Retail expert Marit Elisabeth Jensen shares some insight and explains the importance of the frontline.
We caught up with Marit Elisabeth Jensen, retail advisor for real estate developers, to get her thoughts on the current state of retail. Marit was involved in the launch of the luxury department store Eger Karl Johan in Oslo and was also responsible for the relaunch of Vikaterrassen. Real estate developers and retailers hire her to get advice on how to create successful shopping experiences. We gave her a call to get some insight into apocalypses, robots, and the general future of retail.
– Firstly, could you tell us a little about your background?
– Sure! I’m actually a lawyer but ended up in real estate after working with the creation of Eger Karl Johan in Oslo. Since 2007 I’ve been working with real estate development, mainly for retail purposes. My job is to understand consumer trends and how the world is evolving around us – and use that knowledge to advise developers on how to create a pulsating city center with shopping, restaurants, and culture. It’s all a part of an ecosystem. And the people at the frontline are some of the most important pieces in that ecosystem.
I firmly believe that the frontline is what’s going to save retail. Many retail owners and chains are not investing enough in their frontline people. That’s not very strategic moving into the future.
Apocalypse … now?
– People were talking about a retail apocalypse even before the corona pandemic. What’s happening, in your opinion?
– We are not talking about an apocalypse, but rather a shakeout. A shakeout happens from time to time. It’s the recentering of a market caused by large, global trends. The last shakeout was in the 1950s and 60s when a lot of women joined the workforce. That was the end of certain products and services, and the start of many others. The same thing happened after the industrial revolution, to go even further back in history.
So let’s keep our cool here. It’s not like physical retail is dying. But we have to adjust to the new reality – the old winning formula doesn’t work anymore. An apocalypse is a catastrophe – that’s not what we are looking at here. It’s about figuring out what’s going on. And there are huge possibilities for those who are able to adjust.
– How should retailers act to meet this trend?
– The most important thing to keep in mind is to touch the heart and the brain of the customer. It’s all about the shopping experience. This has become somewhat of a cliché, but I’m not talking about extravagant shows and fireworks. It’s the element of surprise, the emotions, something that engages the shopper. If you are able to leave the customer thinking “hey, I really learned something, that salesperson really knew what they were talking about”, you make sure that they come back.
AI versus human
– Why will people bother to go to a physical store in the future?
– People need human interaction, shopping experiences for all the senses. To touch and feel. Look someone in the eye. We are social creatures, let’s not underestimate that. During the lockdown, we are picking up some new shopping habits that I think we will keep, especially for practical, simple transactions. But we will also be more focused on shopping locally, and if the retailers are smart, they will tap into that.
– Talking about humans; what about the salespeople in the stores, will they be replaced by robots?
– I like to say that the time of the hungover part-timer is over. Today’s consumer is very well informed, even before entering the store. To sell to that consumer, you need to add something that he doesn’t already know. It’s essential to have excellent product knowledge in addition to knowledge about people. You need to understand the needs of this person, analyze quickly and be relevant. By investing in your frontline people you are investing in that unique value.
It’s not that you need a degree in psychology to work in retail, but you need to be alert and present – in a way that is still impossible for robots.
– So, what does it take to stay relevant as a retailer in, say, five years from today?
– It’s about staying relevant and securing loyalty. And also being present in more than one channel, make sure to find your space in the digital infrastructure as well.