29 Nov Have we found the key to brick and mortar’s future?

Welcome to one of the biggest retail seasons of the year. With the holidays right around the corner, consumers across the country are scrambling to cross everyone off of their list before the big day. And, as we get further into December, we’re all reminded that the ‘experience’ of shopping – at least as we know it today – is not an appealing one. The traffic, fights over parking spaces, messy racks, long lines, and annoying holiday music on loop make it easy to see why the appeal of online shopping is edging out the appeal of brick and mortar retail. But, what if the shopping experience at your nearest department store was something more akin to the experiences you want to have during the holiday season? What if you could drop your kids at an ice skating rink or holiday wonderland playground, pick up their presents in a peaceful and well-decorated environment, then bring them to be professionally wrapped while you head off to the spa, or to see a live musical act, all in the same store? This may sound too good to be true, but experiences may just be physical retail’s saving grace.

The concept of combining shopping with other entertainment and experiences is certainly not new – malls have offered movie theaters and arcades for decades, and mixed-use developments often bring together everything from amusement rides to specialty boutiques to open spaces for ice skating in the winter and free yoga in the summer. What’s different in this approach is that we’re not seeing a focus on placing stores near other entertainment, but rather a focus on placing the entertainment in the stores themselves. In some ways it could be seen as a return to the glory days of the local department stores, when a day’s shopping entailed first class customer service, lunch at the café, and maybe even a trip to the in-house salon. However, new or not, large retailers who’ve brought the experience back into shopping can’t deny that it’s working.

By 2018, luxury retail mainstay Neiman Marcus will open its first NYC store in Hudson Yards, a new mixed-use development located in downtown Manhattan. The flagship store won’t only offer three levels of shopping, but also a restaurant, spa, top of line technology showing shoppers a 360-degree view of their potential purchases, and interestingly a private concierge (with its own elevator) for those who have purchased online but wish to pick up in store. On a more affordable scale, Macy’s, the retail giant in the midst of nationwide store closings, is also trying out the experiential retail approach. Rather than targeting top spenders, though, Macy’s is going after the demographic with the most spending power as a whole – Millennials. The brand is testing out a new ‘One Below’ concept at its famous Herald Square flagship. In addition to the most popular junior brands, One Below offers perks like makeup tutorials, a blowout bar, charging station, free wifi, 3D Jewelry printing station, even a Fossil watch station where you can have your selfie engraved on the face of your new watch. It may seem like overkill, but when you’re dealing with a demographic that is able to buy their jeans with one swipe in an app on their phone, you need to get creative to get shoppers in the door.

According to Cushman & Wakefield’s ‘Bricks Versus Clicks’ report, there’s still an interest in physical retail, with 3 out of 4 shoppers planning to do at least some physical shopping this holiday season. The demand for brick and mortar is still there, but now that it is not the sole option, and not the most attractive option, retailers and the developers who look to house them need to draw people out from behind their screens to boost traffic. Creating an enjoyable, memorable, and shareable shopping experience may just be the draw that physical retail needs to usher in a new era in the shopping experience.


Sibet B Freides