Role Reversal: What are E-tailers Getting Right? This and More from Future Stores

MARCH 1, 2018

Retailers from across the world recently gathered in Miami to participate in WBR’s Future Stores conference. The assortment of industry leaders, innovative startups, and retail experts meant there were a lot of thoughts on the next big trend. One theme emerged from the conference: customer experience. Digital experiences—ranging from ecommerce to in-store digital assistants—have reached hyper-adoption to varying degrees. The topic was central to many of the presentations at Future Stores and tangential to the rest.

One central theme emerged from the conference: Customer Experience.

While connectivity ostensibly creates value, it doesn’t always connect to customer experience. So, where does the intersection between technology and experience occur? What does that mean for retailers, both big and small? We answer those questions below.


E-tailers, or retailers that primarily focus on online shopping, have begun their foray into brick-and-mortar in a reversal of macrotrends. The physical spaces have taken different looks: showrooms, popups, and flagships stores. The RealReal, for example, launched a flagship store in New York City. A high-end fashion consignment retailer, the brick-and-mortar shop works in concert with their online business, allowing shoppers to look at pieces of clothing they might have previously seen online. It contains a coffee bar and carefully curated art to help instill the brand value of luxury at a more affordable price.

Buoying the brand experience is a focus on creating proprietary point of sale infrastructures. These customized systems weave online data into real life interactions. Intelligent POS systems arm store associates with actionable information and ensure that CRM and inventory logs have the most up-to-date information. E-tailers are inherently comfortable in digital, CRM, and analytics, so they can easily bring their expertise to the physical world. Lacking the scale of big box retailers, e-tailers seek to differentiate through branding, customer service, and a better utilization of information.


Big box retailers are similarly interested in developing technologies to improve customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, they are caught in a cycle of hyper-adoption. Many retailers feel the need to keep up with “the next big thing,” leading them to invest in new technologies that have yet to prove a hard ROI. Nowhere is this more apparent than in virtual reality and artificial reality. Despite being headline retail trends over the last few years, they have yet to find a long-term role in the industry.


Many retailers feel the need to keep up with the next big thing, leading them to invest in new technologies that have yet to prove a hard ROI.

The hyper-adoption cycle has contributed to a focus on short-term opportunities that activate brand interest rather than long-term operational changes. Popup events are a fantastic example. Barney’s New York recently collaborated with the fashion and culture website, Highsnobiety, to host “The Drop @ Barney’s.” The event brought in popular streetwear designers, Justin Bieber’s tattoo artist, and panel discussions. A play at younger, hip audiences, Barney’s two-day event generated short-term buzz and likely acquired new customers, but it didn’t truly change the experience of shopping in a Barney’s.

Despite the event’s success, this type of “experiential” retail is not consistently repeatable across enterprises, yet many companies feel the pressure to adopt and copy. “A competitor does something then we have to do it too.” Of course, the most prominent experience in retail is the blending of digital and brick and mortar, which brings us to omnichannel.


Omnichannel has been a focus of retail for a while now, yet many retailers are still struggling to leverage it. Technology integration within brick-and-mortar is common, but that’s a limited way to think about omnichannel. Rather, omnichannel is about enhancing the experience, easily transitioning between online and in-person touchpoints. One example: ordering online for store pickup is quickly finding adoption. Fourteen percent of US consumers use this method of shopping as often as they can (with another 26% occasionally regularly utilizing it as well).

However, that’s just scratching the surface of omnichannel. The next step is connecting customer’s offline actions with their online data. Retailers have the opportunity to receive insights into shopper preferences and habits, allowing them to offer a truly personalized customer experience. Unfortunately, in service of creating omnichannel experiences and collecting data, many retailers have inherited too large of a technology stack. They have too much data and processes, causing managers to spend more time than they save. Even when this analysis is finished, store associates are still often left wondering how to take action. The question is therefore: how can technology be properly integrated into the store experience?


Unfortunately, in service of creating omnichannel experiences and collecting data, many retailers have inherited too large of a technology stack.

Fabletics exemplifies one of these possibilities. Originating online, the athleisure brand recently expanded into brick-and-mortar. Blending learning between their web and store presences, they track the clothes customers take into the fitting room to learn customers’ preferences. They also use technology within their stores to create heat maps of customer interest, track fitting room to purchase conversion rates, and give customers the option to add products to their online shopping cart.



Retail isn’t dying; it’s shifting. The industry has continued to grow at around a 4% rate, but there are real issues that retailers must solve. Instead of focusing on quick-hitting brand activation, they need to play the long game and invest in process-oriented change management. Retailers should take a long and hard look at their technology stack and decide which of these actually make their employees and customers’ lives easier. With simplification comes a renewed focus on the technologies and practices that can truly improve the retail experience.


Kellye is the ultimate champion of our product and its journey to our customers. She brings extensive experience of product marketing and the digital consumer journey to the marketing team as the Product Marketing Manager. Energized by situations that make her brain hurt, Kellye approaches her career with tenacity and a “You gotta have a little gamble in ya” attitude. In her free time, Kellye combines her passion for marketing with her love of the arts; she currently serves as the Vice President of Marketing on the Board of Directors for the Symphony BATS, working to make music more accessible to all in the Austin community. She loves Spanish art and literature, ballet, and old films. Kellye holds bachelor’s degrees in Communications Studies and Hispanic Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as several certifications in Pragmatic Marketing.