I started my business online in 2001. When we opened our first physical store—four years later—I had people looking at me a little bit strangely, asking why I would do that, given retail was "all going to the web." It was widely believed at that time that in the future, there would be no stores.
I’ve always believed the pendulum is going to land somewhere in the middle, between online and physical retail. You can’t deliver the best possible customer experience solely on the web, nor can you fully reach the extent of your customers through just your stores. To deliver a truly extraordinary customer experience you need to offer both.
Many traditional retailers are struggling because they are not delivering a differentiated experience. How did we get here? For years, big-box brands sold products as commodities and were solely transactional points of distribution. They were ripe for disruption by eCommerce.
When the Internet hit, and competition became just a click away, these retailers lacked a competitive position, hence the fallout that we’ve witnessed to date.
I’ve always believed the pendulum is going to land somewhere in the middle, between online and physical retail.
At evo, we look at retail a little differently. We started online, but wanted to develop a shopping experience that represented who we are, and more importantly, who our customers are. We designed a retail space that is super flexible, a community center where we bring people together for more than just shopping, but also for events including music, art, and philanthropy. Thirteen years later, we’ve cultivated an immersive shopping experience and a loyal customer base with a significant percentage of sales taking place in our store.
Our approach enables us to deliver a comprehensive and cohesive shopping experience. We’re always available online, and the store creates a 3-D customer touchpoint, enabling us to directly engage with our customers. We also look to provide immersive experiences via our “evoTrip” adventure travel offering, community and recreation-centric loding (LOGE Camps), and community events—all ways that we can add real value to people's lives.
To do this well, there are many tactical pieces of the puzzle that work to facilitate a seamless experience, and we are always striving to improve across the board. For example, shipping web orders to stores, processing returns, scheduling service and rentals—all of these need to be tightly coordinated between our site and stores. And, of course, we need to have a compelling assortment and operations that ensure on-time delivery and accuracy.
But, those tactical items like product availability and reliable delivery are simply the things that consumers have come to expect. The competition, led by Amazon, can do all of that, on a wild scale and backed by a huge, well-capitalized platform that can crank out transactions. That's a hard place to compete.
The retailers that will continue to exist and thrive…have to do things in a way that’s unique to them.
The retailers that will continue to exist and thrive—in spite of Amazon—have to do things in a way that’s unique to them. The design, the experience, the people with whom they interact—the things that are not robotic or transactional—have to come to the surface.
As retailers, we’re also going to have to keep innovating and avoid standing still. What works today may not work tomorrow. Take social media, for example. It’s so pervasive and influential today that it’s easy to forget how recently it came along. And it’s changing fast. How will the landscape change as a result of Facebook’s recent privacy challenges? Instagram, the favorite channel for our audience, was launched just eight years ago. What will come along in the next eight years?
As retailers, we’re also going to have to keep innovating and avoid standing still. What works today may not work tomorrow.
Through all the changes and challenges, physical retail will persist. Companies that make and sell great products, that find a way to reflect their customers’ values, that offer more than access to commoditized goods, will become more and more important.
It’s happening now. As the companies caught in the middle without a strong, competitive position are swept away, there is a lot of demand left on the table. Some of it will surely go to Amazon and the likes. But, the remaining companies that are doing something special and different, those will be the new retail leaders and they have plenty of blue sky ahead.