Retail is not dead.

The way we do business is changing. Business owners everywhere are experiencing a seismic shift in the way consumers’ are interacting with their brands. Consumers, continue to find reasons to stay at home for their shopping needs - analysts have taken note and have subsequently painted a gloomy picture for retailers. For some retailers, this future will become a reality, however, others (and ourselves) are imagining a different kind of destiny for retail. Brands that win and will continue to win are the brands listening to their customers. Consumers aren’t ready to give up on interacting with people just yet, but their expectations are changing. Innovation is the key to any businesses success and the brick and mortar store is no exception: Create experiences for your consumers and they will continue to return. Retail isn't dead, sub-par retail experiences are.  

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A Guiding Light

Tried and true hero, Warby Parker, is a guiding light for retail during these turbulent times. Valued at over $1 billion. The eyewear company opened 25 retail locations in 2017, despite gloomy news that presided over the year. Neil Blumenthal, CEO of Warby is constantly finding ways to change and innovate the in-store experience, "You never want the customer to feel like they're better off shopping online..” he says. Blumenthal focuses on two major points to differentiate his locations from other retailers in the space, in-store design and customer service.

Trying to buck retail trends, Blumenthal is constantly re-designing and introducing new designs to his retail spaces. Its flagship in New York features marble floors, dark wood paneling, and gold trimmed display cases - building what he calls a “strong foundation” for the customer experience. Modeled after Sweden's Stockholm Public Library, Warby creates a warm experience for its customers that is an authentic extension of its online store. Warby’s Miami store has a floor that mimics swimming lanes, drawing customers in for refreshing Instagram content. While creating an instagrammable space for your customers is important, cosmetic facelifts alone won’t lift your store into the retail hall of fame, pair it with strong customer service though, and you might have a recipe for success.

Establishing and maintaining a highly curated customer experience is the backbone of any successful retailer in 2018. Each Warby store nests a concierge desk and is filled with brand educated associates, iPad in hand, ready to access customer accounts and inquiries. Blumenthal stresses that “no one wants to be followed around the store”, having available, friendly, and knowledgeable employees are key, but overbearing salespeople will keep customers from ever returning to your store.

Brands shouldn’t think they are fighting a lost cause though. In a recent report conducted by Salesfloor, 58% of consumers indicated that online shopping lacks a level of service provided by in-store associates, and 84% said they sought advice or recommendations from sales associates. Among the customers surveyed, 87 percent were more likely to buy an item recommended by a sales associate, and 77 percent were more likely to make a purchase from a sales associate that has helped them before. Foursquare CEO, Jeff Glueck has echoed this point in the past, “I think the demise of physical retail is way overstated. What most people forget is that 92% of consumer activity is still in the real world. Where people go is still an indication of their values. Two of the most innovative retailers of the last decade are Bonobos and Warby Parker. Both started out online but ultimately went to [physical]. Warby didn’t find success until it opened these boutiques because shipping five glasses is not the same as trying on 50 and having a social experience with someone helping you.” At the end of the day, people still crave the interaction of other people during their shopping experience. and will go out of their way to interact with them.

Local Heroes

As a local retailer, I might feel helpless at this point - with a limited budget and resources, how on earth can I adjust my retail strategy to reflect the things that make my store unique? We took a look at a few small retailers, who are showing us how to win in this age of retail:

Glasswing Shop:
Glasswing is a clothing and home-goods shop located in Seattle, Washington. Co-founder, Forrest Eckley said that “with our first shop we wanted to create a retail space that appropriately represents Seattle, while also providing an engaging environment to be introduced to new products and the designers creating them. The front half of our store is dedicated to retail clothing, furniture, plants and other home goods. The back half of the space contains a shared design office and common gallery space available for rent.”

MartinPatrick3:
MartinPatrick3, located in Minnesota offers a sophisticated taste, expert curation, and a concierge-like, almost old-fashioned level of service that’s increasingly hard to find. While it’s a store for those with sophisticated taste, there is much at MartinPatrick3 that Amazon can’t copy. Complete with its own barbershop, concierge service (ask them to make you a dinner reservation), MartinPatrick3 is a master of merchandising and customer attention.

Story:
“Set in a 2000 square foot store located in Manhattan’s 10th Ave. retail corridor, STORY is a retail concept that takes an unconventional approach to retail and views it through the lens of a magazine. Every four to eight weeks, STORY re-designs and re-merchandises itself with the particular focus on a new theme, trend or issue.

Brands don’t need to chase unrealistic, dreamy visions of the future in order to be successful in 2018. Innovation doesn’t mean your store needs technology in it’s changing rooms; innovation means redefining the customer experience in your store and making sure each aspect of your physical presence speaks to who you are as a company, and why you are unique. Retail isn’t dead, sub-par retail experiences are.