Watson team.
“We have to go from one broadcast or one communication to 96 million people, to 96 million personalized experiences,” Grossman said. “And that’s very different. We’ve had to build out a team….It’s very important that when we communicate, it’s at a very personal level because that’s what people expect today. Everyone today is our competitor. If [customers] had an experience on Uber or Airbnb, that’s a competitor.”
For BJ’s Wholesale Club, the answer is in personalizing store assortments to reflect the communities they’re in. As BJ’s increasingly focuses on inner-city locations and serving more Hispanic customers and an overall more informed customer base, that means thinking about real estate strategy and product buys more carefully, explained BJ’s Wholesale Club chief executive officer Chris Baldwin.
“Technology is changing dramatically the work we do inside of our operation,” Lundgren said. “Machine learning is putting on a whole new layer. We used to outsource this work. We now have a person in charge of data and analytics reporting to the ceo. It’s about individual consumers; it’s no longer about your average consumer.”
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