The Retail Disruption Strategies We Can’t Stop Thinking About This Week

Here are the experimental approaches to customer engagement that we loved — and loved to hate — this week.

Retail’s in a weird place — obviously. So we’re always interested in how both established retailers are trying to break through the competition and back into profitability and how upstarts continue to capture attention from a fragmented and distracted audience.

Sears Takes Uber

When you think about disruptive companies who have changed the way we live, Uber naturally comes to mind. And when you think of Uber, you think of … Sears’ loyalty program? Sears announced this week that for they’ll give $2 in loyalty points for every ride a member of their Shop Your Way loyalty program. The embattled retailer has lost money for five years straight, and Shop Your Way accounts for 75% of sales for the first half of 2016.

Will it work? Sears has established similar partnerships with Groupon and Starbucks — but are Sears’ loyalty program members and Uber users that big of an overlap? Time will tell, but this seems like a marriage of convenience more than a strategy that will actually work.

Uber Takes Yext

Yext announced a new data integration with Uber’s API, making it easier for customers to take the ride-sharing service to their businesses, like Guitar Center, which piloted a beta version. The integration puts a “Ride with Uber” button on a retailer’s site, lets passengers see special offers related to the retailer in the Uber app, and lets them specify a precise drop-off point, so passengers actually arrive at the door, not the parking lot or the mailing address.

Will it work? Now, this seems like an Uber partnership that makes sense. We also loved that the other company that piloted the Yext integration is a health care provider — one of your editors, in fact, took an Uber to a health care appointment yesterday and did not enjoy running across the street in the rain to get in the car, versus getting picked up at the covered entrance to the medical center. Digression aside, for the right business, this makes all the sense in the world, and we can see this working well for music venues and restaurants in particular.

Welcome to the West Elm

With digital and store sales up for the past 26 consecutive quarters, West Elm’s president Jim Brett wanted to think beyond store expansion for growth. The modern furniture retailer had expanded successfully into commercial furniture last year, with a partnership for Marriott’s Springhill Suites, and inspired by less-than-exciting business travel, Brett thought they might try developing boutique hotels. The first hotels will open in Savannah and Detroit in late 2018, with Charlotte, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis to follow.

Will It work? West Elm conjures a certain image of approachable luxury, which is pretty much what a boutique hotel also conjures. Given the thoughtfulness with which they approached the concept — partnering with an experienced management company in DDK, saving costs by up to 40% by using existing vendor partnerships, allowing guests to order room furnishings they like from an app at check-in — this could be a slam dunk. It would be interesting to see if other brands make such a natural connection between product and lifestyle.

Let the Games Begin at Warby Parker

Forget showrooms: the new Warby Parker Annex in Portland, Ore., includes a room full of classic arcade games, including Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Along with trying out eyewear, visitors can pay $1 for four tokens, with proceeds benefitting a Portland nonprofit that supports arts education for kids in grades K-9. This is Warby Parker’s third Annex concept — its usual showroom with some kind of twist, like a photobooth in Miami and a book theme in Seattle — but its first to focus on video games.

Will it work? The only surprise here is that the arcade game-themed Warby Parker Annex in Portland that supports a nonprofit came third, not first. There has never been a better partnership between lifestyle and brand. Take note, Sears.

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