The increasingly mobile customer nowadays wants to be able to get hold of products that satisfy his or her needs and whims instantaneously. This trend is driving a fundamental re-think of the concept of a ‘shop’ and retail outlets might end up being movable points of sale rather than the traditional stores we used to know and love.

Retail Brands Looking to Set up Shop ‘on the Customer’s Turf’?

Given that high street chains are now selling their wares online, does this mean that the traditional store is set to disappear? It’s beginning to look that way. A number of studies, such as the one carried out recently by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) for Bonial, a company specialising in the online publication of store catalogues, seem to confirm this. But the study nevertheless reveals that only 24% of French people prefer purely e-commerce sites to shopping in physical stores or on the websites of traditional retailers. “Bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to play a central role, but we can expect to see radical transformation across the board because of the need to adapt to our customers’ use of new technologies,” Yannick Franck, senior consultant at Kurt Salmon, told L'Atelier. Digitisation of the point of sale, then? This would enable retailers to offer a wider range of services and more products and perhaps help to cement customer loyalty. Changes in how stores work are also on the cards, with ‘demonstration’ areas dedicated to customer service a likely innovation. But a more radical change on the horizon might be to move a store’s retail outlet entirely over to service boutiques. The idea here is to distribute a product or service at point of need rather than sell under a fixed high-street sign. There might still be a showroom, but the showroom would not necessarily be in the old familiar high street location. A number of brands are attracted to this approach, including GlaGla Shoes.

Placing yourself “in the customer’s path”

This brand, which sells ‘ventilated’ sports shoes in France, has decided to go and meet its customers on their turf. GlaGla Shoes has launched an initiative called Shop'In Fitness, which enables customers to try on its wide range of footwear in different sizes and colours at sports centres belonging to the Moving chain. If the customer wishes to make a purchase, Shop'In Fitness will re-direct him/her to the sales website, and s/he of course benefits from a reduction when using the promotion code supplied by the sports club. “Mobile devices enable a customer to be permanently connected, and to find out everything about a product anytime, anywhere,” points out Yannick Franck. Companies should therefore, in the same vein, “diversify their outlets so as to place themselves in the customer’s path at all times.” GlaGla Shoes founder Karim Oumnia believes that “we can see the store of the future being physically located at the premises of traders who aren’t necessarily in the same line of business, but absolutely need to maintain a physical location – a sports club or hairdresser, for instance.” However the main challenge with this strategy is to avoid browbeating the client. A different approach to selling, which is also gaining in popularity, is to link a product to a given point in time or a particular event and sell it accordingly.

Any time, any place… and for anyone

Another French firm Kaviari, a brand which sells caviar and other luxury seafood products, has recently launched what it calls ‘En-K de Caviar’ (‘Caviar snack’) – a tiny portion of caviar in a designer package. The aim here is to widen its customer base, appeal to younger customers, and make consumption of this luxury product an ‘anytime’ thing. On its website, the brand seeks to suggest how that small tin of caviar could be consumed in a plane, at a picnic or even on the dance floor. “We wanted to create a product for people ‘on the go’, consistent with an online sales strategy, i.e. something simple and fast to purchase but that can also be eaten in the traditional way,” explains Kaviari CEO Raphaël Bouchez. To launch the ‘En-K de Caviar’, Kaviari went for the ‘pop-up store’ approach, setting up a temporary bar at the Grande Épicerie du Bon Marché in Paris. “This is a first step. We’re planning outlets in unusual places. It might be at the Grand Palais (a major exhibition complex in Paris), during an exhibition, or in a store at a particular moment, with special staging.” Why make changes to both the product and the means of distribution? “Because we have to respond to what’s happening now, and to customer demands in real time,” replies Raphaël Bouchez. Once again, then, it’s all about being ‘in the customer’s path’. And as Yannick Franck reminds us, “this concept, like that of the showroom, is also used by the online pure-players.” Which demonstrates the need for retail sector firms, whatever their starting point, to “reinvent themselves and set up alternative means of communicating with the customer – which of course means the multi-channel approach”.