When was the last time you actually went to the mall? Chances are you’ve gone there semi-recently, but not nearly as much as, say, 10 years ago — maybe even five. Anybody with a smartphone — and that’s a lot of you — can see that the way you shop and engage with a brand is changing rapidly, mostly because it’s going on in the palm of your hand. Once consumers got to the point of easily getting all their holiday gifts or entire grocery order online, it became clear there isn’t a primary need for those old brick-and-mortar spots anymore. While gleaming, well-stocked storefronts still have their appeal (and despite the most dire predictions they’ll probably never really go away), slow-moving brands are being forced to rapidly adapt to the challenges of e-commerce, or go extinct.
Brand dynamics mean that shoppers increasingly want a greater level of personal relevance than ever. Shopping on an iPad is simply more intimate and easier than browsing in a store. Granted, if brands like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have successfully shifted to digital strategies, there are always others like J.C. Penney or Toys ‘R’ Us that saw such inaction help ruin them. But the problem isn’t solely a lack of digital expertise.
Struggling retailers teetering between progress and collapse got stuck in the middle between establishing themselves as convenient value propositions or delivering repetitive, often gimmicky shopping experiences. It was one way or the other, and it couldn’t be both. It’s gotten to the point now that even established retailers are being pushed out by brands like Warby Parker, Untuckit or Fabletics that started out online but implemented physical stores as a key growth strategy.
But all is not lost, yet, for brands out there that lack a vibrant and healthy digital plan of attack. Consumers are galvanized by a booming economy, thousands of stores are opening and dozens of brick-and-mortar brands continue to thrive because the way to survive is right there for the taking: targeting the right customers.
Where customers go, brands must follow. The same goes for brands needing to provide what shoppers demand. Recognizing a need to pivot to a customer-first mentality is the first step, but how that approach is implemented is what leads to a brand’s success. This goes beyond having great in-person experiences at IRL retail spaces, which are important but don’t necessarily turn onetime shoppers into lifelong customers.
Establishing a robust digital presence has never been more important than it is right now. A store’s interactions that have traditionally been face-to-face, such as returning items or browsing for different sizes, have eased into becoming entirely digital.
For an established brand to translate an in-store experience to a stylish digital personality is difficult. A “cool factor” goes a long way, but only so far. By reinforcing the strategy of maintaining and optimizing every possible digital touchpoint, the brand is instantly connected to the shopper in a multitude of ways. That access is important, but the question remains: how does a brand establish an actionable holistic view of their coveted repeat customers?
Connecting the Data Dots
From user accounts to social networks, progressive retailers have already compiled thousands of new touch points for their customers based on data. But that alone isn’t enough: For brands and retailers processing huge amounts of data in real time, the challenge is to identify who and what is relevant.
Targeted algorithms can accurately calculate a comprehensive view of a customer’s potential future purchase with high probability. In turn, that provides an array of personalized advertising opportunities for brands to reconnect and reinforce that data connection, and this is the key to maintaining customer lifetime value.
By using this data information to convey the right messages at the right time in the right channels, brands will all but guarantee a beneficial analysis of a customer’s behavior. This undoubtedly beats one-size-fits-all, purely observational storefront strategies and sales figures that could never be as granular. Data like that can simply be used to capture actionable, customer-first demographic insights. By targeting customers with messaging and products that are consistently meaningful to them, it will use that strong relationship to drive broader brand growth.
For aging retail brands to survive, they need to do some soul-searching and reevaluate how to deliver their audiences what they want. You run the risk of oversimplifying a complex problem, but giving consumers what they want is a winning strategy only if you know how to do that in the current hypercompetitive retail landscape. Unless brands are willing to adopt customer-first, data-driven retail strategies that stress customer analytics, then the doors to your favorite retail spot will be a thing of the past.
Corey Pierson is the founder and ceo of Custora.