The Evolution of Retail, Pt. 3: Enhancing the Customer Journey

The Evolution of Retail: Enhancing the Customer Journey

Jeremy Duimstra

“Macy’s and Sears Holdings to close a combined 226 stores”
“Is There Any Saving Macy’s?”
“On the heels of Macy’s and Sears, another major department store announces it will close locations in 2017”
The headlines are dire. Retailers are worried. But the future of retail is bright for forward-thinking brands that are willing to embrace new ways of doing business. In our last post, we talked about omni-channel strategy and digital tactics in the ‘Store of the Future’. That’s the first place to look when a retail ecosystem needs fixing. In this article we will explore how customer journeys can be enhanced with new ideas and technology to increase sales and profit and, in turn, begin to fix the cracks in the retail world as we know it.Interested in the whole “Evolution of Retail” series? Sign up and we’ll let you know when each article is published. We’ll also send you a PDF of the entire series at its conclusion.When marketers realized that the final transaction wasn’t the only key metric in the purchasing funnel, the idea of curating customers’ journeys was born. By measuring every touchpoint along the funnel and giving proper attribution to each and every experience a customer had with a brand, marketers were able to see which ones resulted in sales. This very visibility into attribution, and uncovering the sales and ROI it converts, led to the realization that consumers hold the ultimate power during the customer journey. In an instant, a consumer can be very close to buying, and then disappear. E-Commerce pushed this visibility even further and allowed marketers to price check everything. The result was what retailers dreaded most: a downward race to the lowest possible price. To win this race, retailers are required to produce a high volume of sales while reducing the number of high cost of physical locations they are supporting. In essence, this is the Amazon model.This model is contributing to the woes of traditional retailers, and that is leading to a seismic shift in their operations.Retailers like American Girl, Nordstrom, and others are starting to lead with innovation within the customer journey in order to re-set the race to lowest price. They are creating value through digital software platforms, automation, and IT efficiencies to reduce overall costs. In doing so, they are crafting extraordinary, personalized brand stories that resonate with customers and inadvertently lead to increased purchasing.

Platform Design

One of the primary tactics we’ve used to create substantial retail business efficiencies is through something we call Platform Design. Platform Design lowers overall costs while making interactions with customers much more personal and enjoyable.

Most recently, we helped build customer journeys through platform design by combining a mobile application experience with dynamic inventory tracking, product suggestions, and consumer guides. The mobile app allowed users to customize a product, and buy appropriate accessories for their custom product. From there, we connected to a centralized inventory system that checks to see if all the components in the custom order are available and determines whether or not there was an excess of stock warehoused for any particular accessory. By using technology to detect inventory, dynamic pricing was used to discount the accessory for the client where necessary. Fulfillment was then able to electronically receive the order, build it automatically, and ship it to the client. At the tail end of the journey, the customer was able to further their interaction with the brand by being able to log into the brand’s website to obtain help in configuring the customized product. Through single sign-on, the system was capable of knowing exactly what was purchased and was able to serve up help videos to guide them through configuration. At the end of the journey, customers feel the thrill of a seamless and unique product experience. These emotions are what platform design zeroes in on and uses to tie consumers to brands.

To build on that, we’ve found that the journeys we are building aren’t limited to the online ecosystem. Using innovation to guide customers through physical stores is just as important. For the in-store customer we’ve taken this realization and built a mobile app that is capable of reading in-store beacons and triggering a CRM to obtain recent purchases from the customer. In addition to knowing past purchases, the app can entice in-store customers to make purchases outside of their typical buying patterns. If, for instance, the app is able to notify the customer that certain accessories purchased in the past are items that typically run out, we are able to provide an in-store map guiding them to the product where the customer will not only be tempted purchase the product, but purchase multiple products so that they do not run out. The effortlessness of the in-store  journey cultivates repeat customers using brand loyalty, just like it does for the online customer.


Automation is the process of replacing formerly manual activities with digital magic. It is another one of the key factors that makes enhancing customer journeys possible. A great example of this can be seen through our work with GoPro. A typical GoPro customer would go out surfing and capture some amazing video. They would get back to the parking lot, jump into their car and want to immediately share a 15 second clip of their surfing session on Instagram. In order to do that, they would have to manually plug the camera into their computer, download the files, edit them, and finally post them. This was a major pain point for customers. To alleviate this, we automated the process by using wifi to transfer the files to customers’ phones with no manual process necessary. Customers are now able to shred waves, get in their car, have the mobile app see their camera, magically downloads the files, edit and post to friends and family in seconds.

This is just one example of the plethora of ways that digital is automating the customer journey, but automation itself can be tricky. From a customer’s standpoint, automation either needs to be invisible or interesting. Technically, making automation invisible is difficult. You have to think through user experiences to make the technology disappear. That’s hard. But if you pull it off, the rewards are substantial. Automation that interests and delights is less technically demanding, but requires a strong experience on the part of the user. One of the best ways to create that sort of an experience is through personalization.


The days of broadcasting a marketing message to one monolithic group of customers have passed. Technology has allowed marketers to craft messages on a one-to-one basis between their brand and a single shopper. Personalization takes these messages a step further. In our work for retail clients, every part of the customer journey is personalized. Once a customer has created an account, the websites, mobile apps and physical stores they interact with all change for that particular person. When a customer walks into a store, they can be digitally welcomed by name. Or, a notification can be sent to a store associate who can give them a warm, human welcome and assist them. This allows for storytelling on a very intimate, human level. By bringing elements of joy to customers by making them feel special, we are providing increased lifetime value to brands through personalization.

According to a study by MyBuys and the e-tailing group, 40% of survey respondents said they buy more from retailers that personalize their shopping experience across channels. Based on sales data from MyBuys’ database of over 250 million shoppers, customer-centric marketing delivers a 25% increase in total online sales and a 300% improvement in customer lifetime value. (Datamentors, 2015)

Creating a personalized story for a customer’s journey requires context. This leads us to the final part of our customer journey: contextual interactivity.

Contextual Interactivity

Knowing where in the customer journey your customers actually are allows you to interact appropriately with them at a given time, in a given place. The “platform” mentioned above is the tool that allows that to happen. If, for example, a customer is on your website looking at a product for the third time, analytics and CRM can identify this and dynamically serve the right message to that person to get them past the tipping point of buying. On the other hand, if a customer is walking into a store for the first time, their context is vastly different that that of a loyal customer who visits the store regularly. Each customer is different, and should be offered contextual interactions that are personalized to their particular situation. The first time shopper could be welcomed via a digital display that shows them wayfinding through the store. The loyal shopper could get a text notification on their phone letting them know how many loyalty points they have, and that they’ve earned a free ‘favorite’ beverage (identified through POS analytics) at the store’s cafe. Context and personalization together form a powerful tool to build strong customer affinity for brands and round out the enhanced customer journey consumers are seeking.


Navigating the complexity of a retail world that is neither bound by brick and mortar or the world wide web is difficult. Consumers are seduced by quick, easy, and cheap solutions that are often detrimental to profit margins and growth. Meeting customers where there are in today’s landscape and watching their exploration within a brand is the key to getting out ahead of broken retail stores and/or clunky digital solutions. Using automation, personalization, and contextual interactivity to enhance a customer’s journey forms a bond with consumers that allows for innovation that will both surprise and delight them.

At the end of the day, it is innovation that we’re after. Innovation that is not only digital, functional, or creative – but, a combination of all three that bonds us together and allows us to grow.

MJD Retail Solutions

Evolution of Retail, Pt. 2: Omni-Channel Strategy & Digital Tactics in the ‘Store of the Future’

Jeremy Duimstra

Single-Sign-On. Beacons. Personalization. Virtual Reality. Digital Wayfinding. We’ve all heard the buzzwords. Many of us have probably read or been told that we need those things to survive in today’s modern retail environment. But what it really takes to not just survive, but to win, is a strong, captivating omni-channel strategy. Without strategy, outcomes are short sighted and the buzzwords are simply tactics that support strategy, not the strategy itself.

Jeremy Duimstra

I think Roger Martin, author of “Playing to Win”, has a great definition (Martin, 2014):

“Strategy is choice. Strategy is not a long planning document; it is a set of interrelated and powerful choices that positions the organization to win. There are five key choices in the Strategy Choice Cascade:

What is our winning aspiration?
Where will we play?
How will we win where we have chosen to play?
What capabilities must be in place to win?
What management systems are required to ensure the capabilities are in place?

These are all great questions to ask when creating a strategy, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on the one that is a powerful differentiator in retail: Our winning aspiration. Strategy’s winning aspiration is to drive sales by building lasting, positive emotional engagements with customers – to tell them a consistent story  through every interaction.

We are using this aspiration as we help our client American Girl create their new ‘Store of the Future’ in New York. Even though the brand has long been prescient about making shopping experiential, they are looking for a deeper bond with their consumers. “As we look at girls today and millennial moms, they’re seeking brands that deliver positive, meaningful experiences, not just products,” says Wade Opland, American Girl’s Senior Vice President of Global Retail. As he puts it, they’re asking themselves, “How does it tie back to me?” (Rubin 2016) Creating positive, meaningful experiences is part of American Girl’s strategy, and the tactics are the methods that make it a success.

One of the planned Rockefeller Center store’s two main entrances. Image: FRCH Design Worldwide

Prioritizing tactics over strategy is not at all unusual. It is completely understandable for a retailer to experiment with tactics to try to find out what works. Most of our clients have built a mobile app. Many have attempted single-sign-on systems. Some have played with cutting edge technology like augmented reality. Those experiments don’t always fit into a more focused strategy, but that isn’t always a bad thing. There is a lot of value in occasionally building out a tactic to see how the market reacts. It gives valuable insight into what your customers really expect and want. The problem arises when you stop looking at these tactical projects as experiments and start treating them as a strategy of their own. This can cause very valuable digital and physical assets to unravel. When a retailer starts to pile experimental tactics on top of an existing IT, design and architectural platform, things get messy – and expensive. You end up with multiple pieces of software that could all do the same thing. Data gets spread so far between one-off projects that it not only becomes inaccessible to other systems and people in the organization, it becomes invisible because no one knows about it. The store POS can’t talk to the e-Commerce software. Digital displays in the store can’t make their assets available anywhere else. This can cause questions as to how effective these tactics really are, which leads to calls to return to core competencies. This can lead to a lack of innovation, muddying of the organization’s strategy, and, at worst, a complete detour from it.

There are two specific tactics that I see regularly that aren’t typically an effective part of a winning retail strategy, and I feel they deserve some special attention. They are: 1. Discounting and 2. The idea that people should be driven to online stores.

Discounting is typically done with coupons or promotions. While these are effective means to get people to purchase products, they can be devastating to profits. Retailers generally want a better tactic than giving a large percentage of their revenue away via a coupon. This is especially true on the digital side. I’ve heard the following dozens of times: “How can I get my customers to use our mobile app more than once? How can I get them to interact with the digital experiences in the store? And please don’t tell me that the answer is to offer them coupons or promotions.” The answer to this is to go back to strategy. The mobile app, the digital experiences, and all of your tactics should be telling the same, emotionally connecting story. If the  story is resonating, you won’t have to rely on promotions to get engagement – it will happen naturally.

The second failed tactic that I commonly see is shifting resources from physical to online stores. Typically, clients argue that online stores have far less overhead and thus are cheaper to run. There is some excellent research being done on this topic, as well as on coupons/promotions. Let’s take a look.

Harvard Business Review recently published an article that included research by a team led by Xueming Luo, a marketing professor at Temple University. It finds that driving customers online instead of to the store can be detrimental to profits.

“Among customers who lived close to a store, no type of coupon made a significant difference to shopping or profits. For those customers, the researchers concluded, the costs of getting to a store were low, so no added motivation was needed to prompt a trip. Among customers who lived farther away and had previously shopped only online, the online coupon generated twice as much profit as among the control group, and the flexible (use online or in-store) coupon increased profits by 800%. But when distant shoppers who’d previously bought only in stores were given online-only coupons, profits from them fell by 51%. In other words, encouraging online customers to visit a store increased profits, but incentivizing in-store customers to shop online decreased them.” (Nyquist, 2016)

Another interesting piece of advice from the researchers:

“If customers come to your physical stores regularly, you should not encourage them to shop online,” Luo advises. The more profitable play is to coax online shoppers to come into your stores, where the environment can induce them to spend more. “That’s the winning omni-channel strategy,” Luo says.

The research shows us that getting shoppers into your physical stores will actually increase profits. Additional research published by Harvard Business Review has shown that by creating emotional ties to your brand, you can lift lifetime value of a customer by nearly double. (Magids, Zorfas & Leemon, 2015)

Physical stores matter: Amazon’s new brick-and-mortar concept bookstore in Seattle, WA. Image: University Village

“Lifetime value well exceeds that of the immediate physical purchase,” notes Caitlin Neyer, Associate Director of Strategy and Insights at FRCH Design Worldwide. According to Neyer, FRCH believes that keeping the guest at the center of the omni-channel experience is the crucial foundation for creating emotional ties and in turn, sustainable value. Neyer says “An emotional tie is established when a community is built around a passion. The physical store serves as a breeding ground for this passion by enabling guests to share experiences, gain knowledge and meet up with friends – old and new. In order to create a space that facilitates this type of next-level engagement, both the strategy and the store must be designed with the customer as the focus.”

Customers expect seamless, enjoyable experiences with a brand. They want a brick-and-mortar store to be engaging and to give them a sense of community. They want store staff that can enhance the in-store and digital experience with their vast product knowledge and people skills. They certainly expect to only have one login and password across every digital platform. Past orders, wish lists and loyalty points should be accessible everywhere within the store ecosystem. This renewed focus on the customer will very quickly identify the tactics that should be part of the overall strategy because customers will demand them.

When it comes down to it, simply employing tactics without an omni-channel strategy introduces the risk of creating an untended and unruly garden of digital things, data points, disconnected platforms, and very unsatisfied customers. Taking a step back with your architecture firm, design team, digital team, and operations team is imperative to figuring out which tactics can be utilized successfully in a broader overall strategy. Creating that winning strategy will differentiate you amongst the competition and will positively affect the bottom line.

Check out the entire Evolution of Retail series:

Click here for more information on MJD’s Digital Retail Offering.



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Michael Maginnis

The MJD team attended the NRF Big Show last week and came away both inspired and a bit overwhelmed. We were inspired by the digital innovation happening in retail, with big and small players alike pushing the boundaries of technology. It felt a bit more like CES than the NRF shows of the past with virtual and augmented reality, cognitive computing, RFID, chatbots and plenty of cutting edge software options being sold as the savior to all retailers.

We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of options retailers have to choose from. This brings up important questions: What exactly does the software do; would this technology provide value to my organization; and what would it actually take to implement any of these options? How does someone weed through everything to find something that works? Well, we’ve taken a stab at that. The following technologies and services cut through the noise for us as viable options for retailers to utilize in process of modernizing their operations.

The Evolution of Retail, Pt. 1

Jeremy Duimstra

The convenience of shopping from home and getting a guaranteed lowest price are powerful incentives for consumers to skip the store visit. Very few retailers can operate more efficiently on price and convenience than Amazon. This is the macro-level challenge facing traditional retailers today. How can brick and mortar stores beat the experience of endless aisles of product options, predictable delivery, no traffic, no waiting in line, all while offering the least expensive option?

We believe that the answer lies in evolving the role of the store in the customer journey. Traditionally, stores have been points of conversion. Advertising drove traffic, specialty stores and department stores allowed for feature and price comparison, and sales folks helped in the conversion which allowed consumers to leave that very day with the item of their choice. Today, social media relationships drive the most influential product awareness, purchases convert on smartphones, and customer’s behavior online helps companies predict what a customer needs before they know they need it. The fully controlled retail funnel has sprung leaks.

That’s what retailers are up against today. The comfort zone of the store as the sole point of conversion has left most retailers exposed. And it begs the question, how has the store evolved in the eyes of the customer? And what does that mean for retailing in the future?

Before retail’s digital revolution, the physical store was where the “first moment of truth” happened. Crest over Colgate. Tide over Cheer. People were made aware of the products through marketer’s pushed communications which drove store traffic and in-store conversion. Because that linear path to purchase no longer exists, it changes how the store could be utilized as a marketing tactic. A couple examples:

Starbucks has turned all of its coffee shops into micro-fulfillment centers powered with their ‘Order & Pay’ app. Imagine the operational efficiency and expedited service it can now provide with a way to track and manage inbound orders. Contrast that with the stress and missed sales due to a line out the door.

American Girl is turning their flagship store into a place where girls and their dolls can bond and create memories together. This is a store they want families to visit long after the star of the show, the doll, is purchased.

This short list demonstrates the new ways of thinking about the role of the store in the marketing mix. It meets consumers needs, conforming to their lifestyle instead of conforming to the brand’s established business operations.

MJD has explored some micro-concepts that, in aggregate, can help push back on the “Amazon Effect” and help retailers reinvent themselves.

Areas of focus include:

  • The Digital Tactics of the ‘Store of the Future’: Let’s not introduce technology for technology’s sake. We’ll examine the toolbox of tactics and the appropriate times to use them to create a useful omni-channel program.
  • Enhancing the Customer JourneyHow customer journeys can be enhanced with new ideas and technology to increase sales and profit and, in turn, begin to fix the cracks in the retail world as we know it.
  • Consumer Expectations: What digital experiences are customers looking for in retail store designs? We will be looking at these wants and needs from a digital perspective while highlighting in-store design implications.

Retail isn’t dead. People need and want products and services that make their lives better. And the purveyors of those products and services still need outlets to get those items and experiences to the public. But why, how, when, where and what is no longer dictated by the retailer. The consumer is now dictating and it’s up to the retailer and its partners to figure out this omni-channel puzzle and evolve. It’s tantamount to their survival and prolonged success.

Check out Part 2 of the Evolution of Retail series: The Digital Tactics of the ‘Store of the Future’

Click here for more information on MJD’s Digital Retail Offering.

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