I joined Box in early 2015 after a long career in retail because I was excited about the opportunities we have to help retailers with many of the important challenges they face in creating long-term, profitable businesses. One of the many ways we are striving to do that is by creating an insanely great platform and flexible business model that enables retailers and software developers to build robust applications for the retail environment on top of our content management capabilities. A great example of our platform being put to good use can be seen with Tulip Retail, our co-presenters at this year's NRF Big Show.
I recently sat with Mark Steele from Tulip Retail, where we discussed store associate enablement, the future of retail, and why 2016 is going to be a big year in reinventing the sales associate’s role.
JC: There’s been a lot of change and introduction of new technologies and tools over the past few years. But why is mobility in retail in 2016 so important?
MS: This is the year that retailers actually have a viable option to put iPads into the hands of store associates without ripping and repairing legacy systems. It’s not enough to think “store associates need mobile technology.” In 2016, the question should be “how do I make my in-store experience iconic by leveraging the power of the store associate?” The shopping experience has become just that--an experience--and should verge on the “theatrical”. Some forms of technology and tooling will come and go, but since 90% of purchases are still occurring in-store, one thing remains: the people selling the product. On the other hand, one thing that won’t change is the customer’s voracious appetite and need for product information.
[Photo courtesy of frankandoak.com] Customers shopping for an outfit can also wander over to the barbershop for a quick cut or the espress bar for a pick-me-upper.
What makes store associates so important?
At 16-million strong across the United States, store associates can make up their own nation! And yet, they are often completely cut off from access to information when trying to complete the most basic job functions. Being able to check-out via mobile devices and look up in-store inventory just doesn’t cut it anymore. Store associates need to be the product experts, not the customers. They must be able to move around the store quickly, access information from anywhere in the endless aisle, and share what they see with their customers from anywhere in the store. They need to understand the shopper’s context, what else they may have purchased or returned in the past, and what their preferences are.
Why do you think this year will be the year that store associate mobility is going to go big?
Because we now have proof and validation showing that it works by seeing increases in revenue, basket size, as well as brand recognition and equity. Brands like Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Bonobos, and Toys”R”Us are leading the way in enabling their store associates with iPads to perform things like advanced clienteling and omnichannel transactions. Some of these brands are seeing lifts of more than 30% in basket size with customers being five times more likely to purchase something in-store when a store associate was able to help them.
Bonobos is certainly paving the way as a leading retailer when it comes to reinventing the in-store experience. What exactly are they doing to drive the revolution?
Bonobos is one of the most iconic and game-changing brands out there with how they approach digital and physical retail. The once online-only clothing retailer has now opened over 20 physical locations, or “Guideshops”, across the United States. Customers book a 1-hour appointment with a Guide to try on as much or as little of the product line they want, then Bonobos ships from anywhere in the endless aisle. What does all this mean? In doing so, Bonobos has both validated the physical store’s survival but also changed it from being just a location to now a destination, and brand experience for shoppers. And their Guides? Well, they are the cornerstones to making this model work. Bonobos has built a model around making their Guides to be the reason people decide to come in and shop with them.
Photo courtesy of usatoday.com
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com
How has the use of technology at Bonobos evolved over the years?
Bonobos has been innovating for a long time. Bonobos Guides would use a laptop while working alongside a customer. They would perform all transactions through the Bonobos website, so a customer would either sign in or create an account in the store, then a Guide would add their final selections to the cart, and ship. Now, store associates can login to any iPad in their store and have immediate access to customer and product information. The power is in the hands of the store associate, not the customer. The store associate doesn’t need the customer’s login credentials to gain insight into their shopping preferences.
Photo courtesy of apparelnews.net
You can see what a day in the life of a Bonobos Guide looks like by viewing this infographic.
Once there is a good reason to have a device in a sales associate’s hands, it opens an important door to all kinds of operational processes that can be enhanced. How have you architected Tulip’s platform to handle store operations and the volume of content that retailers need to support those activities?
Integrating with Box helped us to create the right tools needed when it comes to store operations. Often times head office sends massive photo files and PDFs via email (product images, planograms, best practice guides and more), which the store supervisor or associate has to download and print. Then, once they’ve finished doing their task, whether it’s remerchandising the store or updating floor layouts, they take new pictures, complete a task report, and resend. It’s an exhaustive process and sometimes has the store associate using their personal email to complete this task.
Box is able to provide a modern content platform that serves as a unifying layer to make it easy for everyone--from the merchandising team at head office, to the store manager and the store associate on the ground floor--to find, access, collaborate on, and store content from wherever they need to work. Box instantly gave us a very mature way of doing this that is secure, device agnostic, and intuitive to use.
We are excited to see Tulip Retail put the Box Platform squarely in the store selling environment. It’s a great example of how retailers and developers can build content management into the apps they need with ease and speed. While a lot of our retail customers use the native Box application, many also build customized capabilities on our platform to serve specific workflow and content needs. Content can be delivered to store associates, customers, or executives who will not know they are interacting with another app (in this case, Box)--it can all happen in the background. Retailers want and need this kind of agility as they build new strategies to support and engage their executives, sales associates, and customers.
Ultimately, what’s eminently clear to us is that employees want to work in new ways, with new tools that impact IT decisions and core business processes. Retail is demanding more mobile, collaborative, and secure ways of working that in turn require new technology to face the digital disruption and stay competitive.