Brick-and-mortar retail has gone through a significant evolution over the past 20 years. That progression accelerated during 20 months of the pandemic. For retailers that struggled before Covid-19, late adapting stores were forced to make dramatic changes and close locations. But for healthy retailers that understand their customers’ journey and implement innovative strategies, brick-and-mortar is an area for expansion and remains the foundation of a successful business model.
As we start a new year, retail locations will continue to change and evolve. For the first time in five years, store openings were outpacing store closures in 2021, according to Coresight Research via CNBC. Analysis of industry data and current trends support the conclusion that brick-and-mortar is here to stay. Here are five areas where I’ve found thriving retailers with physical stores are focusing their strategies.
As we start a new year, considerable supply chain disruptions instigated by the pandemic have yet to recede or resolve. Retailers with brick-and-mortar store locations have successfully pivoted and repurposed stores to support inventory control processes that allow retailers to maximize their technology tools and reach a multichannel consumer. The buy online and pick up in-store sales strategy continues to gain popularity. Additionally, brick-and-mortar locations have become mini-distribution centers resulting in quicker delivery to consumers.
This omnichannel environment comes with some challenges. It has meant remodeling stores, reconfiguring parking lots, implementing training for staff to learn new roles and recruiting staff to take on additional jobs during a labor shortage. However, I’ve observed that the hurdles and costs have been worth the investment for most as retail evolves to meet the consumers’ needs.
2. Strategic Growth
Finding growth opportunities by targeting specific geographic areas has been very successful for several popular retailers. For example, Dollar General is finding success by opening new stores focusing on rural markets. The company is targeting a gap in suburban communities by opening a new brand called Popshelf, which purveys higher-end products at a value. Currently, there are plans to open 1,000 Popshelf locations in the suburbs by the end of 2025.
We’ve also taken notice of retailers like Tractor Supply Company. It is leveraging its relationship with Carhartt to roll out more than 100 store-within-store concepts while adding 80 new Tractor Supply stores in 2021. This store-within-a-store concept is a creative way for Carhartt and many other retailers to grow their brick-and-mortar footprint while taking on less overhead.
3. Brand Loyalty
When the world’s largest e-commerce marketplace starts opening brick-and-mortar locations, the industry takes notice. Amazon now has physical sites under several brand names, including Amazon 4-star, Amazon Pop Up, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Go and Amazon Books. As a company built on convenience through delivery, this trend has been eye-opening. Amazon is now finding ways to bring loyal customers to their brand beyond a smartphone, website and the familiar box on your porch by meeting customers in physical retail locations.
Physical stores are an extension of a marketing strategy where customers can touch, feel and immerse themselves with the products.
4. Customer Experience
While traditional sports activations are notable retail collaborators, a well-known retailer that my company partners with is growing its brand with esports partnerships to connect with communities and drive traffic. In addition to providing an outlet for gamers to purchase equipment and tech locally, it has also integrated practice and competition spaces for gamers in several retail locations.
Experience-based retail continues to materialize throughout our industry. Last April, Dick’s Sporting Goods unveiled their House of Sports store, complete with a running track, rock wall, batting cages and a 17,000-sq-ft outdoor turf field where they will host events. It’s part of an overall strategy where Dick’s is opening six new namesake stores.
A retail experience drives in-store traffic, creates memories for consumers and their families and strengthens relationships with its brands and products.
5. Customer Service
Sometimes, customers want to speak with a human. Sometimes, customers want to talk to a human in person. This desire has not waned even though consumers may buy online. Anytime a customer goes into a store to return an item they had shipped to their home, it is an opportunity for that retailer to win over the customer with their service. The in-store experience allows the retailer to sell consumers something new, make an easy exchange and provide a great experience.
Beyond the data, strategies and trends, there is a basic human need for interaction and the use of our senses. Physical shopping offers a sense of community and delivers entertainment for many. The ongoing question is, how? Retailers and facility managers need to evaluate how consumers interact with a physical store moving forward. Retailers that can answer that question will be able to continue to use brick-and-mortar as a foundation for their success.