Brain Chatter: This is the New Face of Omni-Channel Retail

August 3, 2017 Shane Schick

A few months ago I thought I’d make a quick stop on the way home to pick up something at the Canadian Tire Express.

Not Canadian Tire, mind you. Canadian Tire Express -- the mini version of the vast stores that stock everything from bicycles to patio furniture.

When I arrived, however, I discovered the store had been shut down. I groaned, because it would mean traipsing to a ‘normal’ Canadian Tire and trying to find my way through its labyrinthian aisles and waiting endlessly for a cashier.

I was reminded of this difference when I recently read about Sephora Studio, a retail experiment of sorts the cosmetics giant is trying out in Boston. Calvin MacDonald, the firm’s Americas CEO, explained the idea to Fast Company:

Rather than shrinking a regular Sephora store into a smaller space, McDonald says the brand was very selective about what they would include here. At the center of the store, there are eight makeup stations where customers can book personal consultations. The product assortment is much smaller, focused on makeup, although there is a small selection of perfumes and skin care. Staff members will be well-versed in Sephora’s broader product range and may direct customers to products that can be shipped to them for free.

Sephora is hardly alone, of course.

Besides Canadian Tire, Indigo Pop Ups have sprang within many urban malls with less square footage than the old Coles book stores used to occupy. Nordstrom, meanwhile, is set to open a series of Nordstrom Rack outlets, which focus on discounted designer labels, in both Toronto and New York over the next year.

To some, efforts like Sephora’s may seem like a rebuke to all the conventional wisdom about getting out of bricks and mortar and focusing on digital shopping, but I’d say it’s more about building a truly omni-channel brand experience. By ‘omni-channel,’ of course, I mean that retailers and other brands have recognized how important it is to be present and relevant to consumers wherever and whenever they choose to engage with them.

Marketing in an omni-channel world isn’t easy, though. Just look at the recent 2017 Retail Vision Study from Zebra Technologies, in which the top three issues impacting customer satisfaction included products being out of stock (whether due to empty shelves or only the wrong sizes being available), competitors offering lower prices, and being unable to locate desired items in the store.

Many brands have taken the important first step of having a presence across channels such as their web site, social media, apps and the like, but that doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily tied it all together. In fact, the Retail Vision study suggested sometimes omni-channel retail makes logistics and inventory management even more prone to error.

That’s why something like Sephora Studio can make a lot of sense. Instead of merely taking an old channel like its physical stores for granted, Sephora is realizing it needs to continue be present but also relevant. If the staff is truly more knowledgable and the makeup products well-curated, it will show how you can continue to innovate and optimize the physical store channel.

Brands should explore similarly tailored kinds of experiences for their best and most loyal customers across all the other channels as well. This could mean social media accounts focused on particular product lines, an e-mail newsletter with “insider” tips and promotions, among other things.

Success in the omni-channel is not just about showing up everywhere. It’s about showing up and looking for best for the people you’re trying to impress. Or as Sephora Studio’s experts might explain, it’s like the difference between just rolling out of bed and putting on your best makeup. 

Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more. 

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