The Trial and Error of Innovative Retail

Simon Eskow Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Retailers, we know the struggle is real. After all, every time a brick-and-mortar turns the tide in the eCommerce challenge, something else comes up. For example, a brand creates an innovative retail concept for an experiential store. Other retailers hold it up as a beacon of hope. However, a year later, the brand closes its doors. There could be many reasons an innovative retail idea doesn’t perform as expected. The important thing to remember is customers still prefer shopping in brick-and-mortars. So, retailers shouldn’t lose heart. They just need to be smart, and creative.

Hope Springs Eternal for Innovative Retail

The history of brick-and-mortar seems littered with grandiose ideas. For example, in early September, Apple retail executive Angela Ahrendts made an interesting proclamation. “We actually don’t call them (Apple) stores anymore,” she said. “We call them town squares…”. Apple here uses colorful if debatable language. (As Slate points out, a town square is a public space. The sites-formerly-known-as-Apple Stores boil down to private transactions). Moreover, department stores, malls and other retailers long used similar language to describe their innovative retail concepts. Still, Apple’s fundamental point rings true. Brick-and-mortar’s purpose today bears little relationship to the rows and rows of shelves that dominated the previous age of retail. Whether we are talking about showrooms, experiential spaces, or some other concept, retail today can no longer thrive on high-volume transactions at the POS.

A High-End Retailer Pulls Back

The high-end appliance and homeware chain Pirch served as one of those beacons of retail hope. Founded in 2009, Pirch earned press, praise, and awards for its in-store experience. Pirch combined “try-before-you-buy” showroom with clever product demonstrations using in-store chefs at work. As a result of its innovative retail approach, Pirch boasted $3,000 per square foot annual sales by 2016. This year, it opened its tenth location. Then closed it a few weeks later and now plans to shutter all but a couple of its most profitable locations. Journalists don’t specify what happened. However, its home retail-experienced founders turned management over to management with experience in another industry. Moreover, its sales staff were largely employed by Pirch’s vendors, with a focus on their own brand. (Forbes goes into more detail about this).

While a Clicks-to-Bricks Space Launches

Meanwhile, a pure-play online bedding startup tested the brick-and-mortar waters. Perhaps surprisingly, the husband-and-wife team behind Boll & Branch opened their first experience store in a mall. Boll & Branch sells fair-trade, organic cotton bedding, and promotes a transparent supply chain. Thus, the founders plan to use the to educate customers while giving them a tactile product experience. Along with product samples, the couple displays photos of the people who manufactured the material. The idea is to tell the brand story in a greater, more sensory context than they could ever convey online. They decided to place their store in a mall to draw customers shopping at more expensive chains.

Innovative Retail: No Cure-All, But Still Vital

It’s obvious brick-and-mortar retail must move away from plain old shelves. While showrooms and experiential spaces don’t equate to a town square, they should engage customers sensorily. They may provide a greater context for a brand story, as Boll & Branch plans to do. Alternatively, they may provide entertaining, contextual product demonstrations, as Pirch mastered. However, as Pirch also demonstrates, innovative retail means keeping business fundamentals in line with the brick-and-mortar experience. What a retailer sells and who does the selling will be as important as fulfillment.


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