On April 5th, equestrian retailer Bit of Britain announced it was closing its physical store to concentrate the business solely online. Even though it’s simply transitioning to a different model, and not totally disappearing, it’s a sign of a shift in the market. We’ve known that retail has been facing an uphill battle for years, but with the news of this iconic store closing it’s now become very real for equestrians.
While many equestrian retailers have thriving businesses, others are still clinging to the heyday of brick and mortar. The competition was limited then and retailers were the gateway for any manufacturer that wanted to access the market. Now customers have all the power and anyone can reach them directly. Suddenly, it’s a very different ecosystem. The growing costs and wide open competition can cause a tremendous amount of frustration and despair.
Is physical retail bound to disappear? Absolutely not. We’re not going to live 24/7 looking at our phones. People will still want to go out and shop. But the new reality requires a change of mindset.
You are now in the curation and experience business.
While online shopping has made it convenient to purchase products, traditional retail shopping is sensuous experience that can’t be replicated on a screen. Going out, touching and feeling items that have been carefully curated for us, interacting with people, coming home with new things – it’s fun. We decide to go out because we want to.
For retailers, the challenge is to understand what business they are in. They are no longer in the business of procuring items “Come get things you need” – the internet does that better. They’re in the curation and experience business – “Come, I chose things you might like”. It’s not about needs, it’s about wants. It requires listening to the customer and understanding their desires, what they value, and offering a selection and environment that fills those wants.
One last point about curation, I think it’s under-utilized as a marketing tool. Too much choice is overwhelming. There’s great value in having a trusted expert limiting that selection and presenting it in a way that makes sense ‘editorially’.
Forget price. Focus on why we buy.
When I hear retailers, they’re focused on price-price-price. It’s hard to win on price. You can’t out-Amazon Amazon. Whatever you’re selling, someone else will have it cheaper. The win is by focusing on what others can’t offer. Have a value proposition where price isn’t the key deciding factor.
Use the physical location as an asset.
Have a coffee shop inside the store, offer educational workshops, hold events, collaborate with new brands for a special pop up week. Got extra space? Put some desks, good wifi, and create a co-working space for equestrian start ups or riders on the road who need a place to work. I’m throwing a bunch of random ideas here but my point is to maximize the physical location. It can be a place to build community and get people through the door.
Gather and use data.
If I received a personalized email from my local store: “Hi Patricia, How are you? We’ve put together these 3 outfits for you in your size. Here’s the link to order and you can pick them up or we can ship them to you”, the chances of getting me to make a purchase are high. The shop just saved me time and effort, plus it made me feel special.
With a database of clients and their purchases, the purchase cycle of various items, you could figure out who is likely to need what, when, and hit them with an offer at that time. By mixing the physical proximity with digital tools, local retailers can really get to know their customers better than anyone and offer a level of service that others can’t match.
Market conditions are in constant flux in every industry. Some will get hit harder than others by structural changes. It doesn’t mean we’re all doomed. There will always be opportunities but they might take a different form.