Shouldn't We Make Place Special?

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Last week, during the NRF Big Show, there was a lot of talk about how to change retail to be successful in today’s world. I spent a lot of time with Bob Phibbs and Marge Laney walking the floor and talking about what we were seeing throughout the show.

Dozens of companies were showing mobile apps (to be truthful, they were trying to show mobile apps. Thanks to the incredibly crappy cell service at the Javits, they frequently didn’t work.) and it was the hot topic of numerous presentations throughout the program. The emphasis was on putting information into the hands of the people.

And, mobile shopping tools certainly seemed to be a big part of the 2010 holiday season as well. Anecdotally, it seems that the use of cell phone based price-checking tools was on the rise this holiday shopping season. Best Buy reported lower sales and speculation was that people were looking at the items at Best Buy, but buying somewhere else. I know lots of people who do that. Yes, I do it too.

Look at some findings by a recent survey by Motorola:

A majority of retail associates (55%) said that 2010 holiday shoppers, driven by increasing availability of online shopping tools and mobile phone applications, were better connected to consumer information than in-store associates, according to a survey by Motorola Solutions.

The survey found that retailers that aren’t investing in technology to stay ahead of increasingly tech-savvy shoppers are hurting their own bottom line. Nearly three in 10 (28%) store visits ended with an average of $132 unspent due to abandoned purchases driven by deal-habituated behavior, out-of-stocks, limited store associate assistance and long check-out processes.

As the Motorola survey confirms, a lot of the conversations and presentations was about how since consumers couldn’t get help from the sales people on the floor, just give them the information they need on their cell phone.

There was also a great deal of conversations about making the physical retail store work and act like an online store.

Now, I’m a big of creating Oneline™ brand experiences and have also been speaking for many years about the need to e-tail your retail. So, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t give your shoppers more information or deliver it through tools like mobile, QR codes, etc.

But, based on many conversations I’ve been having lately, I’m also starting to think that we’re missing a big opportunity to emphasize just what makes place special. As I’ve said in the past, I continue to think that there’s a coming trend to socialize the retail environment instead of just merchandising the real estate space. And the more we try to use the space for our purposes rather then our guests, the more they’ll stay away.

Can you afford to have hundreds of thousands (or millions) of square feet of retail space and all of the expenses that go with it, and just have it act like windows for people to do online shopping? And they may not even shop online at your store! Can you continue to support online social media efforts while creating physical spaces that are almost anti-social? Sure, open up your info so that I can get it on my cell phone. But shouldn’t you also hire better people and do more to train them? And create better physical spaces?

I think that retailers with physical stores need to spend a little more time looking at what makes place special. Stop trying to compete with the online world by making your places more online-like and start competing by your rules. Use place to your advantage.

Every time I go to an Apple or Lululemon store, I wonder why more retailers don’t copy their model. They work. They generate great loyalty from their consumers. And they generate great return for their investors. There are plenty of other examples of retailers, big & small, that use place as an integral part of their business success.

If you’re putting more effort into turning your stores into a web site, rather then capitalizing on what makes place unique, you might want to start looking for a great real estate broker to help you sell off your stores.

Motorola Survey: Shoppers better connected to information than store associates | Chain Store Age.

Riddle Me This…

More Thoughts on the Value of Place.

Polinchock’s Ponderings: Customer Experience.

Polinchock’s Ponderings: Retail News.

Image by: Ivan Walsh

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