The “big” story coming out of this last holiday shopping season was, not surprisingly, smartphone apps. Everyone was talking about the mainstreaming of these technologies and the ways they were aiding shoppers in their purchasing decisions - most often in the form of deal-finding.
It would be easy to believe that, going forward, shoppers are going to be beholden to price. But even while 2010 marked the tipping point for tech-enabled purchasing, and had the “new frugality” as an ongoing storyline, the year saw consumer spending trends all over the board.
What this indicates is that-even in tough times-shopping is about more than just price. There’s also the experience to consider. This month’s cover story, A Future in Store, looks at the way physical retail spaces are using elements of the online world to enhance in-store experiences. But it also makes the case for the “touch and feel” tangible and social elements that can only be afforded by physical stores and, of course, the packaging within them.
And that’s the “white space” for our sector: the reinvention of the retail experience. It’s understandable in these economic times for brands to be cautious about making new investments and going down new paths. But if technology is empowering consumers and ushering in a new world of price transparency, how many retailers and brands will hold up under that kind of scrutiny? The answer, of course, is not many - the rest will simply have to find innovative ways to survive. I’m putting my money on the warm and fuzzies of physical spaces.
For one, online retailers are seeing value in opening physical, bricks and mortar counterparts. The eBay of the craft world, Etsy, opened Etsy Labs, a work and “social space” adjacent to its Brooklyn headquarters to give its online community a decidedly offline way to interact. The edgy, online t-shirt retailer Threadless now has two retail stores in its hometown of Chicago.
Then, there’s the go-to example of the Apple store. The company recently reported setting a new quarterly foot traffic record in its 300+ stores, hosting 74.5 million visitors. It’s a figure that The Atlantic found to surpass the number of Disneyland and Disney World visitors combined. Of course, not all 74.5 million Apple visitors made purchases. But, clearly, the brand’s stores have earned the status of must-see destinations. Can there be anything more convincing in the advocacy for more engaging retail experiences than that?