Zoovu CMO Sarah Assous On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail
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Zoovu CMO Sarah Assous On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail

Jan 13, 2021

This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of Brick and Mortar Retail series featuring interviews with industry experts and thought leaders with the goal of providing actionable insights that can help brick and mortar retailers prepare for what lies ahead.  

The following is an interview we had with Sarah Assous, CMO of Zoovu.

What are the 3-5 top trends that will shape brick and mortar retail in 2021?

1. Shopping by appointment. The need and want to touch and feel clothes is still desired by most consumers, making the ability to visit a store, a strong value driver for retailers – however stores must adhere to government guidelines with ‘hygiene transparency’ remaining a core factor in how consumers behave. The need to unify the digital and physical experience has become more important than ever – I predict that we will see an increase in different types of immersive experiences to help engage and educate customers, such as leveraging a digital assistant experience to gather information ahead of the in-store visit, to provide an exceptional and personalized customer experience. Booking store visits (via an app or online) will remove waiting times and allow for a more immersive and comfortable experience. This is something that Adidas has recently adopted within their London store and has proven to be a big hit with consumers.

2. Physical retailers will play a larger role in the distribution of products. As click & collect/curbside pick up become the norm, retailers will transform individual stores into critical components of the supply chain, enabling new ways to shop and get immediate assistance to queries of returns, without the need to speak to an agent using online customer service. In the 2020 holiday season, Macy’s partnered with DoorDash to enable same-day delivery during the holidays, to tap into this emerging trend of new shopping behavior and enable delivery services directly from the nearest stores, rather than their warehouses to cater to consumers’ increasing needs.

3. Empathy: 2020 was an extraordinarily difficult time for most of us – and consumers won’t forget which of their favorite retailers went above and beyond with transparent communication about wait times, product availability, and effects on their supply chain. The biggest trend we have seen is: retailers demonstrating a commitment to keeping their employees and customers safe during the pandemic. If you look at big box stores like Target or Walmart, both announced in August they would be closed for Thanksgiving as a clear signal to consumers: we will not put our employees in harm’s way in the pursuit of profit.

What technologies will have the biggest impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021?

SA: The acceleration of digitally connected stores will have an enormous impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021. This will be demonstrated in two significant ways: first, mobile pay-as-you-shop experiences – British retailer Marks & Spencers (M&S) has integrated a mobile pay-as-you-shop functionality and self-service checkouts into their app amid social distancing. Shoppers scan items as they meander the store and pay via the app as they leave, the store management is also able to track the number of shoppers inside the store reducing the need for constant moderating of foot traffic. The second technology that will drive impact on brick and mortar retail will be providing in-store kiosks with digital configurators that can be used by shoppers who are looking for complex or highly-customizable products in-real time. An example of this would be a home appliance store using kiosks to help customers configure a new kitchen set-up or bathroom with a 3D digital configurator. Letting sales representatives support shoppers later in their purchase decision while giving the shopper more ownership of the experience while adhering to social distance measures. 

What should brick and mortar retailers be doing now to prepare for 2021? 

SA: First, brick and mortar retailers need to hone in on what matters most to your customers, 2021 will be hyper-focused on the end-to-end customer experience, consider including a quick feedback survey with contactless payment email receipts, take the time to identify what made shoppers continue to visit your brick & mortar during 2020, and iterate. Look into ways you can provide more self-service experiences from in-store assistant kiosks, mobile apps, and QR codes as a way of delivering a next generation customer experience.

In the midst of so much change and uncertainty, what’s the future of brick and mortar retail look like?

SA: Brick and mortar retail needs to change. There needs to be more innovation and more focus on the experiential. 2020 has taught us to embrace digital-first in ways never expected. The bridge between online and offline is shorter than ever because businesses of all kinds and sizes have adapted to serve their customers in uncertain times. While some businesses have struggled, others have diversified, pivoted and risen to the challenges of 202 with remarkable speed to ensure customers are able to find and buy what they need while navigating a global pandemic. Most consumers are eager to support local businesses – however don’t be fooled – they will only support local, when their needs are met, and they can get what they need quickly and easily. Convenience is key.

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