As far as I'm concerned, Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the mayor of the retail world. Highlighted in just about every top retail influencer list you'll come across, this global retail thought leader is the publisher of Retail Minded, co-founder of the Independent Retailer Conference, and author of Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business. A spokesperson for Small Business Saturday, Nicole is a champion for independent retailers and a highly sought after speaker and advisor. Truly, I'm not sure when she has time to sleep.
I was lucky enough to meet Nicole in Boston last month and stole some of her time to chat about current and upcoming retail trends, the shifting customer journey, and why creating an unforgettable in-store experience is necessary to thrive.
Where does your interest in retail stem from?
Since I was a little girl I have been passionate about the business of retail. I remember strolling in and out of stores on my local Main Street with my mother and sisters as well as visiting malls - particularly during the colder months in my home state of Illinois while growing up - and always being partial to independent retailers. My curiosity of how these merchants not only came to life and stayed successful was strong, but also my curiosity as to how they impacted their local communities. This still fascinates me and is what drives me to continue my research and overall work supporting merchants in their unique goals to find success.
What’s one (or a few!) trends you’ve seen shake up the retail industry lately?
The payment space is an interesting component of retail. With millennials not using credit cards the same way their parents and older peers have historically used them, it’s interesting to see companies such as Quady Pay and After Pay come to market. I am also intrigued by what Bolt is doing and expect that this will change the payment space unlike any other technology to date has. I’m also consistently intrigued by the power of online marketing for in-store sales. The reality is we live in a digital world but that doesn’t mean consumers aren’t still shopping in physical storefronts. Their path to purchase is just different and thus, online marketing plays a big part in this.
Any predictions for 2019’s retail trends yet?
Retail is so dynamic that it is constantly changing and offering customers new ways to experience products and explore retailers. I think in 2019, we can expect these experiences to be enhanced both online and offline - ultimately driving a more experience oriented commerce environment. Customers want to be entertained while also feeling appreciated in combination with purchasing what they want with ease, so I believe that in 2019 and beyond we will begin to see merchants aiming to deliver on this. No longer is it just about buying but rather buying from somewhere customers truly enjoy and want to experience.
"No longer is it just about buying, but rather buying from somewhere customers truly enjoy and want to experience."
How do you think technology has impacted retail over the last few years?
Technology has undoubtedly impacted retail causing disruption across many channels. From behind-the-scenes operations to optimizing inventory reorders to strengthening future operational decisions based on real-time and historic data alike, retailers are better positioned to help their businesses succeed. Marketing, customer service and even employee management are other great categories in which technology has offered enhancement to in recent years. Ironically, I believe technology has allowed merchants to apply their human touch in more innovative ways since technology can assist them in some of the more fine-print, mundane tasks.
What are three non-negotiable tools every brick & mortar retailer must have to thrive?
Having a point of sale system is an absolute must for brick and mortar retailers. This has been a long time top pick for my priority “must-haves” for retailers.
Beyond POS, I think having a strong employee management system in place - such as Legion offers - is beneficial for retailers to implement into their strategy.
Finally, Salesfloor is a great tool that I can’t recommend enough for brick and mortar stores. It essentially empowers employees to stay connected with customers even after they have left a store and welcomes the opportunities for future sales.
In a world where virtually everything can be purchased online, what can independent retailers be doing to drive both new and repeat customers into their physical stores?
Customers are bombarded with brand images and competitive store suggestions at nearly every physical or digital turn they make. Keeping this in mind, retailers need to create shopping experiences that their customers want to repeat again and again and again. Having employees who genuinely represent your store well is a great start - particularly when they are armed with inventory knowledge and friendly, supportive customer service strategies. Additionally, having a store environment that welcomes customers to linger and truly embrace themselves in their shopping experience is important. Hosting special events throughout every month is another way to create customer loyalty since these events may become something they look forward to. Essentially physical retailers should aim to entertain their customers and provide them with trusted insight on the knowledge they share. Offering incentives for future shopping experiences is a classic strategy, as well, that is proven to work. Another tip I’d suggest is to stay in touch with customers in between store visits through email marketing and social media. But don’t just do these efforts to mark them off your to-do-lists. Instead, embrace these opportunities to highlight new inventory and really show off your store spirit and brand.
We’re seeing a lot of eCommerce retailers break into the brick & mortar world recently—kind of the opposite of what we’ve been seeing for the past five to ten years! What advice do you have for digitally native brands who are opening their first physical store?
My advice for e-commerce stores opening physical stores is to know your local audience. Demographics can be vast online but within a local community it will be much more narrow.
Like Nicole says, "physical retailers should aim to entertain their customers and provide them with trusted insight on the knowledge they share." Want to learn more about how to create a personalized customer experience that will take your customer engagement and retention to new levels?
Topics: Business of Retail