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Why Retail Store Brands are Doomed

I just finished shopping in a typical large urban shopping mall. With over 360 stores, I was sure I could find a simple pair of black active-wear shoes, your basic laced up runners. I was on a mission.

The first store I saw was the very popular and trendy Steve Madden with a large “50% OFF” sign in the window. They had a couple pairs of runners that were close to what I was looking for, but they all had a white rubber band at the bottom. If it was black like the rest of the shoe, it would have been perfect. A salesperson asked if I needed help, but I politely declined the help as this was the first store I had tried. So, I left Steve Madden and I continued on.

Next was B2 Shoes, another trend setting store. I quickly found two styles that could work. I approached the checkout counter to find my size 11. The friendly young lady replied that they didn’t have an 11 in either of the styles, but she had 10.5. When I said 10.5 wouldn’t work, she suggested that I go online where they had a greater selection. I thanked her and went on my way.

I proceeded to Little Burgundy, Skechers, and then Hudson’s Bay with no luck. I was starting to believe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had thought. But I was persistent. I found the mall directory and scouted out 29 other footwear locations, then planned my attack.

My first stop was Browns who also had “SALE” signs everywhere. I found a perfect match, and, for safety, I choose another as backup and took them both to the cash register and waited for someone to help me. Patiently I waited as someone else was being helped. I stood there waiting and waiting. Finally, someone ask if I needed help. I forced a smile on my face and asked if they had these shoes in size 11. The lady went to the computer terminal. “We only have the one pair in 10.5” she announced as if she saved the day. Again, I replied that that size wouldn’t work. A shoe that was a half a size too small wasn’t helpful unless they thought I could curly my toes to fit. As I left, she suggested that I go online where there would be more sizes available.

Dejected, I went onto ALDO shoes who had a “Two for One” sale. I didn’t want two pairs of shoes; I just wanted a simple pair of black runners. They had a fancier black leather shoe. I was becoming desperate. Once again, I stood in line to see if they had my size. As I stood there waiting for someone to help me, I started to understand why retailer store brands are doomed. “Can I help you sir,” asked the young girl with bright colored hair. Startled, I asked her if they had these in size 11.  No size 11 but they had a 10.5. Really! She too suggested that I go online.

I was beginning to think that size 11 was a rarity. I now understood how Shaquille O’Neal must feel with size 22 feet. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that the worldwide average shoe size for men is between 9 and 12. According to Shoes.com, the average Canadian male shoe size is 10.5. Do retail stores only carry the average size?

I continued on my quest checking Champs, Lacoste, Journeys, and SportsChek with no luck. Finally, I gave-up. I had spent over an hour with nothing to show for it. I moved on to other items on my shopping list.

As I was heading out of the mall feeling defeated, I saw the Foot Locker. “Last chance,” I said to myself. On display was a black Converse. I took it off the shelf and walked to the counter to once again see if they had my size. The girl tapped onto the screen and advised me that they did. I almost jumped up for joy, but I just stood there feeling sad that the retail business was dying a painful death and they were totally oblivious as to why. A young guy in a referee outfit came over with a box and opened it to show me that the runners were the same as the ones I took from the shelf. He put down the box as I started to take off my shoes to try them on. Unceremoniously, he left, and I am there to fend for myself. I thread the laces and put them on. Satisfied that they fit, I go to the counter to pay. I explain to the lady that I will wear them out and will not need the box. She replies that without the box I can’t return them. I agreed to this condition and paid with my debit card. She hands me a bag to put my old shoes in it, like I’m at a discount store.

I know all retail transactions aren’t like the one I just descripted, but this isn’t the first time I have been disappointed and totally frustrated with the line ups, lack of service, or no service at all, and limited selection and sizes. There are a number of reasons why retail store brands are doomed. Unconsciously, they are driving us to online shopping, if not telling us directly. Next time, I will start the retail journey on my laptop in the comfort of my own home.

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Five Digital Brand Trends: Opportunity or Threat

The digital world continues to transform businesses and brands. Agile brands that can anticipate the future and take advantage of digital opportunities will win. The brands that hesitate or procrastinate will lose. Here are five digital trends that can either be an opportunity or a threat to your brand.

Audio Branding

There are over 75 million smart speakers in homes worldwide and this number is growing exponentially. According to Amazon, “tens of millions” of Echo devices were sold in 2018. They are currently collaborating with auto industry partners (such as Audi, BMW, Ford, Lincoln, Lexus, and Toyota) to ensure that Alexa is available on the go. Do voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant know your brand? Voice-powered applications are expected to explode.

“We are at the point of a big transformation,” Patrick Gauthier, Vice President at Amazon Pay, said during his keynote at Money 20/20 USA. “With voice we are going to see different complementary experiences emerge.” Gauthier said he expects smart speaker technology to play a bigger role when it comes to providing product information or executing recurring transactions.

If I asked a question about your brand, what would Alexa say? Does your brand have a recognizable voice like your logo?

Brand Intelligence

The hot concept in 2018 was artificial intelligence (AI) and it will continue to get hotter in the years to come. Real personalization is becoming possible thanks to the improved sophistication of artificial intelligence and refined logarithms. With big data, GPS, and other tracking devices, brands are able to anticipate their customer’s every desire. Consumers are expecting brands cater to their needs in real-time. Of course, there are some legitimate concerns that brands need to understand like Security & Privacy – another digital trend.

Limited availability isn’t good enough anymore in today’s always on and in the palm of your hand world. AI can help while you and I sleep.

When you connect a chatbot to the technology, you have super-charged customer service. It can provide important information to potential buyers while collecting insights to help the brand improve. A chatbot will consistently deliver your branding messages and can access all the available data to ensure that the customer gets the best personal experience. Grand View Research says that the chatbot market is growing at an average rate of 25 percent annually. With over 45 percent of customers preferring a chatbot over to a real person, it’s no wonder many brands are turning to a chatbot! Make sure your chatbot voice reflects you’re demographic and brand and be mindful of gender, personality, and accents when developing a (literal) brand voice. With the power of AI, your brand will be able to anticipate customers’ needs and provide better brand solutions 24/7.  

How smart is your brand and how smart does it need to be to compete?

Visual Branding

We are quickly turning into a visual society. Since 2014, the number of Americans who read for regularly pleasure has fallen by more than 30 percent. Research by Pew Research Center and Gallup indicates that the number of adults not reading any books has nearly tripled between 1978 and 2014. During the same time period, TV consumption rose. Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, says that nearly 75 percent of all communications today are visually based. He predicts that number will go up to 90 percent in the next three years.

Younger people are moving away from the boob tube to YouTube. The world’s 2nd biggest search engine today is YouTube where more than 1.8 billion registered users watch about 5 billion videos daily. The average viewing session is about 40 minutes, up 50 percent year-over-year. The site has a massive collection of 1,300,000,000 videos and that number growing at about 300,000 new videos per day. Netflix continues to capture eyeballs with over 137 million streaming subscribers as of Q3, 2018. Today’s challenge is developing mass consumable content that is worth watching.

According to Nielsen’s data, streaming video-on-demand services are now used by two-thirds of U.S. households. That figure increases by 10 percent year-over-year. How do brands get in on the action? The traditional 15, 30, or 60 second commercial doesn’t fit the new entertainment models. To get your brand message noticed, you will have to produce your own content. Red Bull is a content-creating monster, blending their advertising with entertainment programing such as documentaries, music, and sports events. Their secret is capturing fantastic moments with breathtaking background scenery like mountains, oceans, outer-space, and the great outdoors. Their message says anything is possible with a Red Bull.  

Another possibility is product placement within the content. Procter & Gamble had a deal with the ABC show Black-ish where the company was written into the plot. While Procter & Gamble was successful, product placement carries risks. If too many companies choose this path, viewers might reject sub-par content.

By 2021, mobile video will likely account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic. In many cases, these videos will be amateur in-the-moment content. What is your brand’s plan to tell your visual story?

Brand Security & Privacy

With the recent news about the misuse of personal data on Facebook, consumers are becoming more cautious about sharing their data. We have heard of government databases, retail (including hotels) credit card data, and credit reporting agency databases being hacked and breached. We are all too aware of the sad consequence of people’s identity being financially threatened and clever phishing schemes fooling people using a small piece of stolen information. First Data’s 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Study revealed that 34 percent of digital consumers experienced a PII compromise within the last year.  

Trust in any brand is only as strong as the protection of PII against hackers. Consumers will continue to evaluate the value of sharing PII. As online technologies continue to advance, we will see more breaches and consumers threats. Brands will need to one step ahead of threats to keep consumers data safe and secure.  What is your brand strategy to keep your customers’ PII safe?

Brand Advocates & Reviews

Reviews and ratings continue to be the digital word-of-mouth for most brands. Not every customer experience will be perfect – mistakes happen. But a brand’s reputation is most vulnerable online. Customers have an array of online avenues to voice their frustrations using review and rating sites, comment boxes, social media, and blogs. The goal for all brands is to have five stars but the true test of a brand is when they don’t. How did the brand respond online and in real time? How good is your customer service?

While people may hesitate to do business with a brand with negative reviews (depending on the severed of the problem or the number of reoccurring problems), having only positive reviews diminishes their credibility and is also a problem. Responding to the issue and showing empathy will help build a better relationship with current and potential customers. One potential solution to negative reviews is to have two-way reviews: the customer can review the business and you can review the customer.

Reviews are the foundation but influencers are the new brick and mortar. They are a higher-level, credible source for your brand. There has been a trend of shifting credibility away from celebrities towards consumer’s peers – real people building content. Moms influencing other moms is a great example.  Social analytics company Shareablee’s research (2017) shows that digital creators who have between one million and 20 million followers outperformed celebrities and micro influencers (less than 250,000 followers).

According to a Gartner report (2018), “Influencer marketing is at an inflexion point. Brands promoting products via influential individuals is no longer a secret – consumers know they being marketed to, while still consuming influencer content.” 

To ensure brand engagement, selecting the right influencer(s) is paramount. You want to make sure that your influencers have similar values and have transparency and authenticity as core values. Building a long-term relationship allows the influencer to become a natural advocate as they build brand insights and content that reflect positively on your brand. But even better is unsolicited user-generated content by loyal brand fans in the form of photos, videos and positive reviews.

 Does your brand strive for five stars and inspire customers to share it in real-time?

Digital Transformation

No brand can escape the digital world or its trends. It’s better to embrace digital transformation and its tools than to lose to the competition. But never forget that the personal touch is the most powerful tool a brand can have. Consumers still trust people and people still want to be with other people. Celebrate these facts with your brand and combine it with the latest digital tools to put your brand power into the consumers’ hands (literally) and you will have one of the most loyal brands in the world.