Retail’s Future: The Store as Entertainment

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt?

Audrey Hepburn
Source: Pixabay

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” How wonderful to feel that about a store experience! Whether feeling special or entertained or valued, stores that make you feel that “nothing bad can happen” have a special place in the hearts of their customers.

In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt when looking at the Tiffany’s store window? Our surveys show that customers are still interested in shopping at stores, but the store experience they value today is very different than what they valued in the past. And their expectations of the future will be very different as well.

In the “Synchrony Financial Future of Retail Study,” when asked about the most exciting ideas for the future, 55 percent of consumers surveyed picked “an in-store experience that entertains me” as one of the top three most exciting ideas. And according to the “Synchrony 2016 Affluent Study,” about 70 percent of shoppers say they would rather spend money on experiences over spending on things. The message is clear — shoppers want to be entertained when shopping.

Below are some new shopping formats that we may see in the coming years as brands respond to this sentiment:

  • Experiences merged with shopping. Various categories are now being added to the retail experience. Examples include coffee shops, cafés, music experiences, bars or complimentary products or services inside the store. It’s a big reason why local “markets” are making a resurgence across America. Some call it “retail-tainment.” The retail experience can be a place to gather or a place to just relax and have fun.
  • Crafts and learning within the store. Retailers can let shoppers see how a product (like a leather belt) is made from scratch. While this experience is already being used, it may become more mainstream in the future.
  • Retailer apps that are interactive and combine the digital and store experience. For instance, a customer can pick out clothes and reserve a dressing room right from the retailer’s app. This is both a timesaver and a delighter.

Ryan Mathews, a Futurist at Black Monk Consulting says,

“So, the question then is, if you don’t need to go to a place to get stuff, what do you need to go to a place for? And that’s kind of what we call higher engagement things: the experience, advice, consultation, fun. It’s moved beyond transactions into real relationships.”

So, looking to the future, the bricks-and-mortar store may no longer be a place to just pick up a sweater or a pair of shoes. It may be a place to meet your friend for a drink, learn to mix a cocktail and pick up that cute scarf that goes perfectly with the pants you’re wearing. For the Holly Golightly of the future, that could be the next “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” experience.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial.

What the Hell Is Happening to Retail?

Retail is having a moment right now. Since the calendar flipped to 2017, we’ve seen more bankruptcies than all of last year. What’s going on?

Retail is having a moment right now.

Since the calendar flipped to 2017, we’ve seen more bankruptcies than all of last year, including some consumer electronics chains like RadioShack (again), hhgregg and Sears. Just recently, hhgregg announced it was going a step further, closing all of its remaining stores and liquidating all products.

The doom-and-gloom news has, of course, extended well beyond the CE industry. Some major stores — JCPenney, Macy’s, Payless, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and more — have all announced either store closures or seen their stocks tumble to new lows. Ralph Lauren even announced that it was closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Mind you, all of this is happening at a time when the economy is very much out of the recession phase, consumer spending and confidence are up and the economic outlook has been nothing short of rosy.

So What Gives?

So what the hell is going on? Is this the end of retail? Is the apocalypse upon us?

The answer to any of those questions, as you’d expect, isn’t so straightforward.

Yes, this is a very dark time for retail. A lot of things are up in the air. Brick-and-mortar stores are facing some incredibly difficult times. But that doesn’t mean the entire industry is about to go kaput.

The Atlantic recently published a deep dive into the current state of the retail industry, and its explanation couldn’t have been more accurate — it’s probably the closest thing to a complete answer we’ll be able to find. The analysis points to three main causes for the “Retail Meltdown of 2017”:

  • The rise of online shopping,
  • the existence of faaaaar too many malls,
  • and a major shift in how consumers are spending money.

All of those make perfect sense. No industry understands the impact of online shopping better than the consumer electronics space, which has seen billions of dollars in business go to Amazon. Since 2010, the e-commerce giant’s sales in North America have quadrupled from around $16 billion to more than $80 billion last year. And in 2016, Amazon’s growth alone accounted for more than half of all online sales growth.

There’s also the mobile wallet affect. Since 2010, The Atlantic pointed out, mobile shopping has grown from less than 2 percent of digital spending to 20 percent last year.

As for the declining footprint of malls, there are roughly 1,100 in existence today. That’s down from the peak of about 1,500 (all of which were built between 1956 and 2005). So nearly a third have closed in the last decade. Further, while all of those malls have closed, not a single new one has been built.

Whereas malls used to serve as the cornerstone of local communities, the era of expansion resulted in an oversaturation of malls. When you take into account the number of malls and outdoor shopping centers throughout the U.S. — which brings the total up to more than 7,500 — and break it down by “gross leasable area,” as one research firm did, the U.S. far outpaces the rest of the world.

shopping center study

Lastly, The Atlantic hit on consumer spending trends. Here, it notes that Americans have shifted from a materialistic mindset to one where we’d rather spend money on going out with friends for food and drinks. A fair point.

A Shifting Retail Paradigm

The message in all of this is really geared toward the larger national retail chains. The downturn in physical retail square footage goes to show that, in the era of omnichannel retail, there’s no need to expand your brick-and-mortar footprint in order to boost sales. Rather than needing more locations, companies need a stronger e-commerce strategy. Easier typed out by a blogger than implemented by a retailer.

But what about the smaller stores?

If anything, all of the mall closures are positive for the specialty guys out there. With less competition in those local markets, consumers who still prefer to shop in-person are more likely to turn to you.

But that doesn’t mean you can continue to operate as you always have. Just like we wrote about in our analysis of Staples’ new strategy to drive foot traffic, local shops need to continue to drive home in consumers’ minds why their stores matter. You have to find that personal touch, something that separates you from the national chain, and can entice consumers to come walk through your showroom. It doesn’t have to be a co-working space. Maybe it’s free delivery if they live within so many miles, or same-day installation for orders over a certain price threshold. Heck, maybe it’s even just outstanding personal service from your salesfloor team.

Retail isn’t going anywhere. There’s always going to be a need for a physical place where people can come in and experience a product. The only difference today is that consumers need a little more enticing to get out from behind their computers. The onus is on the retailer to prove its worth in its communities. If you can do that, the “Retail Meltdown of 2017” will mean absolutely nothing to you.

The Not-So Dog Days of Summer for the E-Commerce SEO

The retail e-commerce calendar is so compressed and focused on the October-to-December selling season that summertime is site development time. Any site enhancements, redesigns and relaunches must be completed with adequate time for testing and rollout before the critical autumn selling season.

e-commerceFor many businesses and individuals, summer is a time for vacations and refreshment while the weather is good and extended school vacations open up time for family time. In my almost 20 years of working with e-commerce sites, I have yet to find that summertime is time when the living is slow and easy. The retail e-commerce calendar is so compressed and focused on the October-to-December selling season that summertime is site development time. Any site enhancements, redesigns and relaunches must be completed with adequate time for testing and rollout before the critical autumn selling season. This usually means that August and September are very busy for organic SEOs, with clients making significant changes to their sites for the upcoming holiday season.

The amount of work that the SEO must be involved in depends largely on how extensive the changes are. For example, a reskinning of the site without any fundamental changes may require just a brief review. Implementing a new architecture or platform takes substantially more SEO time and resources. Unfortunately, it is humans who develop sites, and humans make mistakes when they rush or are distracted. I’d like to share a couple of small human errors that had big consequences. They were all created by hurrying to meet a deadline.

First, the Site Must Be Indexed

With Google’s advanced technology, site indexing is no longer the wait-and-see game it was years ago. With a combination of site maps and the tools made available to Webmasters, it is virtually impossible – unless you are on vacation and not watching the tools – to pull off the stunt a client of mine did some years ago. I was called in to help solve a problem. The problem articulated during the sales cycle was simply: “Please, SEO, answer why my lovely new site has no traffic from search?” The answer was very simple. It took me just a few minutes to figure out that in the excitement to launch the new site, someone had forgotten to remove the small line of code in the robots.txt file that warned the spider not to traverse the site while it was under development. This simple oversight was costing the company both revenue and momentum during the run-up to the selling season. Even though development and testing environments have come a long way since this incident occurred, it points up how easy it is to make a small mistake that has consequences.

Second, Get Dirty With the Code

Among my many hobbies is gardening, and I love to dig in the dirt. Organic SEO requires that you dig in the code as vigorously as you might dig in a garden. This is particularly important when a site undergoes major changes. Again, it is the little things that can create havoc. One client launched a major new section to the site and complained that in the early stages when business was up, the new section just wasn’t performing, particularly in search. Again, a quick look revealed that someone, another pesky human, had failed to implement the analytics tracking codes on the new section. After the codes were added, it quickly became obvious that the new section was, in fact, performing outstandingly well. These and many other similar incidents have made me very cautious about sites making changes during the summer. My mantra for site changes is: Review the code, watch the changes and don’t go on vacation when the site is about to launch or relaunch.

Ding Dong, Prime Day Is Here

‘Twas the night before Prime Day, when all through the lands, consumers were searching for their favorite brands. Online purchases were placed by the shoppers with care, in hopes the 2-day delivery soon would be there.

‘Twas the night before Prime Day, when all through the lands
Consumers were searching for their favorite brands;

Online purchases were placed by shoppers with care,
In hopes the 2-day delivery soon would be there.

What am I, a farmer?All right, look, I may have been a literature and creative writing major in college, but I am not qualified to parody any more of that classic Christmas poem. I’m sorry. Send your complaints to mward@napco.com.

Sternly written complaint drafted? Excellent. Let’s talk Prime, and I don’t mean Optimus.

The number of Amazon Prime members is a fairly guarded secret, but according to a CNN Money article from January 2016, nearly half of the households in the U.S. have a membership, with the total estimate being 54 million memberships. That’s a whole lotta boxes.

Cats love Amazon Prime
TRUTH.

Nevertheless, Prime Day is upon us. I know this because I couldn’t look at a single thing online in the past week without coming across this most joyous of newly made up shopping holidays, July 12:

Will the sales be any better than last year? (Fact: While a bunch of people complained about the sales for 2015 Prime Day, sales in the U.S. were up 93 percent.)

What sort of deals should shoppers prepare themselves for? (Get your credit card ready: Prime Day is going to feature more than 100,000 deals worldwide exclusively for members.)

Are other retailers trying to soak up some of the Prime Day juice? (Walmart is offering a five-day period of free shipping, with no minimum purchase and open to all online shoppers.)

The bigger thing here, in my opinion, is to recognize just how HUGE of a disruptor Amazon is.

Sure, Amazon is essentially our e-tailing overlord, and we have accepted it willingly. I won’t say “no thanks” to the ability to order 40 pounds of cat litter, as well as a retro-style dress (thankfully not in the same box), and have them delivered to my doorstep in two days, thanks to my wonderful Prime membership. Hello future, I love you.

But the real disruption — and I’m sure the experts, a.k.a my really smart colleagues over at Total Retail, could do a WAY better job digging deeper into the retail nitty gritty — is this: Amazon has the power and ability to create a shopping holiday in the middle of July, and proved it successful in 2015 on the first Prime Day when customers ordered 34.4 million items worldwide, breaking its Black Friday records.

Other retailers who have some serious FOMO are jumping in, trying to get a piece of the holiday Prime Day pie. Will they be successful? We shall see.

But keep this in mind: If Amazon can disrupt the natural order of the retail industry’s Black Friday and typical holiday shopping ahead of December by creating its own day of shopping delight in July, what’s next?

Or more importantly, who’s next?

Jeff Bezos and the robot uprising

 

Creative Cage Match: Summer Lovin’ Edition

Happy [Belated] First Day of Summer! Time to break out the water wings and SPF 1,000 and enjoy the weather while it lasts. And like any good marketers worth their salt would do, I received a handful of summer-themed emails in my inbox yesterday.

There’s a reason that pro-wrestling is so popular — and it’s not just the juicy drama and bespangled costumes. People love a good fight, and have for millennia, dating back to the gladiators of Rome and beyond.

So, once a month I’m going to select two marketers and toss them into a Creative Cage Match. I’ll be looking at everything ranging from email to direct mail, website to mobile site. It’ll be a mix of objective and subjective, and each time a marketer will walk out of the ring triumphantly.

First Day of SummerHappy [Belated] First Day of Summer! Time to break out the water wings and SPF 1,000 and enjoy the weather while it lasts. And like any good marketers worth their salt would do, I received a handful of summer-themed emails in my inbox yesterday.

In this corner, we have Caviar from Square, Inc. which allows participating restaurants to add delivery service. For consumers in select cities, Caviar enables hungry diners to order either online or via their smartphones from some of their favorite sit-down restaurants. Real-time GPS tracking is provided, so you can keep an eye on your food as you wait for it arrive. And who doesn’t love seeing the bike couriers with the bright orange Caviar packs zipping around the city?

Across the ring we have Designer Shoe Warehouse, better known as DSW to shoe fanatics (cough, cough). DSW operates brick-and-mortar retail locations, as well as an online site, and rewards its shoe lovers with a popular loyalty program.

Email vs. Email

I wanted to see just what these two marketers could come up with in reference to the first day of summer and the sunny months that will follow. Let’s start with DSW:

DSW summer email part 1 DSW summer email part 2DSW kicks off its subject line with the sunshine emoji (appropriate), reading: “☀️Hey, summer! $15.95 & up sandals for the new season.” I need another pair of sandals like I need a hole in my head, but $15.95 and up caught my thrifty shopper’s eye.

Much like last month’s Creative Cage Match competitor ModCloth, DSW plays around with flamingo lawn ornament images, as well as brightly colored sandals. However, I was a little disappointed when I found that, despite clicking on a particular sandal in the image, I just went to the “flip flop and beach sandals” category page.

While the images all looked fantastic and summery and the subject line definitely caught my eye, I felt like the actual content of the email left me hanging. And I wouldn’t call a “flip-flop” a sandal …

Virtual Retailer Roundtable TOMORROW!

I wanted to let you know about a great event our sister publication Retail Online Integration is launching tomorrow. It’s the first of four monthly Retailer Roundtable Virtual Conversations we’re hosting this year. The series is comprised of monthly, 45-minute virtual audio chats revolving around a different retail marketing topic each month. Panels of retail experts will make up the roundtables each month.

I wanted to let you know about a great event our sister publication Retail Online Integration is launching tomorrow. It’s the first of four monthly Retailer Roundtable Virtual Conversations we’re hosting this year. The series is comprised of monthly, 45-minute virtual audio chats revolving around a different retail marketing topic each month. Panels of retail experts will make up the roundtables each month.

This month’s conversation, scheduled to take place Sept. 17 at 12 p.m. EST, is called “Using Social Media To Rev Up Holiday Sales.”

During the event, hosted by Bronto Software, you’ll hear from our expert retail panel, which includes Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst, eMarketer; Valerie Hoecke, vice president of experience and commerce at Benefit Cosmetics; and Jay Steinfeld, CEO/founder of Blinds.com. The panel will discuss how to incorporate social media and social networking strategies into your retail holiday promotion plans, ultimately helping you reap more profits.

You’ll learn the following:

  • best practices around offering special holiday deals to your fans and followers;
  • how to entice your fans and followers to see what’s new on your website, sign up to become a member and stick around to buy;
  • how to create a holiday social media strategy; and
  • so much more.

There will be a live Q&A session during the hour, so come armed with questions. You’ll be able to submit your questions directly to our panelists. We also encourage you to tweet about the event via the hastag #ROIWebinar.

Can’t wait to “see” you there!

Melissa Campanelli
@RetailOnlineMag

The Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo is On Demand!

Did any of you dial into Retail Online Integration’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo? If not, there’s still time to register for the on-demand version of the event.

Did any of you dial into Retail Online Integration’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo? If not, there’s still time to register for the on-demand version of the event.

The focus? Best practices, tactics and techniques around integrating your marketing strategies across all of your sales channels. We’re very excited to bring this unique event right to your computer.

The program is packed with interviews and panel discussions with some of the brightest minds in the business. You’ll learn the latest strategies, tips and viewpoints on cross-channel retail marketing. Sessions include:

* Design Lab: How to Make Your Retail Website Search Engine and Visitor Friendly

* How to Create Loyal Customers and Sales With Social Media

* The Bucket List: Strategies for Marketing to Your Multichannel Customers

* Going Mobile: How to Get and Keep On-the-Go Consumers.

This virtual environment truly has some great features to help you connect with others in the industry. We hope you’ll take advantage of what it has to offer, and share your insights and experiences with other attendees or friends as well. And don’t forget to tweet about the show! Use the hashtag #retailmkting when posting.

I hope you enjoy the first ever Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo, and take away lots of ideas and practical strategies to help you excel in this fast-paced, ever-changing, wonderful world of cross-channel retail marketing.

Enjoy!