In Hyper-Competitive Retail Environment Branding is Critical

Branding is a Retail Trend Thats Here to StayAt Least for Now

The current year, though only a quarter of the way through, looks a lot like the preceding one. Even though the economy continues to chug forward, most shoppers remain hyper-vigilant about value. For most retailers that means that promotion will be the marketing strategy of choice. The root of these doldrums may be a lack of consumer excitement. The unisex, generic Normcore may be becoming the “style” norm and no new must-have fashion trends have broken through to challenge it for the consumer’s interest and dollars. New discounters on the scene will likely provide more competitive pressure. Primark, the Irish chain known for ultra discounts on youth-oriented fashion is opening stores in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and Aldi, the German private label grocer, is adding fashion items to the offerings in its 400 U.S. stores. High-end retailers are joining the push toward the value-oriented shopper. Nordstrom will open 25 new Rack locations this year and Neiman Marcus will expand their successful Last Call mark-down stores. So, what’s a retailer to do besides mounting sales and special offers?

When Competition is Relentless, Branding Must Be Equally Relentless

Walter Loeb, retailing expert and former Director at National Retail Federation, calls “unrelenting competition,” the biggest retail story of 2015. In a post on his forbes.com blog, (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/2014/12/16/unrelenting-competition-the-retail-story-of-2015/2/) he urges retailers to harness the power of the brand – every aspect of it – to succeed in today’s environment. Effective branding marries the retailers’ established identity with that of their signature lines of merchandise. Loeb cites Macy’s as a prime example of this kind of seamless branding. Their brand conveys an overall image of being fashion-savvy and value-driven through omnichannel messaging and also through their merchandise: designer exclusives and private labels. Preppy Tommy Hilfiger and selections from the Ralph Lauren collection combine with house brands like Alfani and Charter Club to establish Macy’s in the shopper’s mind as at the top go-to place for style and value. Retailers who create this kind of consumer relationship stand the best chance of winning even against deep discounters.

Taking Branding to a New Level with Environment, Interaction and Social Media

Technology continues to help retail brands connect more deeply with shoppers – and to threaten those who ignore its power and popularity. Compelling in-store environments have given bricks-and-mortars an edge against online. But, be warned, today’s shoppers are increasingly harder to dazzle and trend-watchers predict that the next wave of in-store tech will not just entertain but also engage and inform. One retail trend that’s worth watching is the use of mobile devices in shopping. Consumers now check an average of five online sources prior to making an in-store purchase. Savvy retailers of the near future will need to be able to meet and even enhance this need-to-know with in-store displays and well-informed staff ready to interact effectively.

Let’s not forget the ever-growing branding power of social media. Starbucks, despite their recent hashtag stumble, has used the major social platforms to differentiate their beverages and their in-store experience in a stellar manner. With 800,000 Twitter followers and 5 million Facebook fans, they establish themselves virtually every minute of the day as the go-to spot for a coffee break.

Branding for the Next Generation of Shoppers

Change is one of the few things we can count on and the coming generation of shoppers is poised to alter the concept of branding. At present, this first wave of true digital natives have little brand loyalty (except perhaps to tech products) and are marketing-resistant. Retailers can’t stick with the branding status quo even if they are winning today’s game of unrelenting competition. There’s about to be a new game in town that could launch the biggest retail trend in decades.

 

 

 

Here Come the Cybrids: Omnichannel Shoppers on Steroids

Demographic Retail Real Estate Trend Offers New Chances and Challenges

Meet the Cybrids, the youngest subset of the mammoth Millennial generation. Walter Loeb, former head of the NRF, retail consultant and blogger identified this distinct demographic in his blog (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/2014/12/08/beware-all-retailers-todays-youthful-customer-are-cybrids/) at the end of last year. The name seems to be sticking to what looks like the next wave of trend makers who will shape the future of retailing.

Who are the Cybrids?

First and foremost, these 15-20-year-olds are the first true digital natives. Their gaze has been fixed on some type of electronic screen almost from birth. Technology is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of their lives and they are connected 24/7. This tech relationship is what separates them from preceding generations – even from older Millennials. As might be expected, they are early adopters of the newest devices and apps, and tech products are always at the top of their shopping lists. Cybrids, in fact, prioritize tech over any other retail category, including apparel. And perhaps surprisingly, this is the preference of both males and females in the Cybrid demographic.

The Cybrid Shopper: Opportunity and Challenge

The rise of the Cybrid shopper brings opportunities and challenges for retailers and retail real estate. First, the opportunity: this is a group who’s been called consummate omnichannel consumers. They do shop – a lot – at all hours – and spend freely on categories that interest them (keep an eye on sales of the new Apple watch). Next, the challenges: they make the majority of their purchases online, after price checking and consulting with friends. Bricks-and-mortar stores are for social outings and “showrooming” and are typically visited with phone or tablet in hand for researching all available data on any item that appeals. They display minimal brand loyalty and tend to ignore or rebel against fashion trends. They resist influences such as traditional advertising, relying instead on the opinions of friends, social networks, and YouTube personalities. Price promotion is one of the few conventional tactics that moves them.

Winning Over the Cybrid Shopper: Retail’s Response

The power of these young Millennials will grow as they mature and move into jobs and build careers. Their consuming patterns may modify, but one thing about them is unlikely to change: the integration of technology into their lives. Retailers are already recognizing and responding to this new breed of buyer. Immediate responses include: creating and maintaining robust websites, strategic use of social media – including newer platforms like Vine and Snapchat, incorporating mobile wallets into payment systems, and managing “big data.”

Like all the Millennial generation, Cybrids seek immediate gratification. This is one area in which bricks-and-mortar establishments have an edge over online (at least for now), affording shoppers the opportunity to bring home their purchases immediately. For less portable items, innovative retailers are experimenting with same-day delivery methods. Store hours are another area in which we may see changes to accommodate Cybrid patterns.

Now that they’ve been “discovered,” the focus on Cybrids will doubtlessly increase. Expect more studies and insights on a young generation that’s shopping by their own rules.