What makes a modern retailer?

E-commerce was the ‘90s revolution in retail. While it’s still the most important channel for retailers, most consumers expect even more from it today.

Retailers must go further than offer an online experience to be considered a modern business. Today’s top retailers understand their customers and work to serve their needs in a variety of ways. They also invest in a personalized and unique experience the shopper can’t get anywhere else.

Here are three things many of these businesses do to be on the cutting edge of retail.

1. Have mission-driven brand values

Modern day shoppers want to buy from brands that align with their own values. They want to feel good when they pull out their money, not guilty about what that money is funding. For millennials, 73% are willing to spend more for sustainable goods, and, according to an Affirm survey, 74% of shoppers said it was important they buy ethically made products. Even something as simple as body-positive messaging or a racially diverse group of models will make consumers more interested to buy your products. Outdoor retailers like REI and Patagonia have always had strong social and political activism, and modern consumers are eager to support those causes.

“We’re increasingly hearing consumers say they think about what a brand stands for when thinking about where to make a purchase. They’re looking everywhere, from the news to social media to the recommendations of people they trust, when they’re deciding where to shop,” said Affirm’s Vice President of Communications Elizabeth Allin. “This isn’t exclusive to younger shoppers. When someone is comparing two seemingly interchangeable items from two different retailers, they’re increasingly choosing to shop at the store that represents their own values.” 

To be a modern retailer you need to have an identity that expands beyond your products. That’s what gives your business brand power.

2. Invest in the latest and most innovative technology

Today's consumers expect a business’s technology to be fast, simple, and intuitive. Shoppers were expected to spend $76.17 billion in retail purchases on smartphones last year. A retailer that doesn’t prioritize mobile optimization first is missing a huge percentage of the market.

Having to input payment information can lead to a significant drop-off in conversion. Modern retailers need to streamline checkout to make it as frictionless as possible. Retailers should have multiple payment options, including a 21st century pay-over-time alternative, to keep up with trends in the industry.  

"For modern retailers, payments increasingly represent a strategic opportunity for driving revenue and margin growth—versus an afterthought," Affirm’s Chief Marketing Officer Greg Fisher explained. "And this reflects leveraging a seamless payment experience with an integrated merchandising and lifecycle design that accelerates engagement in the form of recency, frequency and value with their consumers."

Having up-to-date technology also helps win customer trust. Retailers with slow or old systems do not inspire confidence when it comes to privacy and security. Nobody wants to input personal details into a system that looks like it was created decades ago.

3. Create a seamless omnichannel experience

Today, a consumer browses, researches, and buys on multiple different devices or channels over an extended period of time. The buying journey includes mobile, in-store, and desktop. So for retailers it’s no longer “either/or” but “and.” This requires investing in both in-store and online experiences and ensuring that the two complement each other. And, of course, information about customers shouldn’t get lost as they weave through the different platforms.

“Shoppers should be able to browse on your website, try on or test at your brick-and-mortar locations, order on mobile, and ultimately pick up or return in-store without any confusion or loss of data,” Affirm’s omnichannel lead Sean Minard said. “This truly unified commerce experience can win invaluable loyalty with your customers.”

Being able to engage at each touch point along the entire shopping journey—both online and in-store—will also increase your business’s understanding of customer needs and preferences.

By investing in each of these factors, retailers can build businesses that will appeal to the ever-desirable millennial and Gen Z segments. With each of these three tools in your business’s belt, you’ll likely make strides toward a strong brand presence, identity, and engagement with customers. With these strengths, you can avoid the pitfalls of retailers that default to discounts to keep their shoppers coming back.