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Store Formats More Saturated than Food Court Fries: I'm Bored (and I'm a Threat to Your Business)

It's true: though I'm surrounded by lights, music and a ton of activity, I'm bored. I'm completely disengaged—caught in a void between my expectations and my experience.  Once again, I'm at the mall.

It's ridiculous, I know. I'm a self-contained adult, not some whiny adolescent with too little purpose and way too much time. I came here on a mission, not for entertainment; I shouldn't need to be entertained. And yet that's what I'm conditioned to want. In my connected life—as in yours, I'd guess—I'm driven by change. It's the quest for what's new—the constant click, view, and exchange of media and information—that moves me forward through every day.

Searching  for What's New—While Avoiding the Noise

But here, despite being inside a 1,000,000 square foot shopping mecca, I'm stuck. There's an absence of "fresh and meaningful" and a whole lot of familiar "noise." It's numbing, and I tune it out. Even though I pass dozens of different stores en route to my destination, each one with its own merchandise, look and style, each one calling out for my attention, I know that on some level they're all pretty much the same. They're mostly product-centered, and I am bored:

One display after another of goods promoted by associates working toward a sale. Some do it better than others, of course, and that matters. But it's not new. The format is more saturated than a plate of food-court fries.

All of this makes me a problem for your business.  If I'm already bored just walking through the mall, you know you'll need to work really hard to get me interested in your store – and harder still to convert me if I do step inside.

And you know I'm not alone.

What's more, I don't need to be here. I drove down because I wanted something in-hand today, but the satisfaction of "getting it now" is rapidly being usurped by the convenience of ordering online—especially when I'm given a range of fast fulfillment options.

So in the age of Amazon, why should I endure my tired old relationship with the mall?

And what can be the future of brick and mortar stores if they start to feel more like a hindrance than a help?


Bored No More? Thought Leaders Look Ahead...

Doug Stephens, aka the Retail Prophet, has considered this question in depth. Speaking at our recent Engage user conference, he presented a ton of evidence that seemed to justify my thoughts and retailers' concerns:

  • In 2016, consumers conducted $1.9 trillion of eCommerce, a year-over-year increase averaging 24% worldwide.
  • On "Singles Day" in China last year—the equivalent to Cyber Monday—online juggernaut Alibaba conducted more than $18 billion worth of sales, including $5 billion in the first hour alone.
  • Amazon, which already accounts for 43% of all US online sales, has invested in its own fleet of trucks and 767 airliners to support on-demand delivery. There have even been rumors of an Amazon bid to buy Frankfurt-Hahn airport to further control and accelerate their product distribution.
  • In contrast, most traditional retailers are still struggling with omni-channel. They're scrambling to meet their customers' demands to shop and receive merchandise on their own terms, with the same ease, speed and convenience that's driving Amazon's success.
In spite of these facts, Doug, along with most of the retailers who attended our conference, are excited and optimistic about what lies ahead.

The omni-channel struggle can and will end. The technology is available now to enable retailers to shift their focus from merely pushing products to delivering seamless and engaging customer experiences, in unified environments that optimize efficiencies for every stakeholder. It's an urgent and oh-so-promising reinvention.


...Toward Experience-centered Retailing

Doug Stephens, however, doesn't believe this is good enough. He wants to take this a step further. The vision he set out in his excellent presentation called upon retailers to re-create their stores as experience destinations that will in turn drive brand engagement and sales, instead of just distributing products that might enable experiences. It flips the traditional retail model—and traditional retail thinking—on its head, and it presents physical stores with an advantage that can't be duplicated online.

Doug cited many examples of brands that are already doing it to great success, from kitchen product retailers offering cooking classes on site, to speaker stores designed around personal listening pods, to home centers offering virtual reality that lets customers foresee the results of a renovation.

A Desire for Hands-on Discovery

These retailers are recognizing another truth that Doug made clear:

Shopping is and will remain a sensory, "dopamine" exercise that satisfies our desire for hands-on discovery, not just our functional needs.

It explains why an eCommerce powerhouse like Amazon is building physical stores. And it speaks to the power of innovation: to the value of re-imagining how stores can better engage their customers and—like Amazon—of actively investing in change.

Would that type of retailing change my relationship with the mall? You bet it would. So the next time I find myself full of "yeah, whatever" when shopping, I'm going to take a minute to remember Doug's words–and to think of what the physical store experience could and should be.

If you're a retailer seeking to thrive—not just survive—I encourage you to do the same.