When was the last time a big sale made you get in your car and head to the local mall? (Black Friday 2012?) What about the last time an email alert from a store (“free shipping!”) inspired you to make an impulse buy? (Last week?)
Thanks to the convenience of ecommerce, you don’t have to get off your couch to outfit your entire wardrobe or home. That means stores have to offer an experience that will outdo even the flashiest online deal.
At its flagship store in Manhattan, Macy’s has recently hosted dance parties as well as opened a special floor, called One Below, geared toward millennials. One Below contains selfie walls, wearable tech and 3-D printers for custom-made accessories. Members of the young demographic value being able to curate and personalize their possessions, sure, but they also don’t like being stereotyped. They’re turned off by transparent attempts to market to them, and they don’t all dwell on their obsession with selfies like older generations do. Still, these efforts are a sign that Macy’s recognizes the need to offer something more than merchandise alone.
Many stores have offered alternatives such as special events and classes over the years, but today the stakes are higher. “People don’t hang out, because the stores are boring,” Anthos says. “Store engagement gives the consumer a reason to be there beyond simply buying an object.”
In December, Nordstrom contributed to a $15.5 million series B financing round for Shoes of Prey, a company that lets people customize a pair of heels or flats. Shoes of Prey started as online-only, but it quickly realized the demand for people to try on shoes before shelling out. Now, Shoes of Prey operates out of many Nordstrom stores -- a win for both companies.
The problem is, most major retailers are still in the experimental phase. They haven’t done much research to find out if events actually make people want to spend more, for instance. Besides, adding a 3-D printer to a store in New York is one thing, but it’s a huge expense to install them chain-wide, leaving shoppers in the Midwest without more reasons to stop in.
What the companies do know is that many customers expect VIP service. Eighty-nine percent of consumers want shopping to feel personalized, but only 18 percent of them say that retailers are achieving this level of service, according to mobile marketing platform Vibes. A positive interaction with a sales associate can go a long way. But anyone who’s been accosted immediately upon walking into a store knows how annoying that can be.
“It’s very similar to the digital journey in ecommerce,” Anthos says. “You’re looking, thinking, learning, reading way before you’re ready to buy something. Attentiveness and clerks are a very late stage in the purchase process.”
Another example is the movement among stores of asking your name, writing it on a dry erase board on a dressing room door and playing the roles of BFF and personal shopper. But how is that employee supposed to know that just because you’re trying on clothes in a store that sells pink ponchos, that doesn’t mean you would ever wear one?
TimeTrade found that 59 percent of millennials say they would spend more if a personal shopper proposed suggestions. The distinction is that not every sales associate is trained to be a personal shopper, and not every customer believes they have signed an invisible contract to receive style tips.
The stores that really want to connect with you are doing more than exchanging shallow small talk. Rather than bombard customers to find out their preferences and persuade them to buy something, more and more retailers are trying to figure out how to get you to open up about how you shop online.