Retail industry insiders are beginning to gather in Philadelphia for Shop.org. FierceRetail spoke to Vicki Cantrell, senior VP of communities and executive director of Shop.org, for a closer look at what will be on the minds of retailers, from electronic pure-plays to omnichannel operators, as well as the trends, challenges and opportunities facing retailers in the digital channel today.
FierceRetail: What is the state of online retail today? Do you separate the pure-plays from the rest, or is it all an omnichannel world right now?
Vicki Cantrell: It's an omnichannel world. Today retailers are facing both challenges and strategy. Some of the challenges are finally [being met] regarding the seamless customer experience: the availability of inventory, the shopping experience, and buy online, pick up in-store. Retailers are actually getting there and fulfilling that promise.
Strategically though, we've only scratched the surface of how online [retailers] can use the stores. The stores are very powerful assets, and online, the e-commerce sales, the e-commerce team, the digital team, etc., are really learning new ways to utilize that customer experience in the store to drive traffic to the Web and/or optimize the overarching experience.
FierceRetail: Some of the pure-play online retailers have gone from clicks to bricks and jumped into the pool of brick-and-mortar retailing. Why do you think that's a trend? Does that play into some of this need to leverage inventory and touchpoints with the consumer in different ways?
Vicki Cantrell: I think it is a customer acquisition strategy and a marketing strategy. How do you build awareness to your brand? We still certainly understand that brick-and-mortar retail is still very much a force, not just because of its size and scale, but because of the experience. Brick-and-mortar retailers know how to capitalize on an experience and their job is to continue to make retailing experiential. So the online retailers have something in place that they can take advantage of, again, customer acquisition and marketing. Just the marketing of the fact that they are online and they are opening a store, it's like having a new event. They actually get PR out of that, not that it's their sole reason for doing it, but it's one of the tools.
And think about how these digital-only brands started. They were start-ups, they think digitally, it's part of their DNA. So testing is in their DNA. They know how to test, fail fast, etc. They are an ecosystem or a group of business people that know how to look at the data because they have been in a data-only world. So this is like another test for them.
FierceRetail: Do you think that online retail can play a role in the rejuvenation of the American mall?
Vicki Cantrell: I absolutely do! And part of it is the fact that no matter who is in the mall, they are governed by their mobile experience, their mobile device [and] using the stores in a different way. For a little while, people were multichannel. The store was almost fighting against the Web because the P and L was not designed to best reward omnichannel behavior. Now retailers are figuring out how to reward the store, and/or the employee if it's a commission environment, in a more holistic way, so that as long as the sale happens, they get their reward. This has played a big role in the success of blending the channels.
FierceRetail: What else will be top of mind at Shop.org this year?
Vicki Cantrell: There's an awful lot of interest and talk about international strategy. It's really important. With everything that's going on in China and South America, and the challenge of doing business across the different countries in the EU, it's a big topic. There is a lot of conversation around global marketplaces. It's a friend or foe kind of thing. We recommend you really look to see what it is you're trying to do. Are you trying to get more customer reach? Are you trying to get rid of product? Are you trying to expand your brand? You know, the decisions for whether a retailer dips their toe into marketplaces is going to be very different [for each] retailer, but it's an area that you can't ignore.