No question is likely more vexing to retailers than how to solve the problem of consumer behaviour in the face of rapidly evolving technology.
In the space of a few months, analyses of the problem have pivoted from “showrooming” to “reverse showrooming”, with retailers desperately trying to concoct a business model that can be adapted to a landscape built on what must feel like shifting sand. Retailers are trying everything: pop-up shops, experiential retail, developing their web and mobile presences, omni-channel buying options for consumers, cultivating “authenticity”, or whatever works.
Tobi Lutke, founder of Shopify, sighed heavily when asked in a recent interview, “What would you do if you were BestBuy?” Wearily, he replies, “I have no idea what to do with BestBuy. … I think they are going to die.”
And with the recent, sudden closure of BestBuy and Future Shop stores across the country, and the growing obviousness that a box store out by the highway is an endangered species, the retailers with the largest footprints are adjusting radically. In some cases, they fail (case study: JC Penney’s disastrous makeover by Ron Johnson, the man who brought us the Apple Store), but for others the early results look more promising.
The 2014 IKEA catalogue will be released as an iOS and Android app, and when augmented with a virtual reality feature, will place the furniture in an actually existing living space and will also allow catalogue browsers to adjust colours, styles and sizes before placing an order (or perhaps heading down to the shop yourself), all without getting out the measuring tape. I know a couple people who go to IKEA just to eat meatballs and then wander pointlessly around the store. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t yet a virtual reality app for that.
So these, along with experiments in experiential shopping by Canon, or the opening of more neighbourhood “express” shops by Canadian Tire, are the kinds of solutions that retailers are bandying about in order to survive and perhaps thrive into the future.
The next challenge for IKEA, ending the inhumane practice of forcing its customers to assemble its products. Possible solutions: 3D printing, IKEAbots?
Below: IKEA’s promo for its new augmented reality service: