How Retailers Should Pivot to Survive the Retail Apocalypse

Retail customers expect a shopping experience that is tailored to their needs. What used to be a niche or high-end personalized experience is becoming the norm. Retailers who have not adapted or are slow to change will become part of retail history. But there is still time to adapt and become part of the future of retail.

Successful adaptation can take many forms, including creating a space for interaction and adventure within the retail space itself. Some retailers provide space where customers can individually assemble and test their products. Personalized and custom-made items are no longer a special feature they are becoming part of the standard offering. Interactive product configurators or service robots make checkout personalized and easy both online and in the store. Customer service for both can be managed by Chatbots and targeted customer care 24 hours a day. Optimized supply chains are enabling quick checkout and same day delivery.

Today’s merchants need to provide their online and offline customers a consistent and personalized shopping experience. Customers want an in-store experience and 78 percent of retail professionals have already recognized this change in shopping behavior. They expect that by 2020, customers will expect in-store or online comprehensive and complimentary training on how to use products and incorporate them into their lifestyle.

Retailers recognize the need for change and innovation, but few know how to achieve this, or even where to start. Here are four rules to embrace to get started:

It Is Always About the Customer

Customer-centric Amazon knows this rule all to well. All decisions and strategies should have the customer and the customer’s needs and desires at the very core. Products and services should be developed to solve a customer problem or fill a customer need. When needs and problems change, the product and service must change. Companies must eliminate stodgy corporate structures and become flexible and progress-focused rather than process-focused.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos  calls this Day 1. Amazon’s corporate creed and famed Leadership Principles are based on this Day One philosophy. Bezos answered what Day 2 looks like in his 2016 Shareholder letter:

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

A Day 1 philosophy includes the willingness and ability to make quick decisions and to fail fast. Use process as a means to speed production, but not as a crutch to prop up a bad decision. But most of all, you must innovate on behalf of the customer and not for the bottom line of the company.

Empower Employees

It’s time to say goodbye to centralized corporate governance and allow teams to control themselves. Employees at all levels should be empowered to do the right thing for the customer. This type of empowerment helps employees take ownership in the company’s products and services and the company’s success as well.

This should not be confused with the absence of hierarchy. Every company needs a hierarchy. However, employees at every level can add value and should be empowered to align their goals with the goals of the organization rather than simply task-based busy work.

Embrace Leadership

In order to survive, companies need a new leadership culture. Rather than appointing leaders based on experience of tenure, leaders should earn their roles. Company leaders should foster an atmosphere of trust where employees can develop their true potential.

True leaders also encourage open and honest communication among employees at all levels. Gone are the days where a failure can earn you your pink slip. Today, success is a journey, not a destination and there are many bumps in the road along the way. Leaders that can’t handle the bumps don’t have the courage to forge ahead in these uncertain economic times. If employees are afraid to deliver bad news to leadership, a company won’t know the true challenges until it is too late to change course.

Find Common Goals

Dust off that old mission statement. Does it still apply to your business as a whole? Today, companies should be laser-focused on their goals and these goals should be aligned throughout the business. Evaluate your company structure and processes to ensure that they can all be measured and tested against the goals.

A common goal helps employees stay focused and solve complex problems in the face of continuous change.

Establish Agile Processes and Flexible Structures

Companies not only have to be informed about current trends, but also have to continually adapt their corporate structures and processes. This means having the courage to challenge the status quo. All industries, not just retail, need to adapt to the changing economic landscape. It is a task that may seem daunting but following these four principles, you can start moving in the right direction:

  • Align your business strategy to the needs of your customers.
  • Make decisions where you are.
  • Create an atmosphere that promotes the development of employees and allow for open communication.
  • Define higher-level business goals.

These concepts have been discussed for years, but usually have been found to be too labor intensive or disruptive to implement. But with a new customer-centric startup or innovation around every corner, established companies can no longer afford to embrace the status quo. Just look at cautionary tales such as Sears, Radio Shack Toysrus.

The lesson is clear: adapt or perish.

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