joyaJoya Studio’s unique space hosts tours, events, workshops and interactive art installations.

Fragrance design studio, Joya, and Taylor and Miller Architecture/Light joined forces to create a radically conceived retail experience meant to hover between the context of consumption and production. These two environments in today’s society have been too often ripped apart for the sake of protecting the sanctity of the antiseptic and heavily branded retail store.

Located in Brooklyn, N.Y., Joya Studio offers innovating perfumes, personal care and home ambiance under its own label, as well as engaging emerging and established artists and brands for unique, collaborative projects. In addition to creating a concept shop to display this collection, there was also a desire to create a space for workshops, classes with visiting perfumers and art installations.

Taylor and Miller’s lead designers B. Alex Miller and Jeff Taylor, along with Aoife O’Leary, sought to create a retail environment for Joya that is literally and figuratively suspended between the formality, cleanliness, and elegance of a retail space, and the informality and grit of a highly active factory. The space is comprised of a series of large floating steel and wood veneer surfaces suspended by steel rods from the factory ceiling. None of the steel surfaces touch each other.

While steel surfaces define the retail space, the factory space in which they are suspended permeates the retail experience. The retail sides of the floating steel surfaces and their associated display niches are wrapped in an oak wood veneer. Meanwhile, the factory side of the surfaces is left entirely bare, as are all of the structural angles, associated tack welds and electrical conduit. The visitor experience of the consumption and production spaces is separated intentionally by the thinnest of architectural elements; a single sheet of veneer and a single sheet of steel.

Acclaim Highlights

As a multi-disciplinary firm, Taylor and Miller also work in the realm of lighting design, making lighting a key component of this project. Taylor and Miller carefully accented the display niches with Flex Pro Interior, (2700k) a high output, low voltage, and thin and flexible LED circuit strip from Los Angeles-based Acclaim Lighting. Flex Pro Interior was developed for custom interior architectural lighting schemes based on its ability to be cut to an exact length within two inches for custom applications. For Joya Studio, Flex Pro creates a soft subtle glow on the products in the display niches and highlights the warm tones of the wood.

The flexible LED strip provides ample lighting by producing 600 lumens per foot and only consumes 5.5 watts per linear foot. Specifying the Flex Pro Interior also gave Taylor and Miller the flexibility of setting the atmosphere by selecting from various color temperatures such as 2400K, 2700K, 3000K, 3500K and 4000K. It also features a wide 120-degree beam angle and maintains 70 percent of its lumens at 50,000 hours.

With the successful integration of the two environments, this unique space hosts tours, events, workshops and interactive art installations. Joya Studio is also a Brooklyn Building Award winner, an honoree in the 2016 Interior Design Best of the Year and NYCxDesign Awards and received an honorable mention from the American Architecture Prize.

NancyRetailers can counter online shopping by turning up their customer service. By Nancy Friedman

Toys “R” Us recently announced plans to close 182 stores nationwide. Macy’s, Sears and Kmart have also announced plans to close stores. They are among the thousands of big and small retailers who have announced closings or slumping sales, in great part, due to online shopping.

The rise of the Internet, mobile and e-commerce over the past two decades has chipped away at the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. Studies and sales data show online shopping gaining strongly while in-store sales have struggled.

According to TechCrunch, 79 percent of U.S. consumers shop online, up from just 22 percent back in 2000. Some 217.1 million people in the U.S. are online shoppers, and those figures are projected to reach 224 million in 2019. In addition, Cushman & Wakefield predicts 12,000 stores will close in 2018, up from 9,000 last year.

Shoppers have made it clear they want to do more of their shopping online and on their smartphones. So, what can store owners do? One tried and true business tactic – customer service – is becoming even more important in attracting buyers and keeping them as repeat shoppers.

The “Amazon Effect”, the popularity and ease of online shopping and the related changes in consumer behavior and preferences, is forcing store owners – from major franchisers to main street storefronts – to get serious about providing outstanding customer service. Stepping up customer service not only attract consumers into your store, but keeps them coming back.

More business is lost due to poor service and poor treatment than poor product. Stores spend thousands of marketing dollars trying to convince us to buy their products, but if that contact is not handled just right by customer service representatives at the point of sale, all that money is wasted. Customer service failures not only impact sales and return business, but can also damage a brand and lead to online shaming on social media.

Now more than ever, smart retail owners and managers must invest in customer service training programs. As the Internet continues to cut into store sales, retailers need to enlist experienced customer service professionals to teach their employees how to navigate every possible issue and complaint. Sadly, apathy is a major roadblock among business owners who compete daily versus online shopping.

They are so busy trying to survive that they overlook the importance of customer service as a way to counter the online threat. From a retail store salesperson, to a greeter at a restaurant, to representatives at a call center, retailer owners and managers need to train their employees on how to deal with the consumer if they are to compete against the technology threat.

There will always be a place and need for stores. People like perusing aisles, visiting glitzy showrooms and running their fingers over soft fabrics. But the rise of e-commerce and mobile shopping not only moves individual sales online, but also builds new shopping habits, so that consumers gradually see the living room couch as a good-enough replacement for their local store. The best way to counter the threat is to provide excellent customer service by training your employees, giving the shopper a reason to turn off technology and shop, buy and return to your store.

Nancy Friedman is one of the country’s top customer service experts, and the president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc. in St. Louis.

Murn2 1The traditional retailing business model is experiencing radical change, with the continued impact of Web-based technology. By Tom Murn

The retailing process generally means that the consumer receives some level of customer service by a clerk or proprietor. Automatic convenience vending means the consumer is engaged in “personal service” and “self-enablement.” Two different diagrams here reach the same conclusion: The consumer obtains or buys a product they want, through a sale. This rudimentary analysis takes us to the cosmos which retailing faces in 2018.

Many retailers are frightened by the future they perceive as new, uncharted, and unstable. Some retailers are accepting, even embracing innovation as opportunity. Retailing terms and conditions are now being driven by technology applications. Cultural attitudes and social habits of people continue to influence retail.

Traditional retailers must restructure

The emerging economics of the retail sector are an amalgamation of their retail siblings. Digital and cloud technology along with the smartphone phenomenon has made online shopping dynamic for nearly every retailer. As part of this, the behavior and habits of consumers – the ways in which they shop, buy, and transact a sale – are changing. Traditional retailers are being forced to restructure their organizations to meet this marketplace.

To some degree it’s an upheaval from consumer shopping and a retail playing field, which has been fairly consistent for the past fifty years. As today’s retailing transition progresses, retailers need to make their brick-and- mortar, real estate, and personnel more responsive to consumer demand.

Artificial intelligence enables self-service

Automated convenience vending armed with artificial intelligence can be the synthesis so that the consumer can accomplish what they want from their shopping visits in simple, pleasant, easy experiences. The smartphone is now being integrated with the store as today’s consumer will see an offer in their phone and the app will direct the person to the closest vending source, which contains the product they are seeking to buy. They may also get an instant discount when they pick it up.

Self-checkout vending machines play a new, significant role in a store. The consumer, who often has an idea of what they want can simply help themselves to the item. When they dip their debit, credit, or house account card then open the door to take the merchandise, they are automatically charged. They are able to leave the store without any further administrative or clerk involvement.

In many stores, more than 50 percent of the items sold are standard, stock products, which in most cases should not require a clerk. Today’s artificial intelligence devices are capable of answering questions and discussing the features of an item with the consumer. When retailers are challenged by today’s rising personnel costs with restrictions on scheduling during peak hours, this becomes a key cost benefit bottom line savings.

Finally, this format minimizes any theft, pilferage, or shortages, which typically take place in many retail settings, despite all security measures. Simply, whenever the door on the automatic self-checkout machine opens the person opening that door is charged for the product items removed. The employees stocking devices have biometric thumb and Iris access, which thoroughly eliminates employee theft. Retailing and vending have dominated the way in which our economy and our society accesses goods, products, and merchandise.

Tom Murn is the founder, chairman and CEO of Viatouch Media, an artificial intelligence tech platform for retail.

GregEighty-seven percent of retailers say having omnichannel plans is important to their success, but only eight percent feel they’ve mastered it. Consider these three best practices to help build out your omnichannel presence in 2018. By Greg Lisiewski

Small and midsized retailers understand the importance of having a strong omnichannel strategy, but for many getting started is the real challenge. A recent study found that 87 percent of all retailers view omnichannel plans as either critical or very important to their success, but only 8 percent feel they’ve mastered it. Additionally, just 12 percent believe they have the right technology in place.

Without question, large retailers have the advantage of resources. They can create a team focused on executing a robust omnichannel strategy. With less time and financial resources, it is easy for small to medium businesses to feel overwhelmed. The good news is now technology exists to give them the opportunity to quickly and affordably enhance their omnichannel approach and implementation. Consider these three best practices to help build out your omnichannel presence in 2018.

Align the experiences

One mistake many smaller retailers make is not synching up their online and in-person experiences. The store, the site, the app and event booth should “feel” the same so customers are comfortable and familiar with your brand, regardless of channel. It’s key to provide clear understanding of who you are and what you’re about, then presenting that image consistently at all times, in all places.

The outdoor gear and apparel store evo uniquely culls its product assortment presented online and in its flagship store in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. The ROI benefits of aligning experiences are clear: According to Nathan Decker, director of eCommerce at evo, omnichannel customers are three times more valuable to them than single channel customers.

Take a “convenience” cue from online

The speed of online shopping really can’t be recreated in a brick-and-mortar store, but there are a number of ways retailers can use the combination of technology and their built-in advantage of face-to-face interaction to improve the experience.

Point-of-sale (POS) technology has given retailers a powerful tool to reduce checkout time. When lines get long, the mobile registers come to the customer. But to really make the most of POS, it’s critical that sales associates are trained to positively interact with customers while they wait. This increases the possibility of enrollment in customer loyalty programs, which will increase sales across all channels.

Another breakthrough in POS is the ability to integrate with fin-tech innovation systems like Clover and Square, which make it much easier for businesses to accept card payments. Additionally, make the most of POS capabilities by choosing those that operate on mobile devices like iPads and Android smartphones.

Enable shoppers with finance options

Countless retail industry reports note order sizes increase when credit is offered. That said, financing options were once a luxury for only larger retailers – no longer. Options are now available for stores of all sizes to allow customers to pay for items incrementally through branded financing.

Using one such option, evo launched a financing tool that saw 120 percent higher transaction values. By providing a payment option that suits customer’s needs, merchants are building loyalty among customers, which will translate into greater revenue online and in-store.

Retailers often tell me that time is one of their most valuable assets, which makes implementing new technology sometimes difficult. Fortunately, many solutions mentioned are designed to deliver robust benefits “out-of-the-box” and can be installed quickly.

For example, Brian Meader, who oversees sales, business development and marketing at Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas, was looking for that kind of solution for three different channels: in-store, online and at events and shows. He employed a turnkey financing solution that led to average order values of financed purchases that were 100 percent higher than with other payment options.

The opportunity to attract and retain customers through every channel has never been better for small- and mid-sized retailers. By combining your unique differentiators with exciting technology that enhances the customer experience, the opportunity to build a strong omnichannel presence in 2018 is there for the taking.

Greg Lisiewski is the founder and CEO at Blispay.

Gyft App HandRetailers can employ strategies to maximize exposure to their gift card programs. By Dom Morea

The holiday season is fast approaching and retailers are already searching for effective ways to grab customer attention, increase in-store visits and gain an edge during the most competitive part of the retail year. First Data’s 2017 Prepaid Consumer Insights Study found that the average number of physical gift cards purchased per consumer has increased over the last four years from 4.7 to 6.5 percent, so prioritizing gift card programs should be a no-brainer for retailers of all sizes. Luckily, retailers can employ the following strategies to maximize exposure to their gift card programs and bring holiday joy to their stores and customers.  

Spread the word

Retailers should communicate their gift card programs across all available channels to ensure that the customer base is aware of the products and knows where to find them. Since the majority of gift card purchases are planned in advance, it is essential that retailers begin advertising and promoting them during of the holiday season. Print advertising and in-store displays work well, but online channels are another great way to get attention quickly. Digital advertising and engaging with consumers via social media will drive immediate awareness, especially if you offer digital gift cards or gift cards to be purchased and shipped online.

Make the most of mobile

The rise of smartphone use is popularizing mobile gifts cards, especially among millennials. Millennial consumers are attracted to mobile gift cards since there is no printout or plastic card required for a purchase. Also, recipients can easily check their balances, reload cards, and even redeem cards online. The future of gift cards is with mobile as 71 percent of consumers ages 18 to 24 are interested in storing the value of a gift card using a smart-phone app. As this generation gets older and consumers in this group have more disposable income, they will drive the full adoption of mobile gift cards.  

Sweeten the deal with incentives

Gift cards are a great present, but they are also a vehicle to encourage more spending from customers. That’s why incentives should be a key element of all gift card programs to boost more customer traffic and repeat purchases. Incentive programs should be simple and sweeten the deal to entice customers. For example, consider offering a free $5 gift card with any $25 purchase or a free $10 gift card with the purchase of a $100 gift card. These tactics put gift cards in the hands of customers making regular purchases and extend gift card use by shoppers who have already purchased one, opening the door to added revenue.      

Make cards a true gift

Retailers can drive more sales by elevating the design of their actual gift cards as well as their packaging. Through apps like Clover Gift Cards, businesses can offer premium, occasion-specific gift cards in unique designs that are more likely to catch the eye of customers as something their friends and family can unwrap during the holidays.  

Pump up the employees

In order for gift card programs to be successful, retailers must be equally proactive in promoting the benefits of gift cards to employees as they are to customers. During the holidays, retailers should provide gift card sales training to generate excitement among in-store employees by developing gift card sales “challenges.”

Location, location, location

Retailers should make sure that gift card displays are placed at high-traffic locations within the store. Putting gift cards on display near store entrances and checkout registers can increase the likelihood that all customers will see them at some point during their visit. As well, merchandising kits should be sent to all store locations with new displays and signage along with recommendations or planograms to show where and how to place each display.  

A strong gift card program will benefit your business in addition to your customers. With 75 percent of gift card users admitting to overspending beyond the original value of their gift cards by an average of nearly $38 in 2017, gift cards can be a primary tool to drive sales for your store throughout the holiday season and beyond. All retailers should keep up with the latest gift card trends to grow both in-store and digital gift card sales.

Dom Morea is senior vice president and head of gift solutions at First Data. He is responsible for leading the transformation and growth of the industry’s leading provider of branded stored value solutions.

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