Rethinking Retail Part Two: Purposeful, Social and Enlightening

In Part One we questioned the notion that retail is dead and framed some of the issues challenging retail today. But as we mentioned, there’s also another story unfolding inside bricks and mortar locations across the world.

Though the free shipping and limitless supply that are Internet retailers’ stock in trade have caught favor with shoppers, many online-only brands lack meaningful, emotional connections to their audiences, the kind of relationships best cultivated with social interaction (and we don’t mean Facebook ads). Brands that place value in such endeavors are reinventing physical locations, creating surprising answers to the question, Can a modern store become a destination that is embraced and celebrated?

In numerous ways, the resounding answer is, “Yes!”

Digital Natives, Physical Stores

Look at what’s happening with many brands born online — they’re opening stores! These are young companies that want to grow quickly, for whom acquiring customers is an all-important challenge. Bricks and mortar is proving to be both efficient and effective in driving new patrons into the fold.

Take Warby Parker, for example. Once online-only, the eyeglasses company with the “rebellious spirit” has nearly 80 locations today, with stores designed to invoke reading rooms at an Ivy League school library. Combining an inviting environment with expert service to complement great product, Warby Parker entices shoppers to fall in love with frames while building brand trust, inspiring customer confidence about making future purchases — in-store or online.

Likewise, Bonobos, maker of stylish casual menswear, is another digital-first brand building awareness at retail. Bonobos Guideshops stock no inventory; rather, they’re showrooms to introduce you to the brand, and to assist in capturing perfect-fit profiles. Once familiar with the product and the sizing, customers transact in the channel most convenient for them.

Brand Nirvana

Established brands widely distributed through wholesale relationships with large retailers (think Apple or Patagonia), have begun taking a similar approach to a different end, utilizing retail in progressive ways: as storytelling platforms, to connect with their most avid fans, and to set standards for the proper brand experience in stores controlled by their partners.

Nike has moved aggressively in this direction by opening concept stores, such as Nikelab (on Mercer Street in New York’s Soho area), and more recently Nike By Melrose (Melrose Ave, Los Angeles). Each store takes local brand experiences to a level that appeals to its most faithful followers, while simultaneously pushing the limits of what Nike can be (and mean) to its audience, beyond a supplier of athletic gear. This approach is significantly impacting the company business. Nike informed investors that it would emphasize only 40 of the 30,000 retail partners that carry it’s brand. Chosen partners must be willing to host a Nike space in every store with Nike-trained staff representing the brand. Nike realizes that, to succeed, they need to surround great product with a meaningful experience.

Culture Plus

More recently, companies have begun developing stores not only as places to tell their story, but also as powerful platforms for creating and amplifying the culture surrounding the brand. A store is more than a store: it’s a place where creators — musicians, artists, writers — and their audience directly interact on the brand’s stage.

When the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest partnered with Sonos to celebrate the release of their most recent album, visitors to the Sonos Store on Greene Street in New York City were treated to an appearance by the recording artists, along with an art installation by Richard Prince who created the album artwork, and an opportunity to purchase a Sonos limited edition speaker to commemorate the album. Such interactions give the modern shopper a compelling adventure — a role in the artists’ story. And, by extension, in the brand’s story as well.

Because these interactions are powerful and meaningful to the brand’s wider audience, they become touchstones for communicating with them — not as consumers, but as people. The amplification of the cultural moment engages the audience in ways that traditional advertising can’t. So while the store’s sales may not be significant to the brand’s financial performance, it’s impact on the company’s wider audience is significant.

For brands that embrace new approaches, a vibrant future — of brand stores, pop-ups, curated moments, and experiences — lies ahead. These brands will ultimately make investments into fewer locations that deliver superlative spaces, staffed by evangelists who are focused not on conversion, but on helping customers fall in love.

About Counter Measure

We believe brands are better when customers can interact with people, spaces and products in meaningful ways. We believe thoughtfully crafted, purpose-built experiences add value to brands in ways that other interactions can’t. That’s why we believe in the future of bricks and mortar. We believe it because we’ve done it. Stay Posted