As reported last week, the first half of 2015 has been weak for the retail sector — and all brands, from the big box chains to the mom and pops, are feeling its effects. Beyond West Coast shipping issues and typical summer lag, there’s one big factor to which retailers are attributing the slow seasons: increased omni-channel competition.
With historically household brand names including The Gap and J.Crew currently scrambling to rebuild their brands in the consumer’s eye, and newcomers like ModCloth and StitchFix taking up a serious, and loyal, sector of the market, it is obvious that massive shifts are taking place. Even Toys ‘R’ Us is taking a new approach to merchandising and reworking its ecommerce platform, in an attempt to build a broader and more successful online presence.
Indeed, the need to be everywhere your customer is is real — and if you can’t keep up, you’ll likely perish. This mentality is no longer simply a startup one. Now, even the bigger brands are concerned about omni-channel and its ultimate effects on the bottom line, including those companies which have gone public. Publicly held companies in the U.S. are forced to lay bare their concerns in excruciating detail in their annual reports to investors. Check out what some of the biggest brands had to say at the end of Q2, according to WWD:
- NORDSTROM: “With the accelerated pace of change in the retail environment, we may not be able to meet our customers’ changing expectations in how they shop in stores or through ecommerce…. As we execute our plans and continue to evolve and transform our strategy, we may not adequately manage the related organizational changes.”
- TARGET: “The long-term reputational impact of discontinuing our Canadian operations on our guests, team members, vendors and other constituencies is unknown.”
- VICTORIA’S SECRET PARENT L BRANDS: “The risks associated with our expansion into international markets include difficulties in attracting customers due to a lack of customer familiarity with our brands, our lack of familiarity with local customer preferences and seasonal differences in the market.”
- KOHL’S CORP.: “Our business has evolved from an in-store only shopping experience to a multichannel experience that includes in-store, online, mobile, social media and/or other interactions. Our omnichannel business currently generates a lower operating margin than we have historically reported when we were primarily a store-only retailer.”
To sum up those concerns, international expansion and the need to properly execute within a multichannel environment is straining even the larger retailers.
“Add in the threat of cybertheft, the competitive threat of fast fashion, the whims of the consumer and any other number of quickly developing issues and the equation only gets harder to manage,” reports Evan Clark for WWD.
How to Win in an Omnichannel World
All right — we know that every retailer out there is working hard to beat out the competition and increase the bottom line, all while maintaining a pleasant customer experience that won’t garner too much negative social media traction or cause any sudden DoS attacks. But, what can you do to make sure that your brand comes out on top? The answer is, according to some experts, changing a fear-focused mindset and getting comfortable with trial and error.
“[Omnichannel trends are] coming in places that the retailer traditionally hasn’t had strength and if they get caught up in their traditional model of, ‘This is how we make money,’ and they have a hard time moving off that, then they’re exposed,” said Shyam Gidumal, leader of the consumer products and retail segment at Ernst & Young. “The bigger problem is the reaction because these aren’t trends that are happening in minutes or days or weeks, these are trends that are happening over years. It’s the adjustment. What do people do when they’re scared? In general, they do more of what has historically got them success.”
Yet, focusing on historical success in today’s new omni-channel world will lead you down the path of now-struggling brands like The Gap or J.Crew. The changes, according to Gidumal, must be internal for brands that want to succeed. And retail consultant at A.T. Kearney, Hana Ben-Shabat, agrees.
“The risk is that companies get set too much in one way of doing things or one direction, in a way that does not [give] them enough flexibility to react to things as they emerge. Things are changing every day. There are new technologies, things you can do with technologies, ways you can attract consumers. All these things are changing. Going forward, flexibility is really going to be the name of the game.”
In all, trial and error as well as a move toward becoming a brand known as an “early-adopter,” the moniker for those who adopt technology trends before they truly take off (like Warby Parker on Twitter or DANNIJO on Instagram), will be the winning strategy for omni-channel retailers. Following solely in the paths left by successful campaigns and marketing efforts of the past will no longer do. Instead, catering to the demands of the public, much as J.Crew is doing with their new, lower cost line, or partnering with those who can help build serious awareness through their own omnichannel dominance, much as you see in Rue La La and Cotton Inc’s partnership or with Target and its collaborations with designers, will be key.
Yes, you need to be everywhere your consumer is, but no longer is that enough. You must be interesting, relatable and quick to act on trends and technology in order to keep your brand relevant to consumers.
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