The Changing Role of the Storefront: How to Adapt Successfully

The retail industry is undergoing tremendous change. Succeeding in the face of that change requires re-thinking the physical store. Online sales in the 2018 fourth quarter totaled $132.8 billion, according to information compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. And while that’s just 9.9 percent of the total $1.34 trillion in retail sales for the quarter, it’s up from 9.1 percent in the 2017 fourth quarter and is expected to continue rising. Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t going away, but retailers will need to adapt to survive (and thrive) in a changing marketplace. Many of those changes involve an omnichannel approach, adapting some of the lessons of online merchants. Most retailers have a companion website through which consumers can order products and have them delivered either to their home or to the store. Others are installing in-store “endless aisle” kiosks that allow shoppers to order items not in the store’s physical inventory. And some are leveraging their most important asset, their front-line sales associates, to create a place where shoppers can go to receive the personalized attention they simply can’t obtain online. Savvy retailers are turning their storefronts into a stage, enhancing the in-store experience by turning sales associates into product experts. Those associates guide shoppers by providing insight into how a store’s offerings can meet their needs and suggesting add-on products that enhance the value of their initial purchase. Delivering on the brand promise The importance of the in-store experience can’t be understated. An executive survey conducted by industry analytics firm Incisiv found that 80 percent of shoppers have abandoned an in-store trip or cart in the past year due to a poor customer experience, costing the industry $1.6 trillion in customer switching costs. Another Incisiv study found that from 1997 to 2014, companies considered employee experience leaders outperformed the stock market at nearly double the rate of growth for the SAP 500 index. Empowering associates and giving them the tools to serve customers and create an outstanding in-store experience will be critical to retail success going forward. The challenge, though, is how to provide those tools in an efficient manner. The answer? A training program that meets today’s retail associates where they spend the bulk of their free time: on digital devices. A recent Nielsen study found that in the first quarter of 2018 consumers spent three hours and 48 minutes a day on digital devices, a 13-minute increase from the prior quarter. Of that time, 62 percent was spent on app/web usage via smartphones. So with digital devices becoming more and more a part of our lives, training, or e-learning, delivered via those devices is likely to be an effective teaching tool. Such training allows learners to digest information at their own pace and in small, easily digestible chunks. In fact, a 2017 study found that in terms of effectiveness, nearly 80 percent of learners rated mobile learning apps either effective or very effective, with another 16 percent labeling them as somewhat effective. That may be why corporations have increased their use of e-learning by 900 percent over the past 16 years. It’s also a fact, though, that most retailers aren’t experts in the design and deployment of mobile learning platforms. Because of that, many are turning to those who are experts in such platforms. Technology firm Multimedia Plus, for example, has been designing and producing training materials for more than 20 years using both technology and media. The company’s services include creating quality custom programs for clients of its INCITE Mobile Associate Communications Platform (mACP), focusing on everything from selling and service to leadership development. Already used by some of the top retail brands, INCITE is a sophisticated, highly branded, mobile-first private broadcast network with instant-on, non-streaming video; self-publishing interface; granular targeting; real-time metrics; field accessibility; instant, internal global broadcasting from an app; and a simple dashboard interface. The Multimedia Plus team consists of experienced content experts, producers, videographers, editors, interactive designers and programmers. The goal is to create compelling experiences that intentionally resonate with the audience to focus on strategies that impact key performance indicators. To contact Multimedia Plus, call (212) 982-3229 or email