With a long trajectory on his back as area manager for several retail companies, Álvarez has worked for many years now as retail consultant. He defines himself as storeologist and has recently published his book ‘Retail thinking’.
Marcos Álvarez, retail consultant, firmly claims that those who do not redefine their concepts of stores have their days numbered. According to the expert and economist, and with a large career in the fashion retail ambit, stores must cease thinking about selling product alone but focus on how to answer the new needs of consumers instead. For Álvarez, experiential stores have everything to do with humanising the act of selling. Now, the consultant has just published Retail thinking, a guide to approach the new era of commerce.
MDS: Will we see how Retail apocalypse reaches Spain too?
Marcos Álvarez: The apocalypse of retail as we know it, for sure. The way to create stores will change, and franchises and traditional multibrand stores will have a tough time adapting as they are the most vulnerable in the face of e-commerce. Stores will not disappear, but there will be less of them and more showrooms, which are more experiential.
MDS.: That thing about experiential stores is starting to be like a mantra…
M. A.: I do not fully trust shopping assistants who have all data nor do I trust screens. That is not an experiential store. We are talking about the creation of spaces in which people can touch, smell or ultimately feel all those things that cannot be done through a computer screen, in order to generate brand content.
“There are companies that start talking about omnichannel experiences when their clients are fifty-year-old people who only use their phone to take pictures”
MDS: Any examples?
M. A.: Brompton’s bicycles’ stores. They even have a club, with a space reserved at the end of the store. To be the store’s partner it is not necessary to have one of its bikes, you must only bring a book about them. In the end, experiential stores are a human touch, something that screens cannot provide for.
MDS: Why rethink retail if selling is an art?
M. A.: In retail, everything starts by putting the client at the very centre. Nevertheless, there are stores who come up with ideas about what they can do but forget, at the same time, who are they doing it for or why. Consumers need to be empathised with. Sometimes, there companies that start talking about omnichannel experiences when their clients are fifty-year-old people who only use their phone to take pictures. There is no need to go crazy.
MDS: If one is a good seller, does he or she have to worry about retail’s immediate future?
M. A.: A seller is not someone who talks, it is someone who listens. The company must go from inside out, that is, thinking of a product and selling it, to inside in, understanding the client and doing something for him or her.
“Experiential stores are a human touch, something that screens cannot provide for”
MDS: Like Amazon?
M. A.: Actually, Amazon’s motto is to be the company with a better client experience in the world. Notice how they do not talk about being the fastest nor the most sold ones.
MDS: Should there be less stores?
M. A.: I don’t think so. But a retailer who focuses only on selling product is a dead one. Consumers find product anywhere. If a company only sells product or convenience, it is directly competing against Chinese platforms.
MDS: Should there be less sales assistants?
M. A.: Assistants should worry about being useful in the present so as to guarantee their future. The problem with shopping assistants in Spain is that they continue to think that it is not a profession. They see it as something temporary. One who gives in value, should not worry about anything. Client experience starts with employee experience. It is them who unfold the way in which clients feel inside the store, and the ones who will characterise the way in which customers talk about the brand. But, on its own initiative, there are only four of these kinds of sales assistants.
MDS: Is big data the salvation of retail?
M. A.: Big data is important as long as it is not intrusive. Not everything is statistics, consumers need to be known per se. But one cannot establish a business relying on estimations. The mixture is what can help us know the client better. And perhaps small commerce does not need all of that either.
“The problem is that sales assistants in Spain continue to think that it is not a profession; they see it as something temporary”
MDS: Are there survival guarantees for an offline commerce that is not online?
M. A.: The problem of retail today is that people do not go to stores. The traffic in the main commercial areas of Spain has fallen an average of 20% during the last three years. People do not go to sores anymore and so those giants who previously installed in the outskirts, now do so in the centre of the cities.
MDS: Let’s go back to experiential stores. How can companies seduce consumers back into the stores?
M. A.: People will go if there is something fun. It’s just common sense, what happens is that before the crisis there was a good time when everything sold out, but now it takes more to sell something.
MDS: What is the peak of e-commerce?
M. A.: It is estimated that in Spain, it will reach 20% before 2025.
MDS: What channel has it easier to compete against online?
M. A.: Chains. They are the only ones that can integrate all of them together, as long as they do not have franchises. Franchises, for instance, difficult client experience: how do you explain consumers that a t-shirt purchased online cannot be returned in a store owned by the same brand?
“Franchises difficult client experience because they put omnichannel strategies on hold”
MDS: Is omnichannel experience a reality?
M. A.: The theory is known by everyone, but in the day to day, I see little movement regarding it. Companies see it coming, and, for now, they are in the stage of denial and resignation, without assuming the responsibility of changing things in their organisation. It is about reorganising everything in order to answer to question such as how can I sell online all around the world, how to manage inverse logistics or who pays if the consumer is not at home.
MDS: Is it part of a cultural change?
M. A.: Consumption habits have changed. For some time now, consumption segments have not been well defined and the classifications that were used in the nineties are no longer useful now. In the past, for example, those who had money travelled in business class, stayed at a five-star hotel and went shopping on Via Monte Napoleone. Now, having the same amount of money, perhaps you travel by Ryanair and then stay in an Airbnb apartment.
MDS: Even so, restaurants are always full. What have restaurants done well that fashion hasn’t?
M. A.: If you pay 300 euros in a restaurant, you will probably enjoy a wonderful experience. In a store, retailers just offer a product and that does not produce joy by itself when going shopping. In the end, consumers spend their money in other things, in gyms, travels or gastronomy. Fashion must leave this endless spiral.
MDS: Establishing a coffee shop in a store would do it?
M. A.: If opening a coffee shop inside a store is understood as putting a band-aid, then no. But if it is understood as a space provided for customers so they can have a nice time whilst shopping, then yes. Why else would there be childcare services in Carrefour or Ikea. Nobody does anything for nothing.