Retailers, Things Just Got Real(time)
In a recent RetailDive article, author Daphne Howland asked an intriguing question: Are physical stores the innovation labs of the future?
Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes.”
We’ve seen many e-commerce retail businesses creating brick-and-mortar locations after they became a hit online. Bonobos, Birchbox, Frank & Oak and even Amazon now have real doors that shoppers can walk through. Why the inclusion of physical stores in the mix? Two reasons. The first is a re-re-realization (we weren’t sure there for a while) that shoppers indeed want a hands-on experience. They seek entertainment, instant gratification, personal interaction with brands and the opportunity to “try before they buy.” In-store delivers.
The second reason is the one showcased in the RetailDive piece: brick-and-mortar stores and pop-ups create an ideal setting – a lab – for testing and evaluating new ideas, shopper behavior and product performance.
The concept is one adapted from the tech industry – “fail fast.” This simply means quickly get it – whatever it may be – in front of the people, see how they respond, learn from mistakes, retool and try again. And again. And usually again.
In our real-time world, I believe the “fail fast” model is a necessity for retail marketers. The landscape is constantly shifting, and new challenges arise every day. The retailer who waits until all avenues have been explored and all facts are in will never make a move. Opportunities will be squandered, and braver competitors will surge ahead.
And I don’t think bravery is a Game of Thrones-induced overstatement. Bold attitudes and actions – oh, like considering your physical store an incubation lab – are required. (Along with a superhero-like combination of agility, fortitude, vision and resilience.) The retail business has forever changed. And so must the way we approach marketing and information gathering.
The RetailDive article made a compelling call-to-action for retailers to embrace the idea of the in-store innovation lab, eloquently answering the “why?” question. Which made me think about the “whats?” and the “hows?”
So what are the most important elements a retail marketer needs to introduce a level of experimentation into the marketing mix?
Supportive management. The management team – including those in the C-suite – must understand and fully support the idea of using store space as an innovation lab, a place for experimentation, or the effort will fail. At first, they may only see resource costs, lost floor space and distraction from the critical day-to-day. They need to be convinced, and a powerful way to do that is to show the numbers. The smart retail marketer will highlight efficiencies, underscore projected savings and sales and demonstrate the dollar value of the information gathered.
Capable sales associates and enthusiastic store managers. The “on-the-ground” team must support (physically and attitudinally) the in-store experimentation effort. Maximize their participation by helping them understand the value of the “experiment,” seeking their input and making clear the impact of the learnings and their important place in gathering them.
A production machine. This is all about moving fast; presenting, learning, adjusting, and presenting again. Signage, display, sensors, lighting, event plans, execution strategies – they’re all in play. Create systems and secure partners that can move fast and respond faster.
Immunity to failure. Because in this instance, it doesn’t exist. In the lab of experimentation, there are only discoveries, proof and inspiration.