What Happens After the Retail Apocalypse?

It can be hard to see opportunity in the world of shopper marketing amidst the landscape of shuttered storefront windows and the deluge of major brands declaring chapter 11. If you went back in time thirty years and you told me — age six — that my daughter would never know what a Toys ‘R’ Us was, I’d have called you crazy.

But the digital revolution doesn’t have to be the planet-killing asteroid some brick-and-mortar retailers think it is. Realistically, shopper marketing is entering a geological epoch of transformation — not extinction.

Despite all the disruption, there is also a lot of innovation and activity happening, particularly on the shopper marketing/shopper experience side of the story.

In 5 Years, The World of Retail Will Look a Whole Lot Different

Let’s just come right out and say it: by 2025, every piece of the shopper experience will feature digital interaction of some sort or another. The brands that survive until then will be the ones who adopt the mindset and the tools needed to make this transition.

The writing is on the wall: the speed and convenience of online shopping has fundamentally changed the shopper/retailer relationship. Today’s shopper no longer needs to worry about long checkout lines or an item with limited inventory being sold out. Increasingly, shopping at a brick-and-mortar location will no longer be something people have to do (a chore), it will become something people want to do (an activity).

The discourse with major retailers right now is about improving the “shopper experience” — and a few years from now, the experience conversation is going to revolve entirely around digital integration and transformation within the 4 walls of the store. In fact, as omni-channel becomes more and more fluid and frictionless, some brands may entirely break down the silos between digital and shopper, with shopper marketing becoming a subset of digital.

This strategy would allow brands to improve continuity of communication with consumers, re-defining the “shopper experience” as the sum of all brand interactions, from pre-tail awareness through in-store tactile brand engagement, to long term retention and lifetime value (LTV).

Example: Nordstrom Local

In the past year, Nordstrom has been expanding an experimental new type of store called “Nordstrom Local” that doesn’t stock any clothes. Instead, the stores focus on a tactile, branded consumer activities like manicures, a barber shop, and personalized fashion recommendations. Same-day transactional parts of the equation are handled entirely online.

As strange as it may sound, this type of retail experience is almost certainly going to become much more common in the next few years, as it offers brands the benefit of a physical retail space while requiring a far smaller footprint (especially relevant in metro areas like San Francisco, where price per square foot borders on the absurd).

Example: Hema Grocery Store

Chinese eCommerce titan Alibaba has more than a dozen Hema grocery stores in Shanghai, which revolve entirely around features that interact with shoppers’ mobile devices. Users download the store’s app and can scan and interact with products on the shelf, or with engaging, in-store LED advertising displays.

Purchasing and delivery is also accomplished via mobile interaction — meaning shoppers can sample or examine food at the store, and then quickly order it from their phone and have it delivered to their home without ever worrying about paper or plastic.

Example: Chinese Malls Bring In Guys Who Hate Shopping

One of the more innovative digital transformations happening in the past year has been the so-called “man pods” (or “husband pods”) installed in Chinese shopping malls — phone-booth style facilities that offer video games to entertain men and boys who are bored waiting while wives and girlfriends enjoy the largely female-dominated experience of fashion shopping.

Shoppers of both sexes have been positive on the idea, which naturally leads to male shoppers willing to make additional visits to their local retail center, inevitably using the food court and walking away with additional purchases when they aren’t plugged into a game.

The concept may sound odd, but it speaks to a larger strategy at work in trend-setting markets, where the traditional shopper marketing model is being cast aside in favor of a mobile and digital-first approach that:

  • Increases brand favorability by improving the shopper experience
  • Increases sales frequency and average cart size by streamlining the purchasing and delivery process
  • Delivers actionable, real-time insights into how shoppers are interacting with a product

Boosts average lifetime value of each shopper by enabling one-to-one personalized communications and an AI-curated shopper journey.