The State of Retail in the Digital World

The State of Retail in the Digital World

The digital experience for brick-and-mortar stores still has a ways to go in terms of measuring up to pure-play counterparts — but tapping talent native to the medium and creating a point of differentiation are the first steps.

The “omnichannel experience” remains a leading buzz phrase, and Miki Berardelli, chief marketing officer at Tory Burch LLC; Matthew Berglass, president of executive search firm Berglass + Associates, and Michael Burgess, president, Saks Direct, Saks Fifth Avenue, struck a united chord about the importance of strengthening the digital experience for retailers, as well as melding this with a corresponding online presence.

Citing “The State of Retail in a Digital World,” a study conducted by WWD in partnership with Berglass + Associates whose findings were released in November, Berardelli said it’s encouraging that 86 percent of the brick-and-mortar retailers agree that “multichannel initiatives will be a significant driver of future growth.”

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Another interesting statistic: 81 percent of those surveyed believe they aren’t as effective in the online space as they could be.

“I find hope in that,” Berardelli noted, wondering who the 19 percent of satisfied retailers are.

“Is digital at the top of your strategy? Are you willing to take risks?” she asked.

For Saks, Burgess said that although the retailer has a robust Web presence, the dynamics in the digital space are changing so fast that you “can’t relax.”

With respect to the most important area to allocate funds in digital, Berardelli, Burgess and Berglass had the same answer: talent.

It’s also mandatory that a retailer has points of differentiation, and for Saks these are the omnichannel experience, mobile and personalization.

Burgess explained that Saks speaks to its customers online —by suggesting relevant products, displaying ads containing items previously searched for and sending targeted e-mails. The department store also strives to create a sense of glamour with increased editorial featuring trends, monthly “Trendsetter” reporters, runway videos and offering personal shopping services online.

“We have a lot of data, [and] by using numbers you can influence return on investment,” Burgess added.
Berardelli contends that for Tory Burch, globalization is key going forward. As of late 2012, the brand shipped to 30 countries and will introduce shipping to France and Italy later this month. Another initiative is responsive design across platforms.

Tory Burch has also brought clienteling into iPad format, and sales associates can keep track of customers via tablet and make the in-store experience more interactive. The “theater element” is still integral, though, illustrated in physical doors with traditional, large monitors playing high-definition videos of runway shows.

The brand celebrated its ninth anniversary on Wednesday, and credits growing up in the digital era to giving way to a more customer-centric business versus a channel-focused one.

“If your brand is being talked about, there is nothing more powerful than customers talking and being brand ambassadors,” Berardelli said. “Imagine a world where we don’t say ‘digital channel’ — just digital.”

Berglass concurred that e-commerce should not be viewed as a separate entity. The experience must be about seamless presentation, and the consumer shouldn’t be able to see a difference depending on the channel they opt to shop on, he said. - Rachel Strugatz

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