“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.” Tammy Faye Baker
First there is NO ONE thing you can do to grow your customer base. It is the many unique things you do as a business that put together, delivered well and consistently that makes that magic happen. It always starts with a unique product and or service. Even if it appears the same on the surface it is different and usually by only a small percentage. Five Guy’s is a quick service chain that if they asked me when they started up to invest in them, I would have turned them down. Why? Let’s see “you want to open a hamburger chain?” But you see it wasn’t just a hamburger chain it was an experience with not just great burgers, but ginormous sides of French fries. Five Guy’s appears to be exploding opening new restaurants everywhere I look! Why is that? The answer is they created not just a unique product but a buzz from consumers about how great the experience is (Obama loves Five Guy’s!). The challenge of course will be sustaining that position for any length of time, but I wish I could have invested now. Do you remember Fudruckers?
It is always the challenge, “in” one day and “out” the next. The one constant is that who is “in” will always change. Now what does technology do to help a retailer be “in” or does it? I see technology being used to seduce retailers into believing some neat innovation will create the buzz to draw customers in like a magnet. While at Microsoft we were always showing examples of how technology would enhance the customer experience. A few years back we showed a solution that allowed you to stand in front of a huge translucent sheet of glass and to be able to try on different outfits virtually by waving your hands around. I have not seen this in any retailers yet, have you? We showed RFID tagging down to the package of gum inferring this will operationally make you more money and prevent shrinkage making this a great advantage over your competitors. We showed how you could use your phone to take a picture of a products QR code on the shelf and then to download all this great product information including competitive pricing. I have not seen much of that happening in retail stores either. Maybe it is because I live in South Carolina? These are what I call shiny objects which do not usually produce the buzz effect that it is was sold on. Interesting ideas of which some may pan out one day.
I keep harping on the basic fundamentals of old school retail. What does that mean? You want to have a relationship with your customer and to be valuable and relevant. Think of the local general store or even Macy’s and Bloomingdales many years ago. Technology and the solutions you need to enhance your core business can only work if you have done the basics which included having that unique product and services. Technology does help you scale and build in consistency of your business like these retailers of old. Remember that technology is a tool to help you do the basic and important things unique to your business but at a much larger scale. The technology in itself does not stand on its own.
Keep asking yourself how you can be fresh and exciting every day. Make sure your in-store experiences generate that buzz that will indeed grow your business while leveraging the really meaningful technology for scale. People want to come to your store to have that experience leaving with a true sense of fulfillment. The retail store is and will be the center of the universe when it comes to the shopping experience. This is frankly why retailers spend all that money on brick and mortar.