On the surface this may appear to be a question stimulated by the omnichannel evolution. In truth it has always been an important question however in previous times with a less demanding customer and a lower level of competition, being a retail brand was a less pressing consideration and the repercussions of not having a clear definition as a business less perilous to the bottom line.
How times have changed!
What e-commerce has done is to create the need for every business selling and supplying physical products to be at the very least competitive in terms of being a product provider, and as a growing imperative to also create brand differentiation as a way to build patronage and to grow loyalty.
Today if you sell, you need to be both product provider and brand.
Amazon of course should be a concern for every “retailer,” at the very least a fascination and a benchmark. It casts a huge shadow of uncertainty over the relatively easy retail returns that some businesses have been commanding in decades past. Perhaps of more concern to some, is that it is forcing retailers to take a hard look in the mirror, and sometimes what is seen is not quite as welcoming as it should be. And to those traditional “retailers” who would certainly fall into the realm of “product provider” Amazon and its like could well be the straw elephant that breaks the camel’s back.
Before e-commerce the product provider had a strength of proposition based on a combination of availability, choice and convenience in some shape or form. In many cases simply being in the right place was enough to guarantee success.
Online has turned this world on its head. Amazon is always there, and with its delivery capabilities and flexibilities, it is always in the right place. With unparalleled choice and unmatchable levels of convenience, how can the traditional product provider survive? It can’t.
However what can give some level of guarantee for survival in retail is an emotional brand attachment that transcends the supply of a generic product, which evolves the simple product provider into a retail brand – a retail brand creating an emotional customer relationship through product, through environments and through service.
Let’s take a look at these cornerstones of the retail brand.
The most obvious, although the most difficult way to differentiate is to develop an assortment which is non-generic. The creation of an assortment structure and product designs that express a strong and common personality is the essence of a retail brand. Doing this well not only creates a differentiation in the market, an attachment with a customer group, but it adds value and price point and margin opportunities.
Creating a “brand assortment” is not easy, but it is the difference between being an inspired retailer and a mere provider of other people’s inspirations.
Secondly, retail brands use physical and digital environments to create a distinct personality. They deliver an engaging “tone of voice” expressed through a myriad of elements from building materials, decorative enhancements, visual displays, dynamic events, graphic imagery, words and expression to create a differentiation of experience that generic “shelf product providers” cannot compete with.
And finally, physical customer service is re-emerging as the vital heartbeat of any retail brand, as expressed through the energy, dedication, vibrancy and customer centricity of a workforce all engaged in entertaining and satisfying customer demands and delights. “Believing is seeing” as service excellence is always generated by a workforce that is as proud and as excited about the business they work for, as the owner of the business themselves.
And so you have it – the retail brand. A unique customer proposition with a personality that runs through its product, it’s physical and digital places and its people like the proverbial stick of golden rock.
So don’t dwell on being a product provider, don’t be satisfied – because even being the best product provider in the world is not enough.
The numbing injection of newness which is Amazon is set to grow and continue as it becomes as much a retail brand as anyone else in the market place. Currently built on product distribution, customer experience & service, it may not be exactly the sexiest proposition but with the development of its own products in the form of firstly the Kindle, more laterally Alexa and the swallowing of the Whole Foods business, it is beginning to tick all the retail brand emotional boxes as well.
A good text-book definition of a brand talks about “an experience which can always be guaranteed to be consistent.” This may now only be part of the brand story but it’s getting increasingly difficult not to think of a particular American online meg-business when we consider the definition of a “retail brand!”
In response to this retail revolution, VM-Unleashed has developed “omnichannel unveiled” as a benchmarking process to answer the many questions and dilemmas for retailers wrestling with omnichannel customer journeys and experiences, and the best ways to deliver their brand proposition.
In the complex crosswinds of seemingly endless technological possibilities, what every retail business needs now is a calm focus on its omnichannel opportunities – a focus with improved performance and return on investment at the centre.
Omnichannel-unveiled aims to reveal the realities of the strengths and weaknesses of any retailer’s multi-channel touchpoints and to devise a focused plan for realistic and sustainable improvements.
If you’re interested in the future, nay the present, of your omnichannel retail business…why not take a look