Here’s What The New Circuit City Needs To Survive

Danielle Beurteaux

The recent announcement that Circuit City is being revived yet again—and in brick-and-mortar format, no less—was met with a few raised eyebrows. The once-ubiquitous consumer electronics chain filed for bankruptcy 2008 and closed the last of its stores in 2009.

But now two experienced retailers have big plans for new stores, the first of which is scheduled to open this spring. The stores will feature next-gen consumer electronics like wearables, drones, tablets, and gaming devices, aimed squarely at the millennial shopper.

CEO Ronny Shmoel emphasizes that the new stores will have highly trained sales associates (who will be called specialists). He explains that people still shop brick-and-mortar when they want the assistance of an expert; hence the focus on training.

This is part of the rebirth of the highly trained sales associate. Retailers are realizing that consumers appreciate being able to interact with knowledgeable and accessible salespeople, and one way to ensure that service is to empower staff members with the latest retail technology.

Well-trained, personable store associates can deliver a double whammy of technology and customer service in a way that e-commerce simply cannot. Some stores are also arming associates with technology that allows them to check inventory levels across stores and warehouses, complete transactions anywhere on the store floor, and track shoppers’ preferences and past purchases. With more previously online-only retailers opening up physical locations, sales associates could be a key element of their success.

For example, in a pilot project, clothing retailer Levi Strauss is using RFID tags on its merchandise in a handful of stores. The goal is to be able to locate every piece of inventory so that shoppers don’t leave if they can’t find an item they want. The data generated is also used to help the store run more efficiently.

Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff’s technology-enabled stores meld technology and personal assistance, an approach that has been popular with customers. The fitting rooms feature interactive mirrors that shoppers can use to select items, and everything is RFID-tagged. Shoppers can choose to be identified via their phone number, and sales associates (called stylists) can then use it to find past purchases and communicate with customers—and also deliver a free cup of coffee or glass of champagne.

The pilot at the brand’s New York City store went well—the amount of time shoppers spend in the store and the amount of money they spend has increased since the technology was implemented. They company has since outfitted its stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles the same way.

The company has also used its new technology to uncover inefficiencies; for example, to explain why a particular item was frequently taken into dressing rooms but never purchased (staff members determined that there was a problem with the fit).

Department store Nordstrom has been experimenting with texting to help drive sales. It began with a program that allows sales associates to text with customers, and expanded that last spring to TextStyle, which enables the store’s personal shoppers to communicate with their clients, and send product photos, thereby creating a stronger client relationship.

It seems we’re coming full circle: Store associates are now becoming an asset to invest in rather than a cost to minimize.

Want more strategies for the rapidly changing retail environment? See What Is Design Thinking And Why Should Retailers Care About It?


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.