Omnichannel Warning: Retail Is About Discovery,Not In Being Discovered

By Bob Phibbs

omnichannel retail drawbacks

I recently purchased a canteen. It is detailed in leather and has intricate lacing.

Oh, I had no need for it. It wasn’t on sale. I didn’t spot it online.

I saw it in a store.

In Montana.

For 75 bucks.

And I don’t have a horse. And I don’t go camping.  I just liked it.

That discovery is at the center of the debate about where shopping is headed.

On the one hand are a few, very few, retail sales experts like me saying it is all about the personal experience in-store.

The art of welcoming a customer to your store as a friend first and a customer second.

Advocating the training of a crew to engage, truly engage with another person.

Understanding the party is in the aisles, not behind the counter.

On the other hand are the myriad of consultants and service providers saying shopping is only about in-store technology.

The joy of sending in-store offers to a customer’s smartphone...if they allow it to be discovered... while they’re in the store.

The ability with iBeacons to know exactly who, what, and where a customer navigates ...if they’ve been discovered… to optimize their clear path to purchase while in your retail space.

The ability with geo-mapping...which also requires being discovered... to show a customer who may have searched online for a product exactly where it is in your store without them having to talk to a real person.

But for those of us who know the value of personal connections,

The joy of retail is in discovery, not in being discovered.

As Matthew Moran said recently, “The Internet of Things… that’s just things saying and doing things... just lots of things, saying lots of things and doing lots of things. But still just things.”

The magic happens when the customer discovers an environment that allows them to slow down and consider something they hadn’t before.

Even online retailers understand this. That’s why they are opening their own brick and mortar stores.

Bonobos Guideshops have a small real estate footprint because they only carry one of each item in each size. Customers try on the clothes, then place an order online with the help of a sales associate.  Within two days, their purchase arrives at their doorstep.

What’s funny to me is that online brands like theirs, because they have so much to lose, are focused on providing an exceptional experience with their brand, something they acknowledge can’t be achieved from a thumbnail picture on a webpage. They are outfitting these stores with personable salespeople.

The missing piece of the omnichannel shopping experience is still the joy of discovery.

Of discovering a person, not a package.

See Also: Retailers -The Most Conspicuous Thing You’re Not Doing 

Yes, I get it; there are plenty of antisocial people writing they that they don’t want to be talked to in-person unless they ask for help. They hate shopping.

Fine, if you want to cater to Bitter Betties, know they are probably the first to shop your competitors from the floor of your store. If you want to clamor to that kind of crowd, just understand that they won’t clamor for you. They are only loyal to price.

And there are more sales lost each day by salespeople who can’t build rapport or ask the right questions than sales that are lost to low prices.

But the omnichannel technology side shouts, It’s all about priceIt’s all about not waiting! It’s all about convenience on a smartphone! 

Great, if it is all about smartphones, let’s stop building stores with ceilings more than 6 feet tall.

Let’s do away with displays.

Let’s do away with mirrors.

And fitting rooms.

And employees.

Instead, let’s cater to the bent-over-the-phone crowd.

Let’s put LEDs in the floor that light up when a customer asks a question while trying to locate a product.

Let’s eschew price tags in favor of image recognition cameras so we can show variable pricing based on what a customer has shown they will pay.  

Or not.

The Point

In a world of declining foot traffic, lower margins, and lower comp sales, many retailers are hearing the siren song of technology as their savior.

The Sirens were called the Muses of the Lower World, Walter Copland Perry observed: "Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy.”

While it is fine to be offering multiple ways for customers to shop, buy and pay, you have to remember, that the root that all of those options grows from is an actual human experience in your brick and mortar store.

Turning your stores into an electronic wonderland on one side while using them as distribution points on the other makes any hope of human interaction die.

It robs the very nature of shopping from the concept of a store – an engaging space to discover.

A person.

A new idea.

A canteen.

Don’t let the lethargy of lower sales and complacency from iBeacons or the rest allow your store to crash on the shores.

Compelling shopping experiences are always about discovery.

Not being discovered.

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