When traditional retailers are looking to connect with today's generation, they often turn to digital, and that's obviously a smart move – technology is now directly integrated within all of our lives, and nowhere more so than in the millennial generation.
Being at the fingertips of customers is especially important for e-commerce brands, with a variety of channels and points of interaction that can create unique experiences and expand on their connections to consumers.
But ironically, connecting with millennials also means reversing the flow from online to bricks-and-mortar – pushing the digital experience into physical spaces. It's about breaking new ground and disrupting the retail landscape, and that means three things: expanding on the in-store experience, building an online platform for community, and integrating technology.
Expanding on the experience
Digital is the main driver in 2016, but we can't deny the value of personal relationships. Customers – millennials especially – crave digital content and new experiences, but they also seek meaningful face-to-face interactions. Digital outlets, including websites, mobile apps, and social media channels, offer rich and immersive content, but to build on those experiences, we have to strengthen the relationship with customers and that means giving them the opportunity to shop in a store.
For Frank + Oak, it meant successfully taking our style advisers from the Internet to offer advice to our customers in-store. So we looked toward our staff members to be more than salespeople. With the guidance of one of our personal stylists, customers can enjoy a personalized shopping experience beyond our blog and dedicated online customer service team. We've also introduced community managers at each location. These are people we've empowered to lead the charge on in-store events to promote a deeper sense of meaning and community. Who better to do this than those who live in that community?
Building a platform for the community
Expanding on experience is about uniting people under the same platform. By looking beyond sales per square foot and engaging in your role as an active member of the community, brands can explore the potential their stores have to be more than physical spaces for displaying product. Stores can be – and should be – hubs for community gatherings. Physical locations offer a place for customers to come together and share experiences around common interests, and find the meaningful interactions they seek.
For us, in-store coffee shops and barbershops became obvious gathering points, but events likes workshops, whisky tastings, and live shows expanded on that and initiated a shared culture of experience. We strive to enrich the communities we are a part of through a collaborative dynamic. We encourage our people, whether they are staff members or customers, to carve their own life paths.
Technology plays an integral part of the in-store experience. It's not just there so we can say we're "with it" – it has to to promote and nurture interactions that support customers. To do that, data has to be seamlessly integrated throughout the product and service offerings. For us, that started with connecting our customers' profiles across our various channels so that our in-store stylists can offer accurate recommendations based on each customer's specific needs and desires.
Having data accessible across all channels also allows customers to personalize their own experience. They can order an item online and have it delivered directly to the store where they can try it on. Bought in-store and delivered at home is another service approach available to help give customers the best possible experience. All in all, transactions are made simpler and the service, more effective and memorable.
This brings us back to the main point: creating unique shopping experiences. Life is no longer experienced through one channel. Brands in the digital age must break free of the one-directional focus to bridge the digital and the physical spaces. It is that experience that customers are increasingly searching for.
Ethan Song is co-founder and CEO of clothing brand and retailer Frank + Oak.