FUTURE OF RETAIL | Letters from the CEO Series - "Brick-and-Mortar Stores" (II of III)
By: Stephen Hart - Founder & CEO of DedON | June 2021
We should all be excited about the next step in retail. We should be enthusiastic about the unique opportunities inside the retail planning industry: taking the best from traditional retail and blending it with new learnings from the pandemic. I know the pandemic has opened my eyes to a whole new side of retail and I’d love to take a minute to outline what I, and our customers, should be excited about in the upcoming years.
Traditional & Pandemic
When I think of retail post pandemic, I think of the opportunity to combine the best of retail pre-pandemic with the surprising silver linings of the past year. In my eyes, there’s still a lot to like about traditional retail. Who doesn’t love the convenience and instant gratification of buying something and immediately having it in your hands? Or the ability to browse around and find surprising new things you didn’t even know you wanted? We can’t lose sight of the logic backing the traditional bricks and mortar model of retail that has existed for years. However, the pandemic limited many areas of the country regarding retail, often restricting or limiting the capacity to visit many retailers.
Personally, one of the biggest silver linings of the pandemic has been the convenience of online shopping, which I rarely participated in pre-pandemic! But now, there are certain products I know that I want and never need to find the time to go out and get - they simply come to me.
Better yet, the pandemic has given many of us incredible flexibility regarding time and location. Many of us have been working from home exclusively, or at the very least, much more than we used to. This has granted us increased flexibility to blend our personal lives and our work lives. As a result, I’ve personally realized that we don’t need to spend most of our waking hours at work or at home, nor do we need to stick to the traditional 9 to 5 work times. If we wanted to, we could condense our work days and use that extra time at these retail stores.
I think the retailers that will be the most successful in the next 5 years are the ones who take the best of retail from before the pandemic and combine them with the habits we’ve formed over the last year. The convenience and flexibility of shopping when and where we want is one that I believe is here to stay. This could include the rebirth of suburban shopping malls or hubs, which may require smaller more regional stores instead of one major flagship store in an urban area. Whatever it looks like, each brand will need to decide how much of the traditional and how much of the modern to bring into their stores.
Peak Experience Retailing
Just like offering fries and a drink with a burger, combos bring complimentary parts together so the whole is better than the sum of its parts. I believe a major component of retailing in the upcoming years will include what I’m calling “Peak Experience Retailing”.
I believe Peak Experience Retailing is necessary because of a new trend that is emerging as society starts to return to normalcy and we return to our “human” lives. This trend, as I see it, is the blurred line between personal and professional. The pandemic enlightened society by forcing us to realize that our lives have been a constant battle between our leisure lives and our work lives for quite some time. However, our eyes have now been opened to the idea that the whole person comes to work and the whole person comes home - there is no real line. Options now exist for us to have a more human work/life balance.
I think Peak Experience Retailing, which to me means selling retail goods alongside entertainment or activities, allows people to live their lives while being presented with the goods and services that support that life. These combos don’t necessarily need to be complementary products, but rather non-competing goods and services. For example, an Adidas store could partner with, or locate itself beside, soccer fields. Starbucks could partner with a remote working office space. Sephora could partner with a day spa. This concept reminds me of the souvenir shops that you are forced to walk through as you exit a theme park ride. It is brilliant marketing to put products in front of customers when they are at their peak immersion in that brand or experience. Imagine coming off of a soccer pitch into an Adidas store stocked with all the gear for your favourite sport. These combination possibilities are endless, but at its core, the concept is to create places for people to be entertained or to gather while integrating a brand’s products as a natural extension of the environment. I think this association will be very powerful in this upcoming push for normalcy. Retail needs to meet us where we want to be: living our lives.
Brand Marketing = Brand Experience
Partnering lifestyle with complementary products, services, or activities is a very powerful brand-building and marketing tool. I believe brands need to associate themselves with the very activities enjoyed by their target market. Picture this: a bricks and mortar space that creates an awe-inspiring brand and Peak Experience Retail related experience. Using the example of Adidas and soccer fields, imagine a store that overlooks either small soccer fields where kids and adults can play 3 on 3 games throughout the day, or a large field for community use and league games. Imagine this store also partnering with complementary brands such as Gatorade to create an environment that elevates the experience of playing or watching soccer. While people prepare to watch or play, they can buy the merchandise necessary to participate in their favourite sport. Then, this place is where soccer lovers go and, by association, Adidas becomes the soccer player’s brand.
I love the idea of bricks and mortar integrating and creating experiences where I can learn about new products, try them out, and become fully immersed in an environment that makes me enjoy my passion more. Attach your brand to the part of people’s lives that you hope to inspire and improve. Then, it’s more than simply selling products - your marketing is attached to bettering others’ lives in some way, and in turn builds their excitement to buy your brand, either in-store or online. Experiencing bricks and mortar environments like this will drive more excitement, attention and ongoing engagement from raving customers. People are looking for a place to happen - give them a place to stop along the way.
Impressive Integration of Online & In-Store
In my mind, the biggest silver lining area of the pandemic is that, finally, bricks and mortar and online shopping have realized they are on the same team. Retailers are becoming less concerned about how a customer buys a product or service, and more about if they buy it at all. I love the idea of integrating local stores into warehousing and last mail delivery hubs. I think retailers that can provide convenient options for customers to purchase products and those who make the process more efficient will be the big winners. The integration of bricks and mortar, online, logistics, delivery, and pickup will be both the challenge and reward here.
I envision stores having drive-thru windows and developing more efficient curbside pickup options. The integration of both technology and the physical space of a store means that retailers provide multiple mediums to serve customers. These don’t need to exist in separate segments. I imagine pulling up to a grocery store to grab groceries I had pre-ordered online, but as I arrive, the store is able to track my proximity to the store and move my groceries to the pickup area just in time for my arrival. This experience of an expected arrival by integrating technology and the physical store could impress and amaze customers because, as its core, convenience is about efficiency. The one thing that cannot be underestimated here is the added human touch, something technology cannot do on its own, as you receive a “thank you for your business” while a worker hands you your product efficiently and accurately.
Everyone I talk to agrees that the next half a decade will undergo unprecedented retail change. It won’t happen all at one, but the retail industry is full of creative minds that now have a playground of exciting ideas to integrate. The old with the new, the bricks and mortar with technology, and most importantly, the connection of customers with products that can enhance their experience of life.
The brands that can make the post-COVID world feel safe while making it a not too distant experience from the pre-pandemic, are the ones that will realize the most success.
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