The Future Of Retail In 5 Words

by Ilana Rabinowitz |

Imagine that you are playing a movie of the history shopping in reverse. The film would start with someone checking out at Amazon. We would see people shopping at mass market retailers, then back to a time when malls were the rage, to the era when department stores ruled, to small town America’s general store, and eventually rewinding all the way back to the open air markets of ancient civilization.

The way people shop has changed over the years, but today’s changes are a threat to the very existence of bricks and mortar.  Online shopping gives consumers the opportunity to purchase anything they can think of through their phone or computer. Mobile scanning has turned stores into showrooms.

The risk to physical shopping should concern a world well beyond retailers. This includes consumer products companies, and the businesses that earn income from retailers and brands, including creative agencies and media for starters.   Because, if you want to buy something, you don’t need to walk into a store. If you do walk into a store, you can still purchase the item without spending your money in that store.

© Andres Rodriguez -

So, people need a good reason to walk into a store and a good reason to buy once they get there. The retail industry can choose to hang on to the status quo (that would be a Kodak moment) or they can embrace the digital reality with new tactics:

  1. Develop an online community that cares about your business so you have the owned media to promote your unique retail experience.
  2. Facilitate the congregation of your community to enjoy meaningful experiences with like-minded people at your physical location.
  3. Bring digital devices into the store to supplement the physical experience.  (Since bricks and mortar can’t add reality into a website, this would provide an advantage.)
  4. Make sure you give people an experience that makes the trip worth it.

Digital shoppers sit alone, facing a screen. In spite of the advent of social shopping, the reality is they are still shopping alone.

The retail experience must surprise and delight, help someone make a better buying decision, offer entertainment value or raise the ante on Amazon in some way.  Otherwise, why go there?

Using digital marketing for support, bricks and mortar shopping can survive and even thrive in a time of digital shopping by creating real life experiences that can’t be replicated online.

I recently attended the Commerce and Creativity Conference, also known at C2-MTL where Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People In Business” were celebrated.  I had the opportunity to meet one of those people, Rachel Schechtman, who gained her place on the list by opening an innovative retail store called STORY.

As its name promises, this store merchandises around a story, and that story changes regularly. The impact of going into the store is unique because the products are carefully curated based on a theme.  It’s been described as a magazine that meets a social gathering.  The editorial theme, in the case of the grand opening in February, was “love.”  The execution included a game-like,  physical presence of an online dating site, carefully curated brands, visually exciting displays, and events, some of which provide an additional revenue stream.  The experience of STORY gives you a reason to make the trip to the flagship store in New York City’s meatpacking district.

People have a deep-seated need to connect with others and to share experiences.  Facebook or social shopping experiences will never fully replace real life experiences. Rather than bemoaning the impact of digital and mobile shopping on traditional retail, retailers can use digital devices in-store to supplement the experience, while taking advantage of what only a physical location can offer. People will always want to congregate. It’s part of human nature.  It’s important to many of our businesses and to our lives in our communities that bricks and mortar stores survive.  Let’s hope that retailers make the transition necessary to keep people coming into their stores. At time when virtual shopping is easy and convenient, the secret to doing this is figuring out how to make people say these five words after going to the store:

You had to be there.


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About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.