Steve’s Sage Statements and Suitable Solutions for the Beleaguered Business to Achieve the Apex of Affordable Attire
The landscape of retail is changing rapidly, and businesses like yours are pressed with new and daunting challenges. eCommerce is skyrocketing. Global supply chain has all but ground to a standstill. Buyers are ever more demanding — all this, under the unforgiving fist of industry kingpins. Looking for expert insight to help you make the right decisions? Search no further: Expert ENGINE held interviews with retail thought leaders in our longstanding network, like retail veteran Steve, just to share insight with clients like you. Last year, we began an interview series featuring perspective from Steve. In this final installment of our interview series together, Steve explains Amazon’s ascent to empire, suggests creative solutions for today’s battle-worn retailer, and reviews some of the most exciting trends in this ever-changing world.
A Brief History of Online Retail
“You can never sell apparel online.” Imagine how foolish you’d feel today if you were one of the traditional retailers who had so scoffed at Amazon’s expansion into web services just after the turn of the millennium. And yet, according to Steve, that skepticism toward eCommerce dominated thinking in the retail trade… until Bezos assumed the throne. Whatever the product, forerunners had always reasoned, “consumers want to touch it and feel it” before making any purchasing decisions. So nascent, then, was online retail, that consumers were even afraid to enter their credit card information online! So, when Amazon took over, no one expected it — and isn’t that always the case with a revolution? Perhaps the industry wildfire began to kindle, if only at a flicker, when Amazon progressed outward from books and into other hard goods. Why wouldn’t this new method be the way of the future? Why stick to milling around malls and food courts, Steve asks, only because it’s all we’ve known?
In the halcyon mid-2000’s, when the very Internet didn’t yet feel like a trustworthy hub to most retailers or consumers, Amazon’s contemporaries had to “scramble” nearly overnight to invest maximum time, energy and resources just to compete in the same ecosystem. Steve’s analogy: Cell phones! In the wake of massive disruption and innovation, companies suddenly had to plan on improving their products dramatically every single year just to keep the consumer engaged. Now buyers’ expectations in the world of retail have ramped so high that even Steve would not have expected today’s levels two years ago. Looking ahead to two years from now, Steve predicts consumer expectations will reach 10 times the intensity of today.
The lesson for retailers: “You have to be good at everything.” In a prior era, retailers would specialize in shipping time, or assortment of products, or competitive prices. Competition is fiercer now. In many cases, a modern business’ relevance now hinges on having an ultra-strong website — one that’s not only easy and attractive for consumers, but one that interfaces smoothly with the retailer’s actual fleet of products.
Positive Predictions: Principles, Pride, Price Point Perils, Promotional Pushes, and Paragons of Plasticity
Hoping to end on a high note, we asked Steve what excites him about the retail world to come. For starters, Steve is enthusiastic and impressed when it comes to brick-and-mortar leaders’ efforts to make the in-store experience compelling. While complacent retailers fall behind and refuse to make changes, others are getting “super-creative” and super-innovative.” These retailers — the ones Steve expects to win — are not afraid to make mistakes… a lot of mistakes. Because that’s the thing about the old days: They’re not coming back. Businesses need to be willing to [a] rethink their identities, even when it’s painful, and [b] take some chances. And fail. And fail fast. And learn from it. And build on successes. “Wow,” the victors might observe in a tender moment of self-reflection, “We’re not who we used to be. But that’s okay. We’re relevant. Still.”
The nature of major change, of course, is that it is not easy. Juggernaut retailers like Macy’s and Nordstrom may have to bend on their very price points just to adapt. They may also risk alienating some customers — including longtime brand loyalists who spend significantly more money in stores than their younger, newer counterparts. From the unrelenting vantage of history, retailers stand at a crossroads: Ours is a scary time, a dangerous one, but an exciting one all the same. And it’s a stellar entry point for the brands who are innovative and prepared to adapt.
The First Rule of Retail Sales: ABC — Always Be Clothing
Inklings: Steve’s got ’em. Especially when it comes to wearable technology. In his view, major tech retailers like Best Buy will continue to “march along” selling products like Apple Watch. But as far as Steve is concerned, “the part that’s going to get super interesting” is today’s budding technology in custom-made clothing. A few sites have already popped up — at the saccharine twilight juncture of brands, technology, apparel and people — to bring long-held futuristic ideas to life. At this point, it’s impossible for Steve to adopt the narrative voice of a brand wooing customer prospects without sounding Disney-villainesque: “Let me measure your body type, and I can tell you where [prior measurements have] been fraught with problems and inaccuracies.” Today’s innovative measurement tools, in Steve’s view, can rectify the “wild promises” made by other retailers — promises heretofore impossible to uphold.
For instance, a few new online retailers own specialty patterns and fabric — but none of the material even exists until the visitor undergoes the process of scanning their own body, then securely sharing the measurement information with the retailer — all via an app on their own phone. The result: “made-to-measure” clothing, all done “with an unbelievable amount of precision.” The applications — body type and tailoring, coupled with personal decisions about fit and style — couldn’t be more personal. Largely for and by a generation increasingly attuned to kindness and self-care, fitting clothing to form can, and already has, embraced body positivity as a driving ethos. To boot: Steve predicts this high-tech, ultra-accessible method will be especially useful for parents of growing children whose sizes change every few months.
Indeed: Businesses lead, read and feed in the creed of speed. Steve says he won’t be surprised if, before long, the tailoring and returns that typically take two months will be down to two weeks. And, perhaps most importantly, these changes in technology reflect customer care: If the shopper doesn’t like the new clothing, or if it doesn’t fit, they can keep the one the retailer sent them.
They can tell the retailer what’s wrong so it can be remade. And they can expect to be looked after when they return in six months and are asked, in thoughtful terms, whether their height or weight has changed — and, if so, how the retailer can better serve them.
As Retail Continues to Evolve…
As we look to the future of retail, it’s critical to start acknowledging trends and making changes today. How will you create a new strategy in 2022? What can you expect as numerous aspects of the retail landscape continue to change?
In our next installment — the final chapter of the “Shopping Insights from Retail Experts” blog series — we’ll cover a fascinating interview with retail leader Jeff. Currently a CEO, leadership coach, retail analyst and international author, Jeff possesses 30 years’ experience as an executive leader for three household names in retail. Jeff’s career history spans big box, home improvement and major outlet bookselling. Now, at his own consultancy, Jeff leverages a “business world hybrid” approach, offering advisory insights and structured blueprints for retail clients to achieve success. In our interview, Jeff discussed his new book, successful models for in-store experience, products and pricing, authentic customer feedback, success stories by giants like Amazon, suggestions for c-suite innovation and employee training that really works, and case studies of brick-and-mortar establishments self-reinventing to include digital options.
Jeff and Steve are two of thousands of seasoned professionals in Expert ENGINE’s network of highly skilled and specialized experts. Interested in working with an expert on a project of your own? Don’t hesitate to reach out.