starbucks reserve

Retail needs a digital wake-up call, but not the one you’re thinking about

The digital wake-up call you need is maybe not the one you think. You are understandably worried that you don’t own the platform where your customer experience and your brand are dissected live every second. But what is the option anyway? PR you way back to relevance?

That’s the thing you see. Most companies want to be in charge of the way customers see them, Mad Men-style. But the digital toothpaste has been out of the tube for many years. It’s not going back in. And you’re not going to beat Facebook, Google or Tencent at big data at this point any time soon either. Blaming your IT department because customer service chatbots and in-store augmented reality are the new connected fridges doesn’t help either.

Instead of trying to make excuses why not relax a bit and face the fact that your main problem is that your customer experience sucks?

See, this is a good news because you can actually do something about it. There’s a collective epiphany to offer to your company: digital is not about digital. Digital is about customer experience. So what if you depend on Google maps for customers finding your stores? On Facebook for talking to them? On Alibaba to process the payments? They are just the new Yellow Pages, the new TV and the new VISA. You were not in charge of these old parts of the ecosystem weren’t you? Well, you’re not in charge of the new ones either. Get. Over. It.

I’m not only offering a stoic approach to your inevitable demise. I’m helping you face the real problem. Your customer experience is something that you can actually work on. You might even remember how to be good at it (some people in your organization will for sure).

I was visiting Starbucks Reserve Roastery store in Shanghai yesterday and I was thrilled. As you should be if you are a retail multinational struggling with digital.

They have sales people taking care of customers around specific perimeters of the brand (no digital goggles required):

shanghai starbucks - innovation copilots 2

They have customers narrating the in-store experience on their get-go social platform (they even offer WiFi as you might know):

shanghai starbucks - innovation copilots 3

But of course they are on top of their game and bring the right experience at the right moment:

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They probably even push the envelope a bit too far if you ask me:

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This is the new Apple store.

They’re not grasping for digital, letting PR guys copy and paste Harvard Business Review ´insights’:

shanghai tami robotics - innovation copilots

So why would you?

It’s true, digital is not a fad and it’s important. But for most multinationals it’s about getting your head back in your core business, not paying attention to the CES Las Vegas latest voice-activated shoe polisher. Or dragging execs in ‘learning expeditions’ in search of the next big idea. Or acting like BMW because you want a piece of the recurring digital revenue cake.

Relax. Go back to basics.

The answer to digital will come from your culture not by making your culture more digital. The biggest mistake you’ve been making is letting digital companies starting to be better than you at your own game. This is where you need a strong, collective wake-up call. You were having stores before Apple weren’t you?

Remember why the stores have been around in the first place (hint: not to just allow for customers to get goods and pay)?

Because if you think of your stores as the end of your supply chain, then in that case yes, digital killed you yesterday.