The Amazon Store, The Twitter Café, and other 2012 tales of retail evolution.
Attention wannabe dotcomtrepreneurs: It’s time to start thinking inside the box my friends as your future will indeed include a key and open-for-business sign, not just a cloud and front end.
Welcome to the era of the small box. When even the most unlikely of the ecommerce gods come down to Earth, delve into perhaps humble brick and mortar and cause some serious tremors on the retail landscape. Yes, it’s 2012 on the Retail Richter scale and that means dramatic changes that will at once reward and modify our shopping behavior forever.
But before we stroll into the Craig’s List Emporium or Amazon-mart, know that all retailers will still be practically myopic about analytics-based e-tailing: How to convert us into loyalty members and digital device shoppers, leverage emotional membership and redeemable points, earn mobile access, capture facebook follows, activate shopping apps, pump laser targeted price and items, and generally optimize the signal-to-noise ratio on a million and one BOGOs. Say hello to my little regression analysis.
The payoff for consumers will revolve around the one attribute to rule them all… convenience. The last word in table-stakes, convenience means mini markets getting bigger, and bigger markets getting faster. It means curbside service expanding beyond the restaurant sector and the home’s Chief Spending Officer (a.k.a. mom) who is already in the car more than 22 hours per week, searching for more ways to drive less. It means there are more easy-pay apps and a whole lot a click’n going on.
But the mother of all seismic shifts will see online empires taking their game to the streets. We’re talking about ecommerce brands that five minutes ago seemed to be trumpeting their low overhead-high efficiency model as retail’s be-all end-all. (Think Amazon’s $855 thousand in revenue per every employee verses Walmart’s $12 thousand for every employee).
The fact is, even with the rush to e-tailing and social and digital integration, the best ecommerce pure plays understand the need to offer live shopping experiences to model the poster child for retail destination brands… Apple stores and their mind-blowing $7,500 per square foot juggernaut.
Coming right up, Amazon will likely open their first store in Seattle as speculated and highlight high-margin items, act as a fresh portal for the brand, offer Kindle support, and enable same-day delivery when you swipe your Amazon Prime app. You didn’t think Amazon just opened those five distribution centers (each one more than 1,000,000 square feet) for nothing, did you?
eBay already had a pop-up store in London’s West End last December, and other top ten web pure plays could soon morph themselves into straight up retailers. A Google Store would bring the magic of their peerless HQ to life: Scrolling real time searches from around the world projected on the wall, whole grain inspired snacks and licensed merchandise. Seriously, who’s not going to stop by to see what the world’s fastest growing brand has in store? Twitter Café – a true third place news hub with coffee and a (sorry) tweet roll. Or the YouTube store, 4,000 square feet dedicated to helping users set up their personalized YouTube pages and manage their content (and perhaps unwittingly see a few third party ads while there.)
In terms of immediate fiscal ROI, none of these concepts need drive serious revenue as stand alone ventures to be successful, and in some cases perhaps not even hang around (note the continued rise of the pop-up store). This is about brand relationships that pay far greater dividends.
Here’s what the Amazons of the world understand: Brick and mortars deliver the unbeatable combination of instant gratification and tactile familiarity. (Try sampling a Burrito on the web, getting haircut, trying on jeans or smelling the coffee). Brick and mortar gets you endless media reach. (Think Starbucks advertising defined primarily as cups and store signs). Brick and mortar brings all the senses into play, creating a stronger brand experience and richer memories. (Nordstrom’s legendary customer service that can’t be replicated online even with 1,001 live help windows. Same for Moe’s Southwest Grill’s legendary music mix).
The thing to remember is this: Dimenionalizing a brand is not an either/or proposition. It’s not store OR web. It’s not mobile app OR SMS. The big winners will be cross-platform retailers as they push themselves into multiple and integrated consumer touch points, orchestrating advertising, media, and operations to form a killer value proposition that succeeds on a multitude of layers.
Imagine a cross-platform consumer electronics retailer using prime time TV (they know that 86 percent of all smart device users are “on” while watching TV) to hit you with a promotion on a flatscreen TV, driving you to their site: Suddenly you’re watching the 1:00 p.m. game in 2D knowing that the new 3D TV will be delivered to your door before the 4:00 p.m. kick-off (premium delivery option). Broadcast to iPad, iPad to the cloud, cloud to the store, store to your den, one more mobile ping to measure customer satisfaction and all of it cataloged in the retailer’s database. Somewhere Pavlov is smiling.
It’s not disruption anymore, it’s eruption. Where even the most unlikely pure play online brands add the touch and feel element of your corner store. Where they combine not just digital and social touch points, but also analog customer service and genuine social connectivity, i.e. live humans.
So for all of you marketers who believe that perhaps the great retail quakes are behind us, not so fast buckaroos. This is it. Right now. As the most successful retail brands build on convenience, enabled through technology, delivered to your fingertips, available to touch in store, but to purchase anywhere in the world. And all of it creating consumer digital footprints that are more reliable than DNA and more valuable than A+ real estate.
Yes, the ground below is shifting and the call-to-arms is simple… everyone into the box! Incredibly enough… it’s just the beginning.