Don’t Just Digitize Your Organization: Transform It

The Dimming of Retail as
We Know It

In mid-2022, New York-based cosmetics brand Revlon raised a white flag, surrendering its 90-year lifespan to the courts and filing for bankruptcy. Its demise, should it be plotted on a graph, would join the ranks of other household-name retailers that have crumbled and disappeared from store shelves in recent years. After the pandemic spurred massive closings, with some sources calling 2020 “the worst year for retailers in 25 years,” bankruptcies continued even as vaccines rolled out, the world regained momentum, and businesses reopened their doors for shoppers to enter.

A widening of the history lens, however, reveals a more expansive issue. There is a larger trend impacting retail that pre-dates Covid-19 disruptions. The industry has been in a crisis for more than a decade. The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 triggered the collapse of brands such as Linens ‘n Things, Mervyn’s, and KB Toys, among others. Even as economies recovered from the financial woes, the retail segment failed to gain momentum. Many companies grappled with other changes at hand, especially those related to technology, consumers, and shopping expectations.

Those waves continue today, and retailers who want to survive another year—or longer—have no choice but to take note. The time to shift and adapt is now. Before implementing new systems, though, an in-depth look at fading models and up-and-coming trends can be useful. The exercise will lead into the next step, which encompasses a re-imagining of retail. Rather than leading to further negative news, the journey of transformation is the ticket to a brighter, more profitable tomorrow.

A Sunset for Traditional Retail

When retailers pulled up the shades of their brick-and-mortar places after the pandemic, who came to shop? The question is especially pertinent when online purchases are brought into the picture. As Covid-19 rippled through the globe, consumers stayed home and carried out transactions from the comfort of their living rooms and laptops. They stayed away from physical shopping environments.

In addition to growing more comfortable with digital browsing, consumers grew to appreciate the convenience of information at their fingertips. They could compare prices, read reviews, and watch what influencers said about products on their platforms. All this could be done without having to enter a physical store.

In today’s environment, shoppers no longer need to visit a mall to access the myriad of products on their lists. These commercial centers, filled with smaller shops and big box stores serving as “anchors,” boomed during the decades following World War II. Now real estate developers look at these increasingly vacant properties and scratch their heads. What should be done with the spaces? Will children of today even know—or care—what an “anchor” in a mall is?

New Scenery on the Horizon

Clearly, the shopping experience has morphed and evolved alongside advances in technology. The store as it was once known may no longer exist. Yet there are uses for brick-and-mortar spaces in the retail industry. The trick is to identify the purpose for the store, and develop a plan for what customers will experience once they step inside.

If shoppers don’t need to go to a physical store to carry out a transaction, why will they come? Answering that question creates an opportunity to brainstorm what could be inside a store, and the related activities that could take place there. A workshop, class, event, or concert might bring in a crowd. The key is to understand the reason consumers will want to be inside a shop, and how the interactions that take place are tied to the brand.

Take the case of Canada Goose, a retailer which sells outerwear for extreme weather. When customers walk into the brand’s Sherway Gardens location in Toronto, Canada, they become immersed in a nature-like experience. The place tells the story of the company, its products, and people. It features an Elements room, where visitors can test out clothing by experiencing garments in cold temperatures, complete with wind and snow.

For those interested in Canada Goose but want to stay home, there are other options. The brand offers a virtual shopping experience, in which customers can book an appointment with a brand ambassador to guide them as they browse online. These associates offer personalized advice and styling tips to help shoppers find the right fit—even if they don’t come in to try the gear on. With delivery services available, consumers have the choice to stay in and shop, or visit the store and have a unique experience.

A Time to Re-Think the Business Model

Gaining an online presence to complement or replace a traditional store might seem like a top priority in today’s connected world. When implementing new tools and systems, the starting point does not need to center on the available technologies or digital features. Instead, the process can begin with a step away from the present and a fresh look at what’s possible.

For instance, a study of how customers interact with brands online and offline might reveal how they prefer to engage. The findings could lead to digital tools offered in stores, such as a video chat where customers can ask questions and receive assistance to find what they need. An online help center, complete with live video and an associate who has access to data to personalize the customer experience, might meet customer expectations. A post-purchase survey, in which a representative reaches out to a repeat buyer, could be carried out via video or phone. The customer might be asked about how the products fared. Questions regarding upcoming purchases, or if the customer would like to have a sneak peek of an upcoming item, could be related during the conversation.

Transforming the Right Way

The shades of the traditional retail store are ready to be pulled down. They signal a time of the past, an era that is no more. While they may serve as a quaint memory, their closures are an indicator that a connected world operates differently than one without e-commerce capabilities.

Best practices to transform and meet the demands of a digital world include an open mindset, a sense of creativity, and an invitation to dream. When the slate is blank and the possibilities are endless, it provides the opportunity to think about what could be. The exercise offers the chance to create an experience that truly engages customers, keeps them at the center of the transaction, and builds a lasting relationship. The results hold the potential for higher revenue, greater profitability, and financial statements that attract future investors.

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Gerard Szatvanyi

Author: Gerard Szatvanyi

As a founding member and CEO of OSF Digital, Gerry has more than 15 years of experience managing start-ups and medium-size IT businesses and driving them to peak performance. With background in Enterprise Applications, IT Services and Consultancy, Gerry's impressive client and business portfolio sets him in the new breed for global entrepreneurship.