To many kids, much of their world revolves around music and the artists who create it, and I was no different. However, most of the time, I did not go for the pop music in the charts. At some point, I was introduced to the punk rock scene, with its in-your-face opinions, appearances, and uncompromising music.
Admittedly, I’m not sure I would appreciate today some of the bands I thought were great then. But the thing is, when I was introduced to the scene, it was already declared dead by many. However it just kept on moving forward; new bands and fans would join in, and concerts and festivals continued to come up at venues big and small.
Fast-forward quite a few years. I hardly fit the “kid” tag anymore. And some of the world’s biggest music acts are punk rockers, even though they originate from a music scene that was supposedly gone before many of their fans were born.
They did not buy into the fact that their scene was already dead. Instead, they kept tenaciously moving forward, coming up with new genres, and establishing worldwide fan bases. When they were told the existing system of music production and distribution would never work for them, they said, well, you-know-what to that system.
Retail Is Not Dead
You may ask yourself how in the world all this relates to the struggling retail market. Think about the obvious parallels.
In my humble opinion, retail is not dead or dying, it is transforming. Retail brands that do not acknowledge this may find themselves becoming one of the extinct retail dinosaurs very soon.
Those who do acknowledge being part of a changing world, who are putting effort into rethinking and reinventing themselves, will find many opportunities to thrive. People will not stop buying things, just as the punk rock fans did not stop listening to music that enabled them to express themselves. However, the retailer needs to start listening to the customer first.
Working in the borderlands of strategy, design, and storytelling, I naturally apply design thinking to almost everything I do. Eventually, I understood that what I should do as a designer was not so much create things that people could see, read, or hear. Rather, I needed to create that which makes people feel. Design is not just about surfaces and functions, it is very much about painting with emotion. Even when working with advanced technology, in the end, it is all about people. Unless you provide an AI bot with a wallet to make some purchases, I think any retailer would agree.
The Big Shift
Part of being a designer is the discipline of observation. Step back, hold your tongue, look, listen, and learn. My overall observation of the retail industry right now is that, even though many may have read great books on experience design, experience economy, and customer experience, they still put their products and businesses at the centre of their universe—which is where their customers should be.
This is the big shift in retail—the customers, empowered by digital, mobile, and social media, have grasped more power of their own. For the first time since consumerism struck in the aftermath of the second world war, the agents and beneficiaries of consumerism are no longer leading the pack. In fact, they can hardly keep up. They are sticking with formulae developed and applied in the last quarter of the 20th century. With it, the respect for the customer went downhill. Old service skills went out the window, and many stores could hardly be bothered to do more about their presence than putting their wares up on shelves. A new system was born—a system of complacency and recurring habits that was designed to fail eventually.
Am I being harsh here? Ask the home electronics customer who is expected to pick up a flatscreen in a frenzy, without any real expertise in sight. Ask the woman looking for a new dress who finds that no one in the shop can be bothered to help. Ask the grocery shopper who has to do everything without assistance and still ring a bell for a good service experience. Ask anyone who, knowingly or unknowingly, is ready to spend money but do not find themselves treated as treasured customers.
No wonder then, that when that big shop in the internet sky comes along to offer better pricing and convenience, these customers turn their backs on the system.
Create Your Fan Base
It is time for you to do the same, if you want part of the valuable tomorrow that does, indeed, exist for the progressive and innovative retailer. You need to turn your back on the established system and start something new. You would not want to desperately hang on to the less-than-loyal customers. You should take customer relationship further. You should create your own fan base!
The key to success in creating a fan base for retail, bricks and mortar, online or both, lies within your capability to create a valuable space for customers to visit again and again.
Take a good look at your retail space. What are its purposes in delivering great experiences from a customer perspective, compared to merely pushing products?
You need to go beyond thinking in terms of attracting people. Become a retail destination, a place where people would gladly journey to by means of cars, buses, and trains to spend some time. And with people willing to spend their time, spending their money is next.
I would kindly like to ask you to become the punk rocker of the retail industry. Throw away the old system, or at least the parts of it that do not work. It is time for you to reinvent your retail space and, in doing so, invigorate your business. Retail is not dead. Not yet, anyway.