A recent Washington Post headline read, “Unemployment is down. Gas prices are low. Why isn’t America shopping?”
There are a number of possible answers. Both in the article and at the inaugural ShopTalk conference, there were numerous discussions about the U.S. being “over-retailed” – too many stores and e-commerce sites for too few shoppers. Many like to point to widespread uncertainty about the global economy and the twists and turns of the presidential election. Moreover, shoppers are spending their money differently: they are addicted to promotions and often opt to spend their hard-earned dollars on experiences like vacations or big projects like home improvement. But these don’t explain the whole truth.
In reality, the shopping experience can all too often be downright awful. On a recent weekend I spent five minutes at a big-box office products store waiting for someone, anyone to show up at the empty cash registers at the front of the store. I didn’t really feel like chasing anyone down, and I’d only gotten half of what I came for, as the pens I wanted were out-of-stock. After a few minutes of waiting I started comparing prices on Amazon. No surprises here: I found everything I wanted at a lower price, so I left my purchases at the register, walked out the door, and placed the order before I left the parking lot. It’ll likely be the last time I visit that retailer for basic office supplies.
My wife didn’t fare much better at a women’s apparel store that weekend. She stood in line at the register for what seemed an interminable amount of time waiting to pick up an order, which turned out to be a different size from what she ordered. When she headed back to the counter to order it in the right size, the sales associate promptly announced she was headed to lunch, leaving my wife stranded at the cash wrap. She placed her order online later that afternoon; however, her 40% off coupon code didn’t apply online, even though the coupon said nothing about online exclusions. It took a call to the e-commerce help desk to straighten it out – although the help desk operator couldn’t answer my wife’s questions right away, as the retailer’s systems hadn’t updated yet.
These problems fall into two broad categories: too few sales associates for many retailers (and a failure to properly train the ones they have), as well as outdated systems and disconnected technology. Is it any wonder that Amazon accounts for 1 in 3 shopping transactions, according to Internet Retailer?
Fortunately, the best retailers are making the right moves to re-energize retail and attract shoppers. Nordstrom, which consistently has some of the best sales associates in retail, is opening a small Tesla gallery at a high-end mall location. Target is spending $1 billion this year remodeling its stores and has launched 25 “stores of the future” in Los Angeles. Urban Outfitters, which recently set a Q1 sales record, firmly believes that “bricks and clicks are synergistic.” Urban bought the popular Vetri Family pizza chain last year and recently opened two flagship Anthropologie stores with “a petite shop, expanded jewelry and accessories, an intimates boutique, an 800 square foot beauty shop, a full-service shoe salon as well as over 6,000 square feet of home products,” according to RIS News.
These retailers, and many others, are clearly doing everything they can to get America shopping again. Retailers shouldn’t forget the fundamentals, though: Train your associates. And get those legacy systems to talk to one another, in real-time. Focus on these things – and continue to make stores fun, creative and innovative – and consumers will start shopping again. After all, you can’t buy a Tesla, get a makeover or get a slice of pizza while shopping at Amazon – at least not yet.