The confluence of offline and online experiences was the overriding theme of the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual Big Show this year, as retailers sought to capitalise on the popularity of online commerce while continuing to offer top-notch in-store shopping experiences.
The term “click-and-mortar,” playing on the traditional “brick-and-mortar” term for a physical retail presence was dominant throughout the event, driving home the importance of breaking down the online/offline barriers in providing the customer with sheer convenience.
Top executives said that today’s flourishing retail industry reflects companies’ efforts to learn more about their customers and better serve them. The retail sector is “thriving and winning,” said Chris Baldwin, chairman and CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club – and the outgoing NRF chairman. “Retail is recognised as one of the most consumer-centric and innovative industries in the world today. As an industry, we’ve invested billions and billions of dollars over the past decade. This massive investment has started to transform our industry, and it has changed the way consumers shop and how they live.”
Customers at retailers of all stripes have benefitted from investments to enhance the shopping experience, according to Baldwin. “As a result of our investments, consumers today quite simply have more. They have more access to products, they have more information, they have more speed and they have more convenience. The last is a big one, 83% of consumers say convenience is more important to them now than it was five years ago, and all of this translates to more power for the consumer. Think of it this way. Today, the largest retailers in the world will bring your purchases to the curb for you. They will shoot virtually anything to your home. They will also have it there today or the next day – and, of course, all of this is offered with free shipping. The new consumer power is felt in every area of this great industry.”
“Retailers are taking the lead in personalisation, new technologies that will give the consumer even more power,” stated Baldwin. He cited Target Corp as one of the companies reinventing retail by using all tools at its disposal in pursuing a customer-first strategy.
“There is probably no better example of how retailers have succeeded with a relentless focus on the consumer,” he said. “Whether it’s designing a store that pays homage to a 1950s bowling alley or innovating with artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), Target leads the way in reimagining physical and digital retail in a way that empowers the consumer.”
Shoppers have noticed the changes that retailers are making and, more important, they appreciate it. More than 60% of consumers say retail innovation has improved their shopping experience, and 80% of online shoppers think so.
“Moving forward, consumers are expecting even more. We know that the majority of young shoppers like it when retailers speak to them personally. When you look at the innovative work happening in retail, it’s clear that we’re just in the very beginning of this revolution to give consumers more power.”