Retail isn’t just a simple product exchange anymore. The way consumers buy everything, from groceries to furniture and clothing, is all changing faster than it ever has been before. And one of the biggest disrupters sits right in our pocket, Keith Lord of Lord Companies recently said at RE Journals’ retail conference. It’s hard to compete with the convenience of shopping on your phone, but retailers are learning to create experiences you just can’t get with a few finger taps.
Grocery stores face more competition than in previous years from meal-kit delivery services and same-day grocery delivery options. If given a choice, most younger consumers will choose the convenience of an app versus getting a deal on bulk items at Costco. The same goes for most everything thing in retail from furniture to clothing. Millennials are comfortable buying a couch without sitting on it before they buy it. Even items like underwear, where touch and feel is crucial, are being bought from online start-ups dedicated to under garments.
It seems if you’re not convenient, you must be a destination. The Mariano’s in NEW CITY, focuses on being a place that people want to stay. Customers can walk in and get a dozen oyster on ice while listening to live music from grand piano on an elevated stage. The same store has a wine bar, beer on tap and a special charcuterie and cheese station. When Millennials have to choose between this and Costco, it’s not a hard decision.
Another retailer pushes this ‘destination’ concept even further by eliminating all use of the word ‘store.’ The new flagship Apple Town Square, opening in October, will be a 20,000-square-foot space along the north bank of the Chicago River and will replace the Michigan Avenue store. The location will have an outdoor plaza, a gathering place around a video wall where events and workshops can be hosted and displays for products and indoor ficus trees.
At Apple’s 2017 Keynote, Slate reported that retail chief Angela Ahrendts said, “We actually don’t call them stores anymore. We call them town squares because they’re gathering places for the 500 million people who visit us every year. Places where everyone’s welcome, and where all of Apple comes together.”
While this might seem a little gimmicky coming from Apple, the idea that retail should be a part of the community is right on track according to Mott50 co-founder Anne Reilly. Mott50 creates on-trend beach and athletic wear with sun protection built into the fabric. The idea is that sun protection doesn’t have to be boring or ugly—it can be fashionable and flattering.
The Chicago-based company started out completely online but in the past year or so they’ve been experimenting with pop-up shops across the country. At the beginning of the summer they opened one in Chicago at 160 N. Morgan in West Loop. The building was an old bank designed in the 1970s but Mott50 transformed the space inside and out. The building was painted with one of the company’s new prints, avocados and palm tree leaves, and quickly became a known landmark in the neighborhood.
More so with any other pop-up, they’ve felt a real sense of community in the West Loop neighborhood. Reilly said she’s met so many people that she normally never would through the store. Throughout the summer they’ve hosted concerts with SoFar Sound, yoga and dance parties, Shred 415 workout classes, flower crown workshops and a kids’ fair. The pop-up has been really successful in bringing together a community around health and wellness and Reilly plans to extend it until the end of September. They’ve got more events in the works, one being a boutique wine tasting experience.
“After a certain amount of time we realized that having a physical presence is necessary. You need to touch and feel this product. It also helps people understand the brand’s concept through conversations, certain things you can’t relay online,” Reilly told RE Journals.
For Reilly, the stores are more of a marketing expense than an avenue for sales. Hosting these pop-ups takes a huge amount of work and planning, but it really helps communicate what the brand stands for and is the best way to educate customers about their product.
“Eventually it became pretty organic. All this evolved from trying to help our customers understand what the brand really means to us,” said Reilly. “Our struggle is that we are a seasonal brand and by having a physical presence we could really show everyone what we’re about.”