Retail Must Juggle Brand Preservation and Digitalization as It Evolves

Adweek Advisory Board shares their opinions on industry developments

The retail industry has seen a lot of change in the digital age.
Getty Images

Retail is one sector that has seen some dynamic changes in recent years, particularly with the rise of Amazon and ecommerce. We’ve also seen a wave of popular chains, like Toys’R’Us and Brookstone, shutting down or drastically reducing their physical stores. Some believe brick and mortar is dying while others see an opportunity for physical stores to use tech to immerse themselves in the digital age. And in some cases, we’re even seeing ecommerce brands switching gears to open locations and pop-ups.

The retail industry epitomizes putting the consumer first, whether that’s by using data to personalize their marketing strategies or taking advantage of emerging tech to meet evolving customer expectations. We asked our Adweek Advisory Board—comprised of 24 leaders across marketing, media and technology—to weigh in with their thoughts about how tech is changing retail, Amazon’s impact on brand marketing and what brands can do to adapt.

Stay up to date using tech

You can’t think of retail without thinking of how much technology has changed it. And with that surge, brands now have to juggle meeting their consumers’ expectations while staying up to date on emerging tech while remaining true to their brand identity.

“I honestly believe that if brands want to build a better relationship with their consumers, they need to implement AI into their customer interaction,” said Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Conversable and Hypergiant. He continued, “AI allows a brand to capture not just why a customer is engaging with their company but also how.”

And that doesn’t just mean staying on top of trends in tech, but also following how mobile and social are developing to accommodate retail’s needs. Andrew Keller, global creative director for Facebook Creative Shop, said, “There’s a huge opportunity to rethink what a ‘storefront’ even is. On the other hand, people still crave tactile in-store experiences. So the opportunity is to observe how people are already using mobile while in-store and then build solutions that meet those needs or leverage that behavior.”

"Retail is being disrupted by technology. But it’s being transformed by rising expectations."
—Baiju Shah, chief strategy officer of Accenture Interactive

Consumers expect a brand to always be available to answer their questions and address their ever-changing needs. Lamm said, “Customers want to know that they can tweet their preferred vendors and get a response to their question or comments. If they sign up for their vendor’s page, they want to know that they’ll get personalized recommendations on sales and products.” With so many options readily available in retail, if a brand isn’t meeting a consumer’s needs and personalizing an experience for them, it’s easy for them to move on until they find what they’re looking for.

“Retail is being disrupted by technology. But it’s being transformed by rising expectations,” Baiju Shah, chief strategy officer of Accenture Interactive, said.

Cultivate memorable moments

As with most areas of marketing, it’s important to remember how much experiences and activations resonate with consumers. People want to walk into a store or shopping experience and come away feeling like they have a personalized association with that brand now.

Shah said, “Embedding social and mobile into store experiences, into discovery experiences, into product experiences will ultimately draw out more differentiation and engagement with consumers.”

With data, brands have the ability to cater to consumers’ needs and expectations in a way that wasn’t previously possible. And with that precedent set, it’s hard to shake.

“Brands can use data to personalize preferences, online/in-store/phone experiences, and optimize and delight customers in the product selection/use process,” said Terrance Williams, CMO and president of emerging businesses Nationwide. “If a company collects the information directly from the customer, the customer expects their experience to be optimized. … When a company collects third-party data about the customer, the utilization of the data should delight the customer.”