I spend half of my day listening to real estate experts and shopping gurus discuss the death of brick-and-mortar shopping, the demise of the mall and the end of retail as we know it. But I can assure you that, at least in my lifetime, live in-person shopping will not only survive, but thrive – if retailers adapt.
I am amazed by the transformation of shopping, and how quickly certain experiences have disappeared. Book stores, video stores and record stores are virtually obsolete. Technology has made the whole shopping experience more efficient. I can remember as a teenager working in a retail store and calling the credit card company to get an approval code. Now it’s swipe and dash, which leaves more time for serving the customer and providing a memorable experience.
Today’s shopper wants convenience, good prices and quality products. Retailers have to move from being in the clothing and soft good business into show business. What I mean by show business is that stores need to create an experience for shoppers. It no longer can be just goods on a shelf; the customer needs to be entertained, enticed and motivated to shop.
Developers and landlords of the future need to take in other factors besides balance sheet, financial worthiness and stability; they need to consider proof of concept. Is this retailer obsolete, or does the company provide something unique that will require the shopper come into the store?
Early in my leasing career, I was working on a dying mall in Reno, Nevada. If there were 25 people in the mall, it was considered a good day. I visited the mall one day and was astonished to see a full parking lot and over a thousand people in the mall. I was perplexed. Had the mall gone through some biblical resurrection? I asked the mall security guard what was going on, and he told me it was a health fair and they were giving away 1,500 free flu shots. After struggling to drive traffic into the mall, who could have predicted that protection from a virus would bring the customers back?
Malls and retailer centers can thrive by bringing in the stores that people need. Like insulin for a diabetic, you have to give buyers what they need to survive – not just what they want. If it is easier or cheaper for customers to get what they need on the internet, bricks-and-mortar retailers will lose.
Examples of innovative companies that are taking the retail experience to another level are Indochino, Bonobos, Warby Parker, Birdcall and The District.
Indochino, with a location in Cherry Creek North, is a men’s made-to-order suit and clothing store with no inventory. Instead, the consumer buys the product before it is custom made (a concept originally perfected by Dell computers). The customer visits the showroom, is meticulously measured, and chooses his fabric and every style detail for bespoke suits, pants, sports coats and shirts. The clothing is custom made at the factory and shipped directly to the customer.
Another men’s clothing retailer, Bonobos has brick-and-mortar “guideshops,” including a location in Cherry Creek North, where sales associates provide personalized style advice and custom fitting. Billed as “hands-free” shopping, a customer’s order is then produced at the factory and direct shipped.
Warby Parker – with stores in Boulder, Cherry Creek and a new location opening in the Dairy Block – has turned the eyeglass world on its head. Stores offer a plethora of frames, expert salespeople and reasonable prices. Once customers have shared their prescriptions and preferences, they can order new glasses online or return to the store to try on the latest styles.
Birdcall – with locations in Union Station, the University of Denver area and Five Points – is a new fast-food concept with healthy, locally sourced foods at reasonable prices, that provides no real interaction between customers and servers. Diners enter their own orders and pay on terminals. Food is made to order and delivered to private bays. While ordering is decidedly high-tech, the stores have a rustic-urban vibe with works by local artists displayed on the walls.
The District Shops, with a location at the former Bed Bath & Beyond building in Cherry Creek, is a new concept in retailing. The company takes empty retail boxes and curates the spaces with unique goods from local artisans, food vendors, craft beer makers, wineries and services. Combining the popularity of pop-up retailers and boutique stores, the expansive Denver store is a shopping destination with up to 300 vendors.
Bricks-and-mortar retail is not dying, but instead is transforming. To adapt, stores must provide a unique experience, exceptional service and in-person efficiencies that can’t be duplicated on a smartphone or the web. Humans still need to interact with other humans in person. Measuring for a custom fit, preparing good food, consulting, providing personal style advice, showcasing handcrafted goods and gathering with friends are all activities that always will benefit from the human touch.