Have you noticed that an increasing number of digitally-native brands are now opening actual stores? Wildly successful companies, such as Warby Parker, Rothy’s, Glossier and Allbirds, which gained popularity as online-only, direct-to-consumer brands, are now enjoying tremendous success with smaller, brand-owned physical retail stores. These brands have figured out the secret recipe - personal, one-on-one customer service from knowledgeable associates in-store combined with the efficiency and convenience of a robust digital platform.
But how does this differ from stores of the past? These small, brand-owned stores are, well, small. Rather than being 200,000 to 300,000 square feet like traditional department stores, they may be as small as 500 to 5,000 square feet. And rather than stock all of their SKUs, they may only be able to stock as little as 10 percent of their product catalog. It’s clear that these smaller, smarter stores make sense financially, but how do these brands maintain the customer loyalty they’ve already established and continue to acquire new customers with such a small physical retail footprint and such a limited product selection? The answer is simple. It’s called Endless Aisle.
Endless aisle is the concept of enabling customers to virtually browse a brand’s entire product catalog, while in-store, from a mobile device or kiosk. Constrained by a limited amount of real estate, these new smarter brand-owned stores may simply display a small subset of their products - typically their most popular, in-demand items. But through mobile technology, store associates can offer customers a visually appealing virtual display of additional products and categories, with simple payment choices and various fulfillment options.
So although the physical footprint of the store may be small, and only a subset of available items are physically on display, from the customer’s perspective, the brand’s aisles are effectively endless.
Implementing Endless Aisle can be done in one of at least two different ways.
Firstly, you can use Endless Aisle as order fulfillment. This means that the options can be presented by the team members in store and the exact order can be issued out directly to the customer’s address.
Alternatively, Endless Aisle can be an interactive kiosk. This gives customers the freedom to browse the entire catalogue and find exactly what they are looking for. If a customer is in a rush, they don’t need to engage with team members and can order from the kiosk while still accessing an extensive product catalog
While many brands are now offering Endless Aisle, not all of them are doing it right. For example, some stores simply run legacy POS systems on small, counter-top windows monitors running old browsers. This inhibits the collaborative nature of selling as the monitor is difficult for customers to see and the information and images available are limited.
To be done right, brands need to invest in Endless Aisle retail technology that is accessible via handheld devices, offers high fidelity images and a wealth of information that enhances the customer journey.
Imagine you walk into the Sandro store on New York City’s Upper East Side looking for a men’s blazer. As you browse the floor, you begin to think you may be wasting your time as the store appears to only carry women’s clothing.
No problem. This is where Endless Aisle technology can help.
The store associate will grab an iPad and show you Sandro’s well-curated selection of men’s blazers, replete with filter options, high fidelity images, product details, reviews, sizing information and size and color options. After completing the seamless, digital checkout and choosing your preferred fulfillment option, which could include ship to store, ship to another store or ship to home, you're on your way. The small Sandro store you initially entered, with a limited selection of only women’s clothing, just became a large store with an expansive selection of both men’s and women’s merchandise.
In addition to introducing customers to categories of products not currently sold in-store, Endless Aisle technology also provides brands with another important ability - to “save the sale.” Imagine this scenario.
You walk into the Allbirds store in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood looking for their popular men’s Runner shoe in Natural Grey, size 12. The store associate informs you that unfortunately this popular size and color combination is currently sold out in-store. No problem. The store associate grabs an iPad and with just a few simple clicks, the shoes are on their way to your doorstep. The sale, which prior to the advent of Endless Aisle technology would likely have been lost, has now been saved.
Historically, brands were limited to only selling what was available physically in their stores. With Endless Aisle, brands can now manage and sell inventory that’s available in their warehouses as well as inventory available at other store locations. This expanded inventory availability is what we call Cloud Inventory.
To the store associate who is navigating the Endless Aisle iPad app, and to the customer benefiting from the expansive product offerings, the discovery process is quite simple. Yet the technology behind the app is actually very robust and intelligent. Thanks to advanced mobile technology available on the market today, the product discovery process is seamless and on-brand, utilizing a beautiful visual catalog that makes the customer feel that shopping on the iPad is simply an extension of shopping in-store.
When the store associate app is recommending products to customers, it is not just limiting recommendations to products available in-store. It is also considering Cloud Inventory. Once the customer has completed his purchase, the Endless Aisle technology is smart enough to do what’s called auto-routing - obtaining and delivering products from the most efficient source based on the customer’s location, inventory positions, and safety thresholds. This allows for convenient, flexible omni channel fulfilment options for the customer and optimized inventory management for the brand.
Endless Aisle is a big step forward in modern shopping but there are some challenges that remain.
To ensure total visibility for customers and team members you need to have real time inventory updates. This requires an integration of inventory management technology but can cause slip ups if not implemented correctly.
The system needs to work for the team to ensure that they remain empowered to run the software and not run by the software. Ensuring the system is cohesive is critical.
Working with suppliers effectively requires a three way communication to make sure that the inventory, in store team and supplier are all on the same page at all times to prioritize customer experience.
Integrating Endless Aisle technology into a brand’s clienteling app offers both the brand and its customers important benefits.
The technology allows brands to fully engage with customers and promote the entire product catalog all from a small footprint, thus mitigating risk due to real estate and inventory exposure. These smaller smart concept stores act as a customer acquisition play as existing and new customers are drawn in-store to interact with store associates, try on merchandise and make purchases. This provides an ideal platform for store associates to engage with customers, establish loyalty and discover upselling opportunities.
Customers enjoy the one-on-one, personalized service they receive from store associates and can discover the brand’s entire product line in a user-friendly, visually appealing and seamless way. Transactions are frictionless and omni channel delivery options blur the line between purchasing in-store and online.
Endless Aisle gives us huge scope to increase sales. The risk of losing a potential customer due to low stock is a non-existent problem when you have an entire catalogue at your fingertips.
Brands are clever. Smart concept stores are a great way to limit financial risk related to real estate and inventory while drawing customers in to explore the brand. Endless Aisle technology is a simple way for these brands to educate their customers about alternative product categories and save the sale of out-of-stock inventory.
Using engaged customer data to improve service, product range and options is a fantastic advantage of Endless Aisle. This information can build a brand, enhance customer experience and develop marketing strategies.
This robust, easy-to-use technology is becoming increasingly popular among brands who want to limit their risk while offering their customers the best of both the digital and physical retail worlds.