CHICAGO—It's easy to think that an iPad app will solve all of a retailer's woes. While new technology is constantly giving retailers expanded opportunities and new areas to conquer, a theme of Tuesday's keynote speeches and breakout sessions at the Shop.org summit here was the need to embrace new technology strategically. A consumer doesn't want an iPad app; he wants an engaging, nonfrustrating mobile shopping experience. Content matters more than mode of delivery.
During a kickoff speech, Miki Beradelli, chief marketing officer for the "accessible luxury" fashion retailer Tory Burch, explained that it's better to have a great product than be first to market. Tory Burch was late to the iPad space, a deliberate choice while the company thought about how to make an app that would actually be used by the customer. The result, Tory Daily, encourages frequent use simply by its name, with an 80 percent user return rate. That mentality was echoed later in the day by Jacob Hawkins, vice president of e-commerce for Aeropostale. Both Tory Burch and Aeropostale have apps that rate 4.5/5 in the Apple app store, indicating that they offer value to the customer, as well as ease of use. Hawkins also offered the practical advice that most consumers on a tablet or mobile device still use a browser, not an app, so retailers should pay attention to the shopping and checkout process with a browser.
As more customers shop and browse online, retailers are bringing digital to the store to better serve customers and enable associates. Hawkins talked about Aeropostale's new store design, which combines fun elements such as the ability to control music in the dressing rooms and vote on the selections playing in the store, with more sales-driven forms of engagement. Associates access a mobile-based system that allows them to share promotions and tracks consumers who respond to their "shares."
More robust programs for salespeople exist in the high-end space. Tory Burch, like Saks Fifth Avenue, which presented Monday at the mobile boot camp, developed an iPad-based system called Clientbook that connects associates with a customer's shopping history both online and in-store. Matt Marcotte, senior vice president of global stores, shared a story of a husband who came into the store looking for a birthday gift for his wife. Using the Clientbook, the associate was able to find items consistent with her past purchases. "The next day, the wife came in to ask to speak to a sales associate. She said it was the first time in twenty years [her husband had] ever gotten it right. The customer is happy, and the husband looks like a rock star," he said.
The link between e-commerce and in-store sales is part of the long-term plan for ZipFit, a year-old Chicago-based company with two retail locations. In-store, men looking for jeans fill out an iPad questionnaire about how they like their jeans to fit, and any areas they have trouble fitting well. An algorithm matches them with high-end jeans with recommendations for custom alterations. Those customer notes are then synced with an e-commerce site, enabling customers to easily reorder a pair they like.
The start-up signals another trend pointed out by Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru in her introduction to Tuesday morning's keynotes. Branded manufacturers (including Tory Burch) are moving into brick-and-mortar retail spaces instead of relying on retailers to sell their products for them. The future will likely be a combination of e-commerce and in-store experiences. They can also be more cost-effective. ZipFit has scaled back its online marketing efforts, finding that it spends less to find new customers in store than online. Once a customer is sold on an item, the e-commerce part steps in to allow customers to conveniently reorder their favorites.
The fact that start-ups are integrating in-store and e-commerce elements signals a change in the retail space. Retail is moving toward a more fluid relationship between stores and online, as places like Tory Burch try to standardize pricing and promotions and make inventory available wherever the customer wants it. Many customers shop online and in store. Retailers are realizing that when all channels work together, and the associates are given tools to reach out to clients, the customer and retailer win.