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How Retail Is Reshaping Into Experiences

Mary Drumond
12 Sep, 2018

Many of the brands millennials and Gen Z shoppers are turning to today have done a better job of creating immersive, in-store experiences that offer some appeal beyond the products sold there. --Amelia Lucas and Lauren Thompson for CNBC

What's up with brick-and-mortar retail? Is it tanking? Is it flourishing?

Retail has always been cyclical. We can count on a single hand retailers that have been around for more than a century. Almost all the giants of the past have crumbled. Why, you ask? Because change comes for us all, and change is upon us again.

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While on one hand, we have those who continue to herald the end of an era, on the other, some are beginning to voice certain suspicions that have been creeping around our heads for some time now: perhaps the death of retail has been exaggerated.

But, what IS happening beyond a shadow of a doubt is a total Reshaping of Retail and in this post, we're going to address a few ways in which this industry is changing.


Brand Identification

One crucial decision driver that has begun showing a strong effect on the retail industry is brand identification. With Millennials hitting their 20s-30s, all eyes are now on the up and coming Gen-Zs and brands are competing to see who will connect with the demographic of the next decade. 

According to recent research by Goldman-Sachs and Conde Nast, the top brands that Gen-Zs and Millennials most identify with are:

  1. Victoria's Secret, Lingerie 
  2. Sephora, Beauty Retail 
  3. Nike, Athletic
  4. Ulta, Beauty Retail
  5. Nordstrom, Luxury
  6. Kate Spade, Handbags
  7. Michael Kors, Handbags
  8. Adidas, Athletic
  9. Gucci, Luxury
  10. Coach, Handbags
  11. Lululemon, Athletic
  12. Target, Haircare
  13. Chanel, Fragrance
  14. Urban Decay, Beauty Retail
  15. Neutrogena, Skincare
  16. Macy's, Fragrance
  17. DSW, Shoe Retail
  18. Louis Vuitton, Luxury
  19. Steve Madden, Shoe Retail
  20. Marc Jacobs, Fragrance
  21. MAC, Beauty Retail
  22. Walmart, Beauty Retail
  23. Clinique, Skincare
  24. Aerie, Lingerie
  25. Forever 21, Clothing Retail

Identifying With A Brand's Socio-Political Stance 

There was a time when companies shied away from politics and ideals, fearing that it might possibly alienate, or limit their consumer base. The generations of today have forced organizations to change this.

"Brands no longer have the luxury of not engaging with their customers... Customers, especially millennials and Gen Z, have high expectations and want to know with whom they're doing business." -- Megy Karydes for INC

Nike is a perfect example of this. Their "Just Do it" Campaign tends to focus on inspiring grit, determination and overcoming hardships. 

The most recent and polemic ad landed *free* nation-wide coverage by featuring Colin Kaepernick's face with the words "Believe in something. Even if it costs you everything". 

Some folks burned their sneakers, company shares tanked for a day, but ultimately, shares recovered and Nike not only saw an increase of 31% of online sales, but gained $43 million worth in news coverage and buzz. 

Forever 21, Chic-fil-A and Timberlands are brands that proudly display their Christian values and conservative views within the company, and even on their products. They seem to be doing very well across the board, engaging Boomers, Millenials and Gen-Zs alike. 

REI, Patagonia, Facebook and Target are other examples of brands that strongly advertise their beliefs and rally behind socio-political causes.

Shifting The Focus Towards Experiences 

"Many of the brands millennials and Gen Z shoppers are turning to today have done a better job of creating immersive, in-store experiences that offer some appeal beyond the products sold there."

A lot of futurist brands have begun shifting towards offering experiences as opposed to products. 

"While there are plenty of reasons malls are dying I would wager that the primary one is that they sell nothing that the average young person wants, especially given all of the choice on the Internet" -- says a TechCrunch article from 2017, "The experience of clothes buying, the micro-retail experience of finding something only you know about, will become far more important. Retail isn’t dying, it’s changing." 

Micro-retail Will Replace Maxi-retail

The buying experience is just a relative as ever. The problem is that most big retailers no longer provide an experience that consumers look forward to. Shopping has become a task, and tasks should fall under Joe Pine's category of time well saved as opposed to living experiences through time-well spent.

Verizon is taking the lead in this area by designing Destination Stores that are a completely new concept. The stores look more like high-end coffee shops, with lounge areas and artwork. The idea is for customers to allow time to go by while experiencing life with Verizon, as opposed to only purchasing a product or service from them.

Nordstrom is also innovating with new concept stores that focus on experiences. They have set out to create neighborhood hubs that offer personalized experiences such as tailoring, grooming, bar service and refreshments as well as a personal shopper to curate selections to the individual taste of the shopper. Purchases will be delivered to customers’ homes on the same day. There is no in-store inventory.   

The message here is simple: the brick-and-mortar retailers that WILL survive are those that, like Verizon and Nordstrom, understand and bring back the experience of shopping. The rest will eventually migrate to time well saved, web-based alternatives like Amazon, or cease to exist.  

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