THE BLOG
07/17/2013 10:38 am ET | Updated Sep 16, 2013

The Good Old Days of Retail are Ahead of Us, Not Behind Us

Several years ago I started reporting about an emerging trend that is now in full bloom. It's called showrooming and is the practice of selecting and examining products in a physical store but then purchasing those products online, either while in the store using a smart phone or later at home. Thanks to the dramatic and exponential advances in processing power, storage, and bandwidth, combined with smart phones enabled with the latest barcode and QR code readers, this trend is picking up steam and has been hurting the brick-and-mortar stores quite severely.Despite this trend, Apple stores, which ironically sell smart phones and tablets, are always crowded. But wouldn't it be just as easy for customers to buy from Apple online and never go to an actual Apple store? Of course, the answer is yes. So why are they crowded? And why are companies like Amazon thinking about opening their own retail stores?

The answer is, Apple stores are not boring. These stores have employees that are passionate about what they sell. They have salespeople that understand the products and what they have to offer. They have an inviting environment, complete with a place for the kids to play so the parents can have some uninterrupted shopping time.

Apple, and stores like them, is helping us realize that the good old days of retail are in the future, not in the past. Right now, it's possible to reinvent retail to make it an exciting and engaging place. Of course, this does not mean you have to copy what Apple is doing. Rather, it's time to take what you do to the next level. Don't adopt what Apple is doing; adapt what Apple is doing!

For example, let's take something that's going out of style--something that people think won't exist in the future--and that is branch banks. I've spoken with many banking CEOs and they're worried about their branches. Sure, some banks are opening branches, but many are closing them. As such, bankers wonder if there will be a branch bank in the future or if electronic banking will make them obsolete.

Think about it ... when was the last time you went into a bank? I don't mean using an ATM; I mean when you actually went inside the bank to do some business? Chances are it's been a while.

Could a branch bank do something that gets their location packed with people eager to do business with them? Of course! In fact, The Royal Bank of Canada tried an experiment to Apple-ize their branches. Guess what happened? They're now loaded with new customers, current customers, and prospects. They're busy. Customers are engaged. And their employees are excited. There's no more making an appointment to see someone, no more boring atmosphere, no more stoic employees who act as if the customer just interrupted their day, and no more emotionless transactions. They made the bank "the place" to be.

You can do the same. Sit back and take a look at the emotion of your store. When a customer walks in, does it seem like they're going into a time machine backwards? Of course, if you're selling something that relates to the past or is nostalgic, that's okay. But it's not an excuse to have a boring store with unengaged staff. Additionally, selling historic or nostalgic items is not what the majority of businesses are about. You want to make your store a place people actually want to be in. How?
  • Have some things for the kids to engage with while their parents shop, such as interactive toys or mounted tablets with games to use.
  • Make sure your employees understand that if they're excited, the customer will get excited. Likewise, if they're bored, the customer will be bored. And if they're stoic, the customer will be stoic.
  • Train your employees in new and better ways of engaging with customers. After all, if you train them the way they've always been trained, they'll continue to do what they've always done.
The key is to change the emotion, build excitement, and make visiting your store something people actually look forward to. Don't just give customized help--give personalized help. That's how you secure more business.

Personalized help is about building relationships. That means your salespeople aren't just salespeople; they're trusted sales advisors. As a result, customers seek out your staff for help--some even text their trusted advisor in advance to let them know they're on their way. That's how you create customer loyalty.

If Apple can have a loyal following of customers who see their stores as a place they want to go to shop, you can too. So look at what Apple does and ask how you could adapt that. Then, take it to the next level. For example, maybe you can't have everything in stock, but by having kiosks and tablets available that can be locked in, you can easily let people have access to the entire inventory you don't have in stock so they can purchase it on the spot and have it delivered to their home in 24 hours. If Amazon can deliver it to their home that fast, so can you.

So let's not assume that the good old days of retail are in the past. I think we're in the process of transforming retail, and that the good old days of retail are yet to come. Let's create those days today.