“And” is a powerful word. It’s a unifier. A connector. A branch. Today, we need to use the word “and” more when talking about physical stores and e-commerce. Because that three-letter word, says Doug Straton, bridges the future of retail. Straton, who is chief digital commerce officer at Hershey, recently penned a piece for CNBC on the evolution of shopping, called “Retail is evolving. Here’s how businesses can survive and thrive.” In the piece, he says it’s time to look at brick-and-mortar stores and their online presence as one entity.
“Retailing, online and offline, is one ecosystem, at least with general merchandisers,” says Straton. Whether a store is getting its business at its physical location or through its website isn’t important, he says.
“Retailers don't care if a shopper is buying from them in one of their stores or on a mobile device — after all, people are price-checking items on their phone while they are in the store,” says Straton. “All that retailers should care about is that people are buying from them.”
If your retail business hasn’t made the leap to offering online and in-store sales, says Straton, it’s time to act, or risk being left behind. Here’s what to consider:
Approach the new chapter as a team. It’s the responsibility of a business leader to sell staff on the strategy, and to remain positive throughout the transition. “The message needs to be: This is how consumers are choosing to shop. We need to be there in whatever way they want us to be,” he says. Store-level employees also need to understand the importance of the word “and,” and work with the online employees, not against them — the perception that online employees are taking away in-store sales can be a common complaint. “[That mindset] is not productive,” says Straton. “The consumers and the shoppers are dictating what's happening to the environment — not the individual teams within a company.”
Populate team with the right people and the right skills. As you expand your online presence, you’ll need the right people on your side. “Any industry going through technology disruption needs talent that cannot only build software and programs, but also people who know how to use technology,” says Straton. “A lot of traditional companies have struggled with this and have opted for partnering with those that enable a transformation.” Don’t forget that hiring and/or partnering is only the first step. From there, it’s important to develop a rich, long-term relationship so you can build on one another’s successes.
Metrics matter. As businesses transition, benchmarks are important. By using metrics, you can set goals and celebrate milestones. Involve all of the departments so that they can watch the progress, participate in the transformation and feel pride in being a part of it.
Patience is a virtue. Transforming your business takes time and it takes investment. In the early days, you may need to redirect funds away from the healthy parts of the entity in order to focus on innovation. Along the way, it’s important to share your vision with the board and shareholders in order to minimize surprises. “Leadership should communicate that there is going to be a little bit of pain involved too,” says Straton. “The message should be that it's tough, but that the path ahead is compelling.”
The future of retail is bright. But to catch the rays, businesses must evolve. That means learning to say “yes, and” when it comes to an online and physical presence, and not “either/or.”