Designing the Ideal Customer Experience

Omnichannel expert Chris Walton shared his keys to successful retailing at the NACS Leadership Forum.

February 13, 2020

By Kim Stewart

MIAMI BEACH, Fla.—The “Store of the Future” is a term that gets bandied about a lot in retail, and it’s one that’s fraught with peril because it’s used to describe very different ideas. Chris Walton, chief executive officer and founder of Omni Talk and Third Haus, broke down the term into three concepts for NACS Leadership Forum attendees as part of his keynote, “Know Thyself: Five Ways to Find Success in This New Era of Convenience Retailing.”

The Store of the Future can refer to 1.) incremental innovation within existing stores (things like adding buy online pickup in store or private label products to the existing business model); 2.) an entirely new business model (think Amazon Go, Restoration Hardware and Warby Parker); and 3.) Concept work akin to the “concept car” in the auto industry (consider Nordstrom Local, a compact retail outlet mostly devoid of inventory where customers can pick up online orders, get advice from stylists and make returns).

“The idea here is live experimentation in front of consumers,” said Walton, who is former vice president of Target’s Store of the Future project and a former vice president of merchandising for Target.com.

“Some things might work, and some things might definitely fail, but the idea is that you are constantly learning and funneling your lessons back into tracks 1 and 2,” he said.

It’s not all about technology, though. “The important thing to remember is that good conceptual work or Store of the Future work is always grounded in three key elements—the digital, human and physical sides of any experience,” Walton said. All of these should be woven together like a piece of fabric, not like layers that just sit on top of each other without a coordinated purpose.

To win in this new era of convenience retailing, retailers have to place their bets on the right things.

“Forty-nine percent is my favorite statistic in retail,” Walton said. That’s the percentage of first product searches that start on Amazon. Thirty-six percent of the time consumers first consult Google, and only 15% of the time do they go to retailers’ own brands.

Historically, stores have existed for five reasons: inspiration, convenience, immediate gratification, taction and the experience and memories of being somewhere. Then digital upended the model by knocking out the first three reasons, leaving taction and experience as the real points of differentiation between digital retail and physical retail.

“So if you are going to play on the convenience angle, you better be either located better than anyone else or offer people the ability to get things done that they can’t do online when they need you the most,” he said.

These are the five key focus areas Walton believes will help retailers navigate the future:

  1. Social commerce (constant two-way communication between a retailer and customers)
  2. New Retail (digitize the physical world to know once people come into your store, what do they look at, how long do they linger, what do they buy?)
  3. Transaction efficiency (make payments quick and frictionless)
  4. Hyper-flexible supply chains (separate shopping from buying—back of house operations from front of house operations—to achieve economies of scale and inventory accuracy)
  5. A jobs-to-be-done mindset (help people get things done, whether it’s a store-within-a-store; kiosks, lockers, return bars, workouts).

Walton ended on an encouraging note for convenience retailers. “When I look at this industry…your sample size is incredibly high. The number of people coming into your stores every day is staggering,” he said. “This industry probably has the ability to be more experimental, take smart risks and actually lead this conversation more than anything out there.”

For a closer look at Walton’s tools for retail success, see “Know Thyself, Know Thy Customer” in the February 2020 issue of NACS Magazine, and listen to Convenience Matters Episode No. 211, “Design the Ideal Customer Experience.”

In case you missed our other coverage of the Leadership Forum, see “QuikTrip Lives Out the Good Jobs Strategy,” “Decoupling the Customer Experience,” “The Four Values C-Store Customers Share” and “Build a Workplace That Drives Profit.”

Kim Stewart is editor in chief of NACS Magazine and editorial director of NACS. She can be reached at kstewart@convenience.org.

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