Retail is changing. This isn’t a matter of opinion; it’s a fact, and one that every single independent retailer in the world needs to be conscious of in considering the future of their trade. The cycling industry is not without innovation. On the contrary, the leaps and bounds we’re seeing in the progression of carbon, the e-bike sector and the tidal wave of up-and-coming startups that funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have brought to the wider cycling customer base are ensuring the future of industry tech on a daily basis, but from the perspective of the independent bike retailer, this has little to no resonance with their day-to-day bottom line, even if it does provide some eye-catching new inventory for customers to lust after on the shelves.
While online subscription services and even experiential retail have boomed, the basic business model for brick and mortar has, for the most part, remained untouched.
Shopping in a physical space still offers certain advantages, such as being able to test a product first-hand or the immediacy of making the purchase and having the item in-hand that day, but the real golden benefits of physical retail boil down to three things: knowledge, service and experience. The cycling industry has a big advantage on many others in terms of experience – as a passion sector, cycling shops are full of cycling gurus happy to offer all of their intimate industry knowledge. This similarly applies with service – the cycling mechanic is worth their weight in gold. So what’s missing? Experience.
A successful shopping experience for a customer may well hinge on the level of customer service that you provide, but there is a science to retail that often goes under-used. When you walk into a supermarket, the smell of freshly baked bread is pumped into your face, the most expensive products are at eye level, and often the shop is rearranged to deliberately confuse the customer into venturing down aisles that contain different items.
Ever bought a chocolate bar or a pack of chewing gum while waiting for an open till? That’s retail science, and strategic product placement such as this undoubtedly has a gigantic impact on supermarket sales.
Retail science is all about answering your biggest questions. Who is your target customer? What products are they interested in? How do they view the shop? In the case of New York City-based shop STORY, answering these questions has propelled the business into the international news limelight. Through finding clever ways to utilise shop technology, along with innovative partnerships, the shop has a consistently thriving customer base, and it achieves this with absolutely no grounding in any one sector. The shop is modular, meaning in any given quarter, it may completely change its concept and sell anything from clothing to crafts goods to bicycles. These modular concepts are fuelled by placing the products in the context of a greater narrative – hence the name.
This could mean collaborations, it could mean hosting weekly, monthly or one-off events, or it could simply mean curating a consistent range of goods. None of these concepts are alien to the cycling industry, but utilising them in the right ways has made all the difference.
Layout is a make-or-break situation. In a recent TED talk on the history of her shop, Moments owner Rachel Shechtman (to whom the headline of this article can be attributed) underlined the importance of a clear and intentional visualisation of a customer’s journey around your space. What are the first things they see upon entering? What products are going to draw them in?
According to Shechtman, services such as Prism Skylabs are the answer. The company installs heat-tracking cameras in your place of business to ascertain where the key areas of consumer traffic are. This not only lets you know what areas of your shop are key for placing stock, but also which stock is attracting your key demographic and – just as importantly – which stock isn’t.
If this technology is utilised over a period of a few months, defining stock and store layout would start to make a big impact on sales. You may find that despite having an eye-catching display, certain products are simply not gaining the attention that they should be based on the customer’s route around your shop. It may be that despite having a key position in your main footfall areas, a product isn’t selling simply because it isn’t tailored to your customer’s needs.
Speaking at Madison’s annual iceBike* show, retail expert Mark O’Dolan extolled the benefits of this very concept, albeit not with the aid of heat-tracking software. He explained the virtues of a well-segregated shop, while utilising space that may be wasted otherwise.
“Imagery is important to sales – it puts consumers ‘in the mood’,” said O’Dolan. “Suppliers are bending over backwards to help retailers with graphics. I recommend shop owners visit other retail organisations weekly and gather new ideas from their presentation. Freshening up your point of sale will freshen up the merchandise.”
Products have the ability to open up a dialogue. The right helmet next to the right jacket may prompt an otherwise lost sale opportunity, and the only way to weave together that customer experience is to think like one. Every shop has a very different space and it’s never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ situation, but simply viewing your space by the story it tells may well be the key to stirring up new sales.n