Online titan Amazon has rolled out many initiatives and services that are influencing how the retail world operates, but in winning the rights to broadcast live coverage of English Premier League football in 2018 it has highlighted its position as a media player too.
Viewing oneself as a media company should be the new norm for retailers in general, as they look to shape their propositions and align their store portfolios for a new generation of shoppers who are increasingly used to the content-rich environment and entertainment value of e-commerce.
I’m not proposing David Jones or Kmart, for example, start buying TV rights to A-League soccer, but the retail as media concept is a line of thinking that has particular pertinence in relation to stores. It is especially critical today as retailers continue to find new ways to use their physical space and utilise the staff within it to cater for a market where shops are not the only way to buy any more.
To borrow some phrasing from Doug Stephens, the US-based consultant, self-proclaimed retail prophet and author of literature on the industry’s transformation, what used to be solely a distribution channel – the store – is becoming a media channel. And on the flipside, as shown by Amazon and a raft of its peers and social media sites, the media channels are becoming the ‘stores’.
For retailers to thrive they need to realise that the stores they operate which are spread across different towns, regions and countries can be a powerful media asset if shaped correctly and used in a way that showcases their brand’s point of difference, its strengths and its service credentials. Stores are – and still will be – about product range, but rather than the traditional visual merchandising of piling high and watching items fly, they also need to be experience centres that tell a brand’s stories.
What’s the story?
The disadvantage of online retailing is that, although often quick and convenient to a customer, it can be very difficult to build a relationship with a customer. Stores, with highly-trained and knowledgeable staff, have a real opportunity to be the place where shoppers visit for the in-depth advice on products they require, and the consultancy needed for big ticket items and to learn about why they should let a certain brand into their lives.
Stores are marketing tools that already exist in retailers’ armoury. If their stores are operating in a functional, customer-friendly way, they do everything that an expensive ad campaign or brand messaging refresh can do for a retailer, and more.
These physical spaces are already placed in high footfall areas, and with more of an effort to turn them into the showrooms and brand hubs customers want them to be, they can be the most powerful form of marketing a retailer can have.
Clubs and communities
There are some compelling examples around the world of retailers and brands using their valuable bricks and mortar for reasons other than simply selling goods, in ways that can drive traffic into stores and help boost customer engagement at the same time.
Apple, of course, is a prime example of creating a community-minded, stores-as-a-service model, especially with its recently launched ‘Town Square’ concept that encourages people in store to view demonstrations, work on their laptops, and even meet friends for a coffee.
But there are other ways of driving people into bricks and mortar retail. Arts and crafts retailer Hobbycraft, which is based in the UK, is building a cult following by running a membership club rewarding loyal customers with invites to special in-store gatherings.
Approximately five years since starting the initiative, the club has millions of members who will receive personalised emails and marketing material when transacting with Hobbycraft. Some of most engaged customers are encouraged to visit stores for discounts, demonstrations and arts and crafts goody bags, and to mix with and share experiences with likeminded hobbyists.
Speciality retailers like Hobbycraft have a real opportunity to connect with their customers in this way because they are ready-built communities, and can use their stores as locations for these brand storytelling experiences. Many of the major wine and drinks retailers around the globe operate similar club-like schemes, but it’s up to the generalists and the wider retail community to find other reasons to drive store traffic – whether its outside normal trading hours or not.
Wesfarmers-owned Kmart in Australia has developed a feel-good factor and generated strong brand advocacy among customers thanks to novel offerings, such as keeping some stores open for 24 hours a day, and its success shows that there’s lots of life in bricks and mortar retail.
Time to act
These are global challenges for retail, but the arguments for stores as media and experience is an appropriate one for my focus market, and in particular Australia where Amazon has just ramped up its offering with the launch of its Prime membership scheme. Other online behemoths with spending power and tech prowess, JD.com and Alibaba, have also recently opened facilities in this part of the world and are soon expected to build traction.
Considering these new challengers to the traditional market, retailers need to dust down what for most of them are compelling individual brand stories and start telling the world about them, primarily through their greatest asset – their stores. Simply put, if they give people a reason to visit their stores, they’ll see the traffic mount up.