What’s Old is New Again in the Store of the Future

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It’s easy to project a stylized, 2050 filter on the store of the future – with smooth edges and glossy finishes. It’s easy to imagine that iPad’s future-equivalents will sit at the end of every aisle for direction and assistance and that holograms will handle all transactions. It’s easy to assume that robots will take our jobs. And it’s easy to be wrong.

As we research the future of retail, one thing is clear – consumers expect an engaging experience, not cyborgs. They want their in-store retail to be as quick, user-friendly and intuitive as their handheld device, because goods and services at the lowest price are no longer good enough.

What does “experience” mean?

Quickly earning a square on the BS Bingo board, “experience” is thrown around because traditional marketing is no longer effective.

Look up “experience” in the dictionary and you’ll find a series of statements detailing observation, participation, undergoing events, living through something, perceiving events and so forth. But none of these adequately explain the subtle nuances that make up something so substantial as experience.

Beyond the brand – the colors of your logo/store décor, the music you choose that aligns with your character, the scent customers associate with your store and the message you choose to communicate – customer experience is internal to someone else. It’s the way your brand makes people feel.

What now? Say that again . . . slower this time.

The customer experience has nothing to do with you, really. It’s about the way your customers feel when they’re in your store or on your website. All the other elements you put into place when creating your brand are central to just that – your brand. And while the blue of your logo may trigger the brain to feel trust, if your employees don’t foster the same emotion trust is lost and the experience fails.

Can you give me an example?

Three, actually!

  1. Disney is the master of experience. Beyond the fantastic costumes, the theme park – including the buildings, processes and people working there – create a unified persona of care and concern. They make the Disney experience.

  2. Tesla not only changes the technology in the car, it changes the way cars are bought. They’re building unique dealerships that change the way people shop for cars with a customer-need-first approach.

  3. Chick-Fil-A has a knack of keeping customers coming back with more than consistent quality. The staff is trained to say “please,” “thank you” and “it’s my pleasure” – on top of extraordinary acts of service – which makes the customer feel valued, appreciated and respected.  

So, experience begins with people?

Yes. Experience begins (and ends) with people. The late Steve Jobs once said, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

In the store of the future, the focus won’t be on electronics. The store of the future will focus on people and use technology to serve them in the best possible way. So, while we’re all married to our devices and captive to connection, it’s authentic interactions that we really crave.

How can people create authentic connection and be more engaging?

  • Be present and listen. People never forget when someone puts their phone away, asks questions and really makes the exchange all about them. When you and your staff do the same you’re sending a clear message that you’re dialed in and really care about what your customers want and need from the visit.  

  • Make people feel good. Praise, encourage and lift others. Tell stories that help people relate. Help others find a positive perspective – whether they’re looking for a sofa or struggling with a middle-schooler’s report card. Meet people where they are and leave that place a little better.  

  • Be “in” it. When people are on your side, you know, and it feels good. Be on your customer’s side, be committed to their success – whether they’re fully redecorating or just browsing.

  • Enjoy life. Laugh, feel good, be animated, play . . . when you and your employees feel good, it opens a door that encourages your customers to do the same. No one wants to shop in the store with the grumpy store owner who always kvetches about the kids on the sidewalk!

In the store of the future, people genuinely care about others. And, it’s in that sense that what’s old is new again. So, dust off those manners and relocate that warm spot in the center of your heart. It’s time to let your light shine and create a wonderful experience for everyone who encounters you and your store associates.