Black Friday, 2017, just passed. It seems eCommerce has not killed malls and physical stores quite yet.
Ecommerce sales, of course, continue to explode, led by Amazon. Here are this year’s stats:
But the impact on brick and mortar wasn’t as bad as expected. Retail research firm ShopperTrak says store traffic declined less than 1% this Black Friday, a smaller decline than initial projections. Fair weather aided brick-and-mortar shops, according to the National Retail Federation.
This data suggests two things. People are in search of deals and selection. As shopping malls and retail chains continue to flounder overall, it’s clear that eCommerce is winning this battle.
But the fact that people still get out on Black Friday suggests something else. People like to go out and shop. It makes us feel connected. It’s fun. Being in a store with friends and family is an activity we still desire, because we find the activity of shopping itself is as good (or even better) than the buying part.
At Marketing 360®, of course, we focus on eCommerce. We are a digital marketing company and believe that most retail business plans must include getting a piece of the eCommerce pie.
But in this article, we’d like to review the ways in which the brick and mortar retail store can still survive – and even thrive.
This does not include trying to win back Amazon shoppers. That ship has sailed. Rather, it focuses on a different battle, which is creating experiences worth paying for.
This battle is just beginning. Get in early and you could come out a winner.
The Concept Store
Plain stores stocked with commodity products are struggling. No physical store can match Amazon’s selection or prices. This type of store gives people no good reasons why they should take the time or spend the money to visit them.
The future of physical retail lies in concepts and experiences. In fact, there is already a type of retail called a concept store.
A concept store creates an experience that can’t be equaled online. These stores have a theme related to a particular lifestyle. They often curate rare, hard-to-find items that are customized and artisan. They have other experiential elements, like cafes, entertainment features, and event spaces. Their goal is to build a community around the lifestyle they embody.
There are several famous concept stores leading this trend.
One is Colette in Paris. This store offers a curated mix of fashion, tech, and art with a distinct aim of being ahead of trends.
The ground level is a library with a rare collection of books and magazines. Mixed into the library is the Colette candle bar and a street culture display with changing themes. These displays, which are works of art themselves, draw in tourists:
Their music selection focuses on the cult, exclusive, and hard-to-find. Their fashion and jewelry are exclusive to their store. There’s a gallery with new displays every month and the beauty box, with rare, one-of-kind skincare, fragrance, and make-up products.
The basement is a water-bar restaurant with curated food and drinks from around the world and over 90 brands of water.
You can sum-up Colette in one word: unique. To experience it, you have to visit. To take that experience with you, you have to buy something (though you can do it later on their website as well, which is telling).
Story in New York is the epitome of a concept store. They describe their store as a place that “takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.”
Story is actually a store that changes – in terms of products and ambiance – like a magazine publication. Like a story, each iteration has a theme, such as “Have Fun” or “The F-word, exploring feminism”. Content is unpredictable and uniquely curated. The experience changes and evolves over time, drawing in new people related to the theme while keeping loyal customers intrigued by what’s coming next.
Story founder Rachel Shechtman explains their concept, and how it creates revenue streams beyond just direct sales.
Rachel makes an astute point about concept stores when she points out their power in marketing research and development (R&D). It’s likely that at least a segment of physical retail will exist exclusively for R&D that will later drive online marketing campaigns. Interacting with consumers – in person – has undeniable value. As she points out, businesses like Target are investing in Story solely as R&D campaigns.
These are two pretty unusual stores. There business plan and management require a different strategy, largely because of the unique, curated products they sell.
But stores where the experience is as important as buying stuff are becoming more popular.
A good example of this is Scheels, the mega sports department store. While this is about as close to Amazon as a physical store can get, they also offer an entertainment experience. Shoppers are wowed by the sheer size of the place, and gravitate to the spectacle of the massive aquarium and indoor Ferris wheel.
Local shops are increasingly offering experiences that go with shopping and service. For example, the folks at Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado opened what they call a “bike cantina” where you can get your bike serviced, buy a bike, eat tacos, drink beer, and do tequila shots.
Talk about an experience. Just don’t have too many shots before you take-off on your bike.
Brick and mortar retail is not dead. People still like to go places and shop.
But today, everyone knows they can get better deals online. Just having a physical inventory and decent prices is not enough to compete with the growing popularity of online shopping.
If you want to be successful in the coming years with a physical store, you need to create an experience that draws people in. People seek unique, unexpected experiences that are fun to share with friends. The physical shopping experience is moving more towards entertainment and away from functionality.
We’ve noted before that millennials and younger consumer demographics are drawn in by experiential marketing. They exemplify what’s happening in retail. People shop as part of the overall experience they want to share with their friends. Experience-based, concept stores are made for these consumers.
Indeed, there is something depressing about a vision of the world where everyone stays home in their pajamas and does all their shopping online. We all need to get out and meet people – in person. It’s fun to go to stores and discover new products – before our eyes and in our hands.
If you want to open a brick and mortar store, don’t try to compete with Wal-Mart or Amazon. It’s hopeless.
Instead, create an experience they can’t match. Offer a service that must be done in person. Present something people will gladly go out of their way for.
That’s the future of brick and mortar retail. It sounds pretty darn cool.