What’s in store for stores? Different major retail chains are coming up with markedly different answers as they try to plan and strategize in the face of a landscape that’s been forever changed by e-commerce. Some of their shoppers now click to buy instead of coming to the store, and those who do shop in-store are arriving with smartphones in hand, giving them an unprecedented edge in product and price comparisons.
A report on the Top 100 retailers of 2016 from Stores, the magazine of the National Retail Federation, gives a solid overview of how operators of bricks-and-mortar stores are trying to find their bearings in the Smartphone Era. The insights industry itself is no stranger to changes wrought by the fact that phones are the combination tool and toy that U.S. consumers turn to whenever they need information or want to access useful or enjoyable content.
The Stores magazine article duly notes the strategic retreat that’s going on in retail, but it focuses mainly on how retailers are imagining the future and what to do about it. Here are some of its most interesting insights. We'll leave it to you to draw any parallel insights about market research.
- “The country is `grossly overstored’ and...a third of the weakest retail locations should be shut down,’” one expert told the magazine. “This very painful process will surely take more than five years.”
- However, the same observer says, strategic scaling back “will also create enormous opportunity for those with the capital and management platforms” to adjust smartly.
- “Companies should be in the business of creating the future and not simply responding to what pundits and polls think their customers are looking for,” advises another expert who urges taking new initiatives even as retail contracts.
- The report note’s Target’s three-year, $7 billion initiative to position itself for growth by building or remodeling stores, upgrading its supply chain, and developing more private-label merchandise. Meanwhile, it's willing to incur extra current costs and forgo some current profits by budgeting $1 billion in discounts to drive more e-commerce sales.
- Costco, on the other hand, isn’t planning a special emphasis on e-commerce, which one expert says now accounts for about 4% of its sales. The priority, according to Costco’s chief financial officer, is “in-store, getting members coming in and buying when they can see everything that we have.”
- Smartphones are the new, transformative fact that all retailers have to reckon with. The product knowledge in-store shoppers bring through the door has “changed dramatically,” says an expert from shopping center owner Starwood Capital Group.
- But, he adds, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “The important thing to remember with e-commerce is that it is a tool to help shoppers do things more conveniently in more places than before” -- and that bricks and mortar stores will remain important to mobile shoppers.
One thing that’s certain is that quality consumer data is essential for decision-makers to chart their companies' paths successfully as they face tech-driven turbulence in their markets. And insights professionals need to adapt to the same big changes in technology, or risk being seen as irrelevant or even counterproductive to the decision-making process. The dominance of mobile communications is driving these changes, so researchers need to become mobile-savvy if they're going to adapt. You probably already know this. But how should you start?
The first thing you need is a clear understanding that mobile research is not a commodity -- and that there are radical distinctions between the two main approaches. One approach is in-app mobile research, which fully embraces the new realities and opportunities smartphones present. The other is a “mobile optimized” approach that remains wedded to last-generation online panels and methodology. If online data is giving you trouble, so will "mobile optimized" data. That's why you're looking for something else, something that works in our mobile-saturated consumer landscape. Let’s have a productive conversation about it. Just get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.