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How to Compete With Amazon

Most people who shop online have bought something from Amazon. It’s a site that has everything from Oprah’s favorite books to canisters of elemental metals. If you can’t find it there, the legend goes, you probably can’t buy it online.

Yet, many in-person retailers continue to thrive. How do they do it? It really comes down to the reasons people shop, or seek out shopping experiences. So here are five keys to competing with your brick and mortar store against the behemoth that is Amazon.

#1. Have Knowledgeable, Well-Trained Associates


When you click on an Amazon item, there is a limited amount of information available to you. There are often only one or two images available, but  the images are not in situ, meaning you can’t get a sense of scale of an item next to something like a floor lamp or a coffee table. This has resulted in people purchasing items like a toy tent instead of a tent that fits adults. You can’t tell the quality of construction of an item by a description of an item. You can only make a guess as to whether an item or its competitor is more suited to your needs, or more durable. Sure, there are comments on items, but comments can be useless, as people use them to air unrelated grievances. Knowledgeable staff can give concrete answers and advice.

Only sales staff know that item A has been returned more often than item B. Investing in experienced staff and training them can make a world of difference to customers, and they will return.

#2. Create an In-Store Experience


Amazon can do a lot of things, but it can’t give you a hand massage, or show you how to accessorize an outfit. It also can’t invite a string quartet to play or have an author read their book to you in person.

In-store experiences are impossible to replicate digitally. Connecting people in a shared environment is the killer advantage of the bricks and mortar experience. Stores that put this at the forefront of their marketing efforts succeed where others don’t. Think about ways that will entice customers to make the effort to see you.

#3. Accentuate Your Physical Advantage


There’s a reason people don’t buy cars or bathing suits much online: you have to be in them to know whether you’d want to spend an afternoon in one. Bricks and Mortar stores still have a huge advantage when it comes to the shopping experience: experiential learning. Customers being able to interact with any item in the store is one of the main reasons it’s impossible to get near an Apple Store any day of the week.

Think about ways you can make your in-store experience more tactile and experiential. Consider having samples of your materials available for people to touch and interact with. Train staff on explaining how jeans are made while they demonstrate stitching on a pair of pants.

#4. Offer Pick-Up In-Store


In retail, it’s important to reward those who are brand loyal and want to shop with you but have specific needs. One of those needs is often the desire to pick up a specific order and not have to search the store or wonder if it’s in stock in their size. This is where pick-up in-store solves a key gap in the shopping ecosystem. Sometimes, a store location is near their work or home, and picking up an item in-store is easier for them than worrying whether the postal worker or UPS person will drop their item off on time, or send their package to a depot.

Pick-up in-store offers customers peace of mind: their items are waiting for them, without hassle, and often incorporating any promotions that are offered online.

This would be a good time to tell you about the Salesfloor Click & Collect feature coming in the near future. 😉  With this feature, customers can request a product from a local store and once an associate confirms it is ready, the customer can visit the store for purchase.

#5. Offer Real, Not Automated Recommendations


Amazon’s recommendation engine is a great example of computer intelligence not approaching human intelligence. If you’ve ever bought a romance novel for your aunt, a wrench, and a printer in the same month from Amazon, you’ve seen the strange phenomenon of wild recommendations. Amazon can only predict which items are similar to items you’ve bought or items that people have bought most often together. It cannot approach the level of knowledge a brand and sales associate combination can provide.

Only a real person, armed with their own experiences, training, and data about the customer (the Salesfloor app helps augment this) can tell you that if you liked this cardigan, the V-neck that is in the same knit is also right for you. Amazon simply can’t replicate it.

There are so many reasons why an in-store shopping experience is better for customers than sitting on a couch attempting to navigate an endless set of options. The most important thing to focus on is the customer’s overall experience. Thing sensually- appealing to the senses is the easiest way to differentiate yourself from Amazon.


7 Trends That Will Continue to Impact Retail in 2017

2016 has been one interesting year (to say the least). We’ve lost too many of our classic rock icons, we had one of the most divisive political races in history, and we found out that the UK will be leaving the European Union. We’ve talked to many people who are ready to move into 2017 with an eye to a hopeful future, and we are, too.

With that eye on the hopeful future, we’ve taken a look at seven hot trends that have really taken off in 2016 that we predict will make an even bigger impact on retail in 2017.

1. “On demand” Shopping

Though Google’s Project Wing partnership with Starbucks – along with the promise of drone-delivered lattés – has recently been shelved, the inevitability of drones delivering goods to our doorstep at a click of a button isn’t too far off into the future. Ever since Amazon released the test drone delivery footage in 2013, we’ve been anticipating the day we would see our packages flying through the skyline. And just recently, the Federal Aviation Authority gave Amazon the ok to proceed with the service.

Though a few retailers already provide same day delivery and pickup in-store, it won’t be long into the future before it’s expected that your customers will be able to get their purchases within hours of their purchase.


2. The Internet of Things

Not one, but two different ‘internet fridges’ were offered to the buying public this year that turn your ice box into a smart food centre that allows you to do things like order groceries and browse recipes. Google is monitoring our homes with Nest, Amazon’s Alexa is our home voice-activated personal assistant who will do everything from playing music to suit our mood to ordering toilet paper and beyond.

What’s next? Will our vanities order expired cosmetics? Will our Apple Watches remind us when we are walking by the mall that it is our mother-in-law’s birthday coming up? Will our shoes send a message to our personal shopper that it’s time for a new pair because they’ve worn out?

You may think this is far fetched, but at the pace of technology, it’s not that far off into the future. As everything in our physical world gets connected to the web, more and more opportunities for retailers arise. Have you imagined how your business will take advantage of this?



[credit: http://theverynearfuture.com/post/137280998764/smart-fridge-what-is-this-comic-about-samsung]

3. Personalization

It’s not new or news that customers want to feel like they are more than just a number. For a long time, personalization has been key to improving the experience for the customer as well as increasing sales for the retailer.

There is nothing like coming into your favorite business and being greeted by someone who not only remembers you from your last visit, but can also show you directly to the new products based on their memory of your previous purchases. It saves you time and makes you feel special. It also influences your purchase. According to our recent study, 73 percent of shoppers say sales associates who remember their personal preferences/style impact how much they buy from a retailer.

But it isn’t only in-store where personalization can make a difference, you have the opportunity to do more than just recommend products through algorithm. Tools like Salesfloor allow you to give the same level of personalization online that you give offline. This isn’t a trend that is going to go away. As more and competition appears, personalization is going to become even more important.

4. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Have you ever looked at a chair or table in a showroom and tried to envision how it would look and fit in your house? We have. Back in the day of catalogues, we even cut them out and stood holding the clipping out in front of us to get a better sense. Thankfully as Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) have evolved over time, we no longer have to carefully cut out pictures, we can just hold our smartphones up to the room, place the furniture piece and -voila!- we can see how it will fit in its surroundings.

For those who don’t know the distinction, Virtual Reality (VR) is the technology that immerses the user into a simulated world, and Augmented Reality (AR) is technology that brings simulated elements into the real world.

In regards to VR, you have probably seen the goggles such as the Oculus Rift, where the person wearing them escapes to a 360 degree fantasy world. Though virtual reality is mostly used in gaming, we are seeing travel companies use it to create simulations of escapes, realtors use it for virtual tours of homes for sale, and car companies use it for virtual test drives. HBR.org gives the example of being able to test a tent remotely.

AR has been around for many years (Converse used it in 2010), however, the rise of Pokemon Go this year has not only brought it into the mainstream, it’s ignited the public’s desire for more applications of the technology. AR is especially attractive because it’s so simple: anyone with a smartphone can use it. To our example above around furniture, Wayfair, online home goods and furniture marketplace, launched Wayfair View to help customers visualize furniture in their homes (though Ikea did this back in 2013).


[credit: http://gph.is/2bFPCMq created from Lee Jeans ad]

5. Direct to Consumer

Direct to consumer fashion brands have been popping up all over for many years now, but according to Racked, many established designers and brands are also pulling their lines out of department stores and creating their own direct to consumer online and offline boutiques. This move is accelerating now because of several factors:

Number one, designers and brands have grown more direct relationships with their customers through social media. Number two, creating online stores is easier than ever and since more and more customers are shopping online, this has created a great revenue source to help fund (number three) the brick and mortar experience.

Though this could prove tricky for some department stores, others like Saks Fifth Avenue have embraced the idea of the direct to consumer model, creating shop-in-shops that allow for their brands to create unique branding experiences while enjoying access to the Saks clientele.


[credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/12241789/]

6. Mobile Payments

Currently, there are only a handful major retailers that offer mobile payments: the Apple Store, Home Depot, Starbucks, Macy’s, Walgreens, Bloomingdales, etc. But we know that this is going to grow a lot in the next few years because of the number of options consumers now have available. According to TechCrunch:

A recent report noted that 39 percent of all mobile users in the U.S. had made a mobile payment in 2015. This is up from 14 percent in 2014 and by my estimations will in the 70 percent range by 2017.

There are three overarching categories of mobile payments:

  1. Near Field Communications (NFC), which you’ll find in Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay, allowing the customer to just tap their phone to a device and authorize the transaction.
  2. Commerce payments, where customers use an app with a stored credit card. Anyone who has checked themselves out at the Apple Store or used the Starbucks App have experienced this.
  3. Mobile Wallets, where customers can store their cards on their phone to scan.

If you haven’t considered offering mobile payments as an option to your customers, it’s probably a good New Year’s resolution to make.


[credit: http://themerkle.com/shake-giving-android-apple-pay-run-for-money/]

7. Enhanced Experiences

As we wrote in our article on the retail renaissance, the retailers who are driving the most profit per square foot in their stores are those who are prioritizing experience over sales. Though it seems like a contradiction to get more sales from de-prioritizing sales, this is what appears to be a factor contributing to the enormous brick and mortar profits of retailers like Apple, Shinola, and Warby Parker, and more established retailers and department stores are taking note.

Bed, Bath and Beyond just announced that they are adding a cafe in their stores and have even applied for a liquor licence. Saks at Brookfield Place in New York offers up an experience they call  a Power Lunch, which gives you a beauty treatment, style consultation and lunch – no purchase required. Harry Rosen partnered with Macallan Whisky to create a tasting bar in store.

The more excuses you can give your customers to just ‘drop in and hang out’ with no pressure to buy, the more likely they will buy. And the more often they have these experiences, the more they will start to get used to them. 2017 and beyond we are sure to see a rise in enhanced experiences in retail.


[Credit: Guru Blog covering the Barbershop in Frank & Oak’s Montreal retail location]

When it comes to trends, 2017 looks a lot like the next iteration of 2016, which will make things even more exciting for retailers and customers. Now, here’s hoping the trends outside of the retail world don’t continue along the same path as 2016. Have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year!