Every once in a long while, I attend a presentation where everyone in the audience is enthralled with a particular slide and takes out their phone for a picture. This happened recently during the Retail Supersession at Connections where Shelley Branston, SVP of Retail at Salesforce, discussed a slide entitled, “The Race to the Bottom Is Coming to an End.”
This isn’t a new concept for retailers. In fact, my former colleague and longtime friend, Paula Rosenblum of RSR Research, has been declaring the race to the bottom for nearly two decades. But it’s one of these images that catches your attention live and has the chance to become a social phenomenon — at least in the retail circles where I play — because the visual sums up key industry challenges in such a concise and provocative manner.
The storyline, which clearly hit a cord with those that have been living this reality, is that many retailers and brands lack the tools and data needed to connect with today’s consumer, so they have found themselves in a vicious cycle of endless markdowns, competitive price matching and regular promotions. Add in the competitive climate, like new disruptive business models and the Amazon Effect, and the challenges associated with regulations, like GDPR and data privacy laws, many in our industry are in a death spiral, characterized by store closures and bankruptcies.
As retailers race to the bottom, every week there are new headlines that proclaim a highly distressed industry and the retail apocalypse. The reality is that winners and losers have emerged. While last year saw more than 7,000 store closures in the US., retail spend has actually outperformed GDP and risen every year since 2009.
Today, we find ourselves not in the midst of a retail apocalypse, but a retail renaissance. In an era of increasing consumer expectations, technological innovation, and industry disruption all converging simultaneously, brands must rethink consumer experience. It is, of course, easier said than done. But, let’s face it, experience is the next battleground. Just look at the data from Salesforce’s recent report that shows 80% of consumers seek experience as the key element of shopping.
This experience imperative really came to life for me on the heels of Connections. I was invited by James Connell, head of digital and customer experience at Roots, to an exclusive open house at their Roots Legend Pop-up on Newbury Street in Boston. The iconic Canadian brand weaves together a fast, connected, and personalized experience that is unlike anything I’ve seen. According to James, “Roots Legend is not like any other of the 220+ Roots stores around the world, and frankly not like many other fashion apparel stores in existence. Visitors get a chance to view the brand’s living legends, have an unexpected experience and learn a little about what makes Roots, well Roots, in an interactive way.”
Check out these pictures from the event.
How fast did they get it up and running? Well, they designed and built out the location in about four weeks from the time they signed the lease. Not only that, but they plan to redesign the space every six to eight weeks to keep it fresh and tell local and relevant stories.
How connected is the store? If you have ever shopped Newbury Street, you know that space is at a premium. Even so, the brand has taken the bold move to include open space for customers to learn about the brand and touch the materials. Due to the minimal inventory on hand, Roots relies on their commerce platform to access an endless aisles of product across all categories.
How personalized is the experience? Very. Just check out the process for designing and ordering their famous Banff Bag. An expert stylist walks customers through each intricate detail to customize the bag to one’s liking.
The store was a breath of fresh air. Kudos to James and team. If there is still a question whether the race to the bottom has a finish line, my time at Roots Legend would suggest that this iconic brand is redefining the terms of competition and winning on experience.
For more insight on how top-performing brands like Roots win shoppers in the experience-driven era, download the report Consumer Experience in the Retail Renaissance, and be sure to check out Salesforce for Retail, which empowers brands to connect every part of their business on a single, intelligent platform.