OPN 200827 Shoppers
Every other factor being alike, what retailers can offer as a unique set of experiences within their stores or online will decide winners. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu is often credited with saying ‘when you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you’. For a long time now, the apparel retail industry has been fiercely competitive, with a plethora of options marketed to consumers by brands through different channels.

As retailers, we need to go back to basics to make sure that shopping in our stores is an enjoyable experience. It is up to us to ensure factors such as customer service, health and safety, and technology integration are of the highest quality so that customers’ in-store experiences will be as seamless as possible. Today’s shoppers want a good shopping atmosphere, convenient locations, and helpful and knowledgeable sales staff. In fact, they expect no less.

Time-tested ways and then some

This is not all, however. Studies have revealed that there is a growing requirement for special promotions and sales, efficient return policies, an on-line presence, and continuous brand reliability. Customers do not buy from a company; they buy from someone they can trust, someone knowledgeable, someone who delivers what is promised.

Retailers also need to consider that today’s global customer is cost- and time-conscious. Thus, our offering should be relevant, functional, and affordable. It is rare that you will find a customer who thinks of cost as no obstacle, never mind the time.

This said, the future of retail is being built around the notion that what you sell is less important than how you sell it. Forget about product differentiation – the future of retail is about distinct experiences.

To create such experiences, retailers must understand the critical importance of connecting with their customers. True customer loyalty cannot simply be bought for discounts, ‘air miles’ or points.

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Outlive their use soon

These are a short-term fad, which get boring when they do not deliver on the initial expectation. Your loyal customers will ultimately return because the experiences you create for them are preferable to those delivered by your competitors.

Thus, the opportunities to create repeat customers lie in the experience you offer to your shoppers as soon as they step into stores. Your competitors may be able to match your products and services, feature for feature, but the experience your brand offers is yours alone, and provides you with a true competitive advantage.

To enjoy profitability in the long-term, retailers need to reach out from the confines of the box, continually innovating and varying their offering to attract customers. There is no single magic formula that works for all retailers, but it seems apparent that the retailers who survive and thrive are those that understand their customers and know what services they would value.

I end with the words of Steve Jobs: “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves”.