Thought Leadership BLOG

As Brands Lure Their Customers Away, Specialty Retailers Step Up Their Game

By January 22, 2018 No Comments

The battle of the brand vs. the specialty retailer is on.

With increasing options to shop brands directly for more immersive, personalized experiences (both in-store and online), customers are driving more wallet share into the pockets of brands. In response, specialty retailers (companies that sell proprietary product or a variety of brands) continue to invest in unique digital and in-store experiences to maintain their edge.

Astound Commerce’s latest report, Specialty Stores Invest to Survive, explores how specialty retailers and brands are adapting to these new conditions by evaluating the desktop, mobile, and in-store experiences of 50 specialty retailers. This serves as a companion to an earlier study that looked at 50 global brands utilizing the same methodology.

The report reveals that specialty retailers in general are providing more advanced technologies than brands at almost every touchpoint to survive the increasingly brand-centric landscape. Here’s where specialty retailers are gaining ground to get their customers back:

  • Omnichannel excellence

As customers continue to shop across channels, they expect perfected omnichannel experiences: consistent communication, inventory transparency, in-store pickup options and conveniences. And while many on both sides are falling short of perfect execution in these categories, retailers are picking up the slack faster than brands.

Only nine percent of brands reviewed offer ship to store options, as opposed to more than a quarter of specialty retailers (26 percent). More than half of specialty retailers offer in-store pickup (52 percent), compared to just 17 percent of brands.

Additionally, while 54 percent of brands support store product locators, retailers are once again ahead at 73 percent.

  • Improved customer service

Store return options (which should be a given at this point in the game) are almost universal for specialty retailers. While less than three in four (71 percent) brands accept store returns, 98 percent of specialty retailers offer that convenience. And in response to customer demands for more streamlined returns processes, half of specialty retailers have instituted sophisticated online returns processing — almost double that of brands (26 percent).

Also, some retailers have gained an edge by putting in place a price matching policy. Thirty-seven percent of specialty retailers have these policies, more than six times the number of brands  (6 percent).

  • Engaging product content

Almost all specialty retailers integrate user reviews (92 percent), compared to 78 percent of brands. Additionally, more than a third (34 percent) of retailers feature customer photos, compared to only 18 percent of brands.

Specialty retailers also prioritize contextual product content. Forty-six percent showcase product guides and “how-tos” on their website, while only 34 percent of brands offer the same. However, brands come out on top when it comes to video offerings — while 48 percent of brands offer videos on category pages, only 10 percent of specialty retailers have this content.

  • Innovative Merchandising

Specialty retailers have the resources and the technical know-how to more effectively merchandise products. They almost universally showcase products in dropdown menus and flyouts (91 percent of the 90 sites using this navigation) and 78 percent offer themed areas to drive consumers to seasonal products.

Specialty retailers also do a better job of highlighting their most popular products, as 72 percent showcase their top sellers, compared to only 40 percent of brands. While brands have the name recognition and equity, specialty retailers have a leg up when it comes to showcasing the actual products.

Specialty retailers realize they need to entice customers that prefer shopping directly with brands, and their efforts reflect it. If brands want to retain their hold on the customers, they need to follow suit by providing high quality merchandising, engaging content marketing strategies and seamless omnichannel experiences.

To learn more about the top performers and view the full results, click here.