To Refit a Store, Think Outside the Big Box


My friend is an aficionado of contemporary art. He’s lucky that his position as a successful investment banker in Manhattan allows him to act with gusto on his love of art. I have been his guest at art gallery cocktail parties at which well-heeled art collectors like him get to meet aspiring artists and – more importantly – eagle-eyed art gallery owners.

Members of the latter group broker the sales of what can be very expensive artwork to collectors. They do so by staging glitzy soirees like the one I attended with my friend. There’s a lot of meeting people and back-and-forth socializing that, in the end, establishes the collector as someone worthy (translation: financially able) to buy the artwork. When the dust has settled, the gallery owner has taken a sizeable commission for connecting the collector to a rarified world of artists and patrons.

The scene I’ve just described is as old as the hills. But it’s about to be shaken to its core because of disruptive innovation that’s beginning to hit the world of art retail. What if someone wanted to browse the latest works of the hippest artists without having to get invited to fancy receptions at galleries? And what if they didn’t enjoy paying outrageous commissions to a gallery owner for essentially providing some wine and cheese?

Well, that’s what some online retailers are thinking as they expand their operations from books, home goods, apparel, and just about everything else, to the world of art. The idea is that you can become familiar with new artists (or old ones, for that matter) in the comfort of your home and, should you wish to buy a work of art, the gallery that currently holds it will ship it to you free of charge.

My aforementioned friend has designs on forming his own online art brokerage site and art collectors who have used the prototype enjoy it immensely. He can search by artist or medium or – gasp – by price. This example of disruption of an age-old business is striking for many reasons, not the least of which because it allows more people an opportunity to purchase the artworks. These developments point to the fact that the art scene is experiencing the onset of more than just online commerce; it’s experiencing a full-blown transformation into omni-channel retailing.

Remember when refitting a store meant changing its lighting or the layout of the clothing racks so that more shoppers could circulate on the floor? Even lighter, more soothing color palates would be introduced so as to encourage shoppers to stay and browse longer. Those were simpler times – there are now plenty of ways consumers can shop.

So a quick coat of paint on the walls will do little to drive more customers who experience a retailer online. Nor will promotions aimed solely at the Web, for that matter, result in a sale. Effective retailing today means connecting with consumers on all levels and at all touch points. The stores of tomorrow need to recognize that building customer relationships are more complicated than ever before – but they can be more lasting and lucrative as well.

In order to tap into the wealth of consumer relationships in the digital age, retailers have to tap into what I like to call the consumer genome. I use this term because just as everyone has a genetic code that makes them appear and act the way they do, so do consumers who have paths they take to make a purchase. Retailers would do well to get a hold of these “genetic” roadmaps in order to anticipate their every move. That means retail operations should meet a customer with robust service and offer compelling choices wherever she might appear. To reach and appeal to omniscient consumers, stores have to build and engage across channels and become omni-channel retailers.

Here’s what I mean by omni-channel: What was historically an exchange of goods at a single point in time (the cash register) is now spread over time and place. This development might sound simple, but it’s giving many traditional retailers trouble when they try to wrap their traditional metrics around the situation. Organizational silos to serve consumers across channels won’t work anymore and the whole retailing proposition must become consumer-centric.

The irony of writing this column for a magazine named The Point of Sale News isn’t lost on me. What I’m suggesting is that the traditional way of looking at retail with a single point of sale must change. Traditional retailers must view the marketplace as rich with multiple points of sale. How they reach those points effectively will make or break their sales and operations over the next decade. That’s partly because new, innovative retailers are already using this reality to their advantage.

For example, when someone strolls into a department store today, chances are she’s a lot more informed than she would have been even 10 years ago. She has probably scoped out a number of items online and compared prices. She’s probably made a decision to buy and simply wants to try on the item and see what other colors it comes in. A store with omni-channel capabilities will be able to build upon this situation by knowing who the shopper is by her smartphone ping. They’ll inform salespeople on the floor what she’s been browsing online, and they can bring the item directly to her instead of forcing her to search out a sales associate.

But there’s even more the store should be doing. At this point they should know the size of the woman and her past color preferences. So before she decides on a blue blouse that the store doesn’t have in stock, it’s already ordered a blue one from a different location and it will be on its way. If she decides to buy it, the retailer will have it delivered straight to her house.

The shopping, therefore, begins outside the actual store and, if the store does its job well, it can end outside the location as well. Yet the retailer is getting that sale. Now here’s where it gets even better for both parties involved: The positive experience only adds to the store’s knowledge of that customer’s DNA. Future trips will be even more seamless and when a customer is happy, she can become inspired to branch out and buy even more.

Technology enables this transformation. Stores are achieving this omni-channel experience not by focusing on their architecture but rather consumer DNA – they are thinking out of the box. And they’re reaping the benefits of investing in the consumer genome. By making a shopping trip less of a trip and more of a seamless experience, the consumer is willing to divulge more personal information what will in turn allow a retailer to customize its offerings.

Of course, some retailers, especially those in fashion, said omni-channeling couldn’t be achieved in their world because it is difficult. But consider the story about my friend. Every time he browses for a painting online instead of figuring out how to become part of the rarified art gallery scene, he’s letting the retailer know what he prefers and the artists can, in turn, market their creations directly to that aficionado. His experience inside a gallery could be minimal. He might enjoy stopping by an occasional event, but no longer needs a physical outlet to become a serious art collector. He can also choose to go the physical outlet and browse.

The same is true in the world of fashion apparel. Tomorrow’s retailers will get a better idea of how each of their customers shop for goods and tailor an experience to them, one by one. Leading companies like Infosys are helping global retailers achieve this vision. So what are you waiting for? Let us help you build your consumer’s genome. You can decode it to improve the health of your topline and bottom-line, not to mention customer delight.


Vijay Neti has been transforming the capabilities of several retail clients for the past 20 years in various roles. He is currently an Associate Vice President within Retail, CPG and Logistics Business Unit of Infosys. He is responsible for managing several marquee client relationships that Infosys has in the Western North America region. He has a passion for All Things Digital and takes pride in evangelizing, conceptualizing, selling and delivering digital transformation initiatives for Retail, CPG and Logistics clients. Based in Seattle with his wife and two kids, Vijay enjoys all that the gorgeous Pacific Northwest has to offer. He can be followed on Twitter at @vijayneti