Forget online vs offline: Future of Retail will be more about collaboration than competition

Article by Martyn Jones | 5th February 2020

High street retail—therapy for some, ‘must-do’ trauma for others.
Retailers are having to deal with a lot of tumbleweed rolling through stores in recent years. Those that haven’t had their finger on the pulse have suffered empty-store syndrome.

Meanwhile, the streetwise ‘transformationists’ have found rewards in taking calculated risks making unprecedented moves that scrap the ‘online vs offline’ narrative that’s falsely spun in some corners.

“Shops are empty, and too big…”

So claim the BBC as part of their assessment of store closures on UK high streets from 2015 – 2019 with the vacancy rates to July of this year peaking at 10.3% of stores laying virtually emptythe highest in 4 years.

Channeling info from know-it-all industry data heads, Springboard, the BBC pick up on research indicating that…

“the top 150 UK retailers have 20% more store space than they need and can afford.”

Retailers should consider this a telltale sign—not that the future of retail is online and online only—rather, of the disconnect and misalignment in what consumers want from a physical shopping experience and what high street is offering.

Bringing back the footfall

Meanwhile Stateside—retail colossus Macy’s are getting beyond inventive with The Market @ Macy’s—a new store concept that brings together offerings from partner brands emerging from online success and arranges them in a market style setup that steers away from the linear model of ‘isles’ uniformly organised by item-type.

Industry journal, Retail Dive, walks us through the concept…

“One table, as part of the Facebook holiday pop-up, included products from Love Your Melon, which just opened its first physical location and has become famous for its thick knitted hats, as well as for donating half of all profits to charity]…[ In a similar vein, another section of the pop-up featured products from Honest Co., as well as 4ocean’s environmental bracelets, which are made with recycled plastic”
Source: Retail Dive—A look inside Macy’s new retail strategy

There’s a lot going on here…

Not only are Macy’s turning traditional store layout on its head, they’re teasing the rising online stars out of their servers and into Macy’s stores to tick extra boxes for the conscientious consumer preoccupied by environmental and ethical themes—as we all should be.

The 4D chess growth retail is playing shows three things…

  • Once-infallible retailers are having to get beyond inventive to peel us off our couches and out from behind our screens
  • As consumers we’re still hungry for bricks and mortar experiences that go beyond both ‘browsing isles’ or ‘filling our e-cart’
  • High street remains a viable—even desirable—locale for investment from online brands looking to diversify revenue and gain ‘offline’ demographics.

If traditional brands like Macy’s are investing hard in upgrading the customer experience, then it’s safe to say the market is still there. People still want to get out, browse and try things on—retail simply needs to find the sweet spot where ‘offering’ dovetails with ‘customer expectation’.

Player two enters the game…

It’s not just trendy Social brands that high street players are turning to for cross-channel pollination.
Burberry are bringing their ‘A’ game in collabs with mobile game developers in an effort to win the affections of millennials typically unmoved by standard walk-in retail.

Available to play on, ‘B Bounce’…

“…centres around a deer-shaped character dressed in one of three Thomas Burberry monogram puffer jackets who players must bounce upwards between platforms to reach the moon. Players gain extra speed by collecting Burberry’s gold TB logos and drones as they go.”
Source: Fashion United—Burberry launches first online game, ‘B Bounce’

Burberry are playing some serious 4D chess here in an effort to maintain market relevance by ‘digitizing’ and ‘trendifying’ what’s until now been a traditional brand unmoved by which way the wind’s blowing.

In a similar vein, sportswear veterans, Puma, are partnering with footwear designer, Tabitha Simmons

Together they’re producing a niche range of apparel and footwear that players can dress digital models with via an interactive ‘fashion game’ available via the world’s first interactive fashion styling game platform, Drest.

If you can’t beat them, join them…

The message here is loud and clear.

Global retail is in a moment of both turbulence and opportunity. Industry news of knee-jerk store closures, shock results and surprise wins have become par for the course.

The top-down message—besides the obvious need to create or upgrade customer experiences in bricks and mortar retail—is that ‘change’ of one kind or other will become inevitable for long-term growth in a fluctuating landscape.

Quirky games and social media popup displays won’t become the ‘future proofing’ go-to for everyone. However, a little creativity and imagination in upgrading the customer experience will become mandatory for retailers serious about relevance and profitability in the years to come.

If you’re ready to talk transformation and want to find out how we’re helping the likes of PRIMARK, WalMart’s ASDA and other tier-1 retailers to get a grip on their store futures, then let’s get connected and start the narrative.

Cover photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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