Earlier this year Toys“R”Us shuttered all of its U.S. stores.
But the news that Toys“R”Us closed its doors should not come as a complete surprise. With the rise of e-commerce, retail has seen a shift as the majority (51 percent) of Americans now prefer to shop online. The top factors driving this trend are the ability to shop 24/7, compare prices, find sales and have a greater variety of options.
Toys“R”Us made a choice as the e-commerce market was heating up in the early 2000s to double-down on price over value. By choosing to focus on price, Toys“R”Us entered into a losing battle — the price war against Amazon and the big-box stores like Walmart and Target. This strategy ultimately led to its demise.
To avoid the fate of Toys“R”Us, it’s time for other specialty brick-and-mortar retailers to learn from this closure and identify ways to create value for consumers. By focusing on developing a people-first customer experience and embracing technology innovation, retailers can avoid the price race to the bottom mentality, and learn how to foster brand loyalty.
In recent years, retailers have often looked for ways to create operationalized value in-store — ultimately, this has often led to cutting down sales associates. However, for brick-and-mortar retailers, the personal shopping experience is more important than ever. Customers want one-on-one assistance, and to do this the right way, associates needs access to product information at their fingertips, without having to leave the customer alone on the floor. Once a sales associate has to “go out back,” the customer is already out the door and ordering the product online.
A 2016 Accenture study showed that 83 percent of consumers prefer dealing with human beings to answer customer service needs — they want a personalized experience. Retailers can solve this by updating marketing materials with messaging around a VIP experience and investing in client services solutions, but first they need to identify the root cause for this consumer demand. At the end of the day, people want to feel valued, and for retailers to recognize their needs and make them a priority. Simply giving retail associates access to a customer’s buying history doesn’t ensure a personalized experience, especially if store employees have no real ability or desire to use this information for the customer’s greater good.
But not just any organization can create a culture and emotional connection that spans beyond its products. In today’s increasingly saturated marketplace, this separates the inspiring from the forgotten. For a consumer to believe you are the best, regardless of how they feel about each individual product, sales associates need to instill a commitment to customer satisfaction. With the right tools to instill confidence, retail employees will engage more readily and more often. After all, consistency builds trust and trust builds loyalty.
Support with Tech Innovation
Technology, specifically advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, now has the ability to empower retail sales associates to control consumer engagement in-store. Rather than pushing customers to use their own tech to find answers or lower prices, retailers need to take back the conversation from consumers, and use technology as a tool to help engage with shoppers.
To achieve this clientele-style of selling across channels, retailers need to empower their associates with the content and tools needed to reshape the shopping experience. Many AI-based sales enablement platforms are equipped with collaboration and coaching functions to train employees to get to know the customers and connect with them in the store environment. With these guided selling features, associates are able to quickly match products and promotions to shoppers based on their histories, buying preferences and style selections.
The ability to have customer information automatically delivered to their mobile devices thanks to AI is key for associates to conduct clientele activities efficiently. In the changing retail landscape, sustained success will go to those companies that adopt intelligent, automated and agile ways to service their customers. Arming retail employees with the right technology ensures they are a valuable part of the customer’s in-store experience.
As other retailers, especially big-box category killers with a similar, narrow focus, reflect on the missteps of Toys“R”Us, it is important for them to remember that focusing on price does not equate to success. Retailers need to be focused on providing value to the customer by creating an in-store culture, and supporting it with technology brands that can create a superior experience that will ultimately foster brand loyalty.